Khum Peseth sits behind the ring, cupping his groin in swollen, taped hands. He’s shouting at anyone who’ll listen. He says he didn’t want to fight today. He says the organizer didn’t give him a choice. He says that this was all a set-up.
For three rounds, Peseth danced between blows, bringing the fight close with sharp jabs and heels to his opponent’s gut and head. The fight was Peseth’s until a knee mangled his groin and he was down, reeling over the Muscle Wine-ad floor.
You can imagine his face.
Peseth’s trainer and the referee helped him to his feet. Sitting on a stool, he got rubbed down, took a drink of water, then tried to walk it off–he had to lean on the ropes. It took a good ten minutes for Peseth to say okay, I’m okay: let’s fight. The crowd cheered him on.
Round four. Peseth is pulverized. He made a weak comeback in five, but at the end of it all, the judges called the fight a draw.
* * *
I talked to three other fighters that day. All were young, built, and beautiful; all said fighting pro was a childhood dream. Then I met Peseth sweating in his blue shorts, lean and sinewy, his face prematurely aged from absorbing fists.
Once dressed, Peseth calmed down. We sat behind the bleachers and his two-year-old son stumbled into his lap. Peseth said that he’s won more than two thirds of his three hundred plus fights. He said he’d win more if he could train full-time. He can’t train full-time because he needs to work–work is selling fish sauce from the back of a borrowed tuk tuk and hauling 50kg sacks of cement powder onto trucks. Both jobs pay less than two dollars per day, and the latter one, Peseth said, is slowly destroying his health.
“I have no great love for fighting,” Peseth told me. “I fight to feed my family.”
After our interview, Peseth left the arena with $65 in his pocket and four other people squeezed onto his tiny exhaust-spewing motorbike. I would see him again; Peseth would become my friend… At the end of his last fight, some three months later, he climbed down from the ring covered in blood and sweat and came right up to me with a hug. I was wearing a white shirt, but like Peseth, I was ecstatic–it was his first win since we’d met.
(For more on Khum Peseth’s fight to feed his family, pick up the February issue of the Southeast Asia Globe)