By Roberto Pedreira
Stephane Nikiema's first gym in Pattaya was only open a very
short time. Not because it wasn't a nice gym. It was. But for the oldest reason
in the book: Women. Or rather, woman, as in one woman. It wasn't that he was staying
up late at night chasing her. She was the owner of the gym, and she had her own
ideas about how to run it. They were at odds with Nikiema's ideas. So he left.
There is a photo of him on his motor-scooter headed back to France, at the end
of the original classic GTR Nikiema article. He
predicted that the gym would have a hard time without him. He was right. The
next time I went back to Pattaya, five months later, it had become a shoe store.
Nikiema went back to France where he taught Jerome LeBanner
how to grapple Muay Thai style. Jerome showed how well he had learned in his
fight with wrestler Don Frye, who in turn demonstrated the wisdom of Dan
Inosanto's advice "don't box with a boxer."
The first article was written in 2000, which is when
Nikiema's gym was open. I predicted that he would eventually return to Pattaya.
In 2011, he did, with a new and better gym and no woman pulling the
The new gym is located on moo 6, off North road. It is a
short walk from Fairtex, which is huge and easy to spot from the street, close
to the Dolphin round-about. Enter moo 6 on the right side of North Road, in the
direction of Sukhimvit. Nikiema will be on the left side.
Afternoon training starts at 3:30, as in most gyms. Serious
fighters run in the morning. If you want
to run, you can do it any time. No doubt, in Thailand, 10:00-2:00 is the worst
time. If you are one of the serious people, ask the fighters what they do and
when and where they do it, and then do as they do.
I showed up at 3:20 on Tuesday August 27, just to see where
the gym was, on my way to Sityodtong. Nikiema wasn't there but
someone said he would be at 3:30. I said I'd come back tomorrow.
The next day, while waiting for
Nikiema I talked with three young fighters, Mehdi, Looka, and Valentin (picture below), from
France, who were training there. They were just getting ready for a short
afternoon run, hopefully avoiding melanoma by keeping to the shadier side of the
street. They lived in the gym. One training session costs
300 baht. To live in a shared room, with training twice a day, costs 15,000 baht.
(about 500 US $) a month. They were basically novices but highly
motivated. Who else could spend a month or more training twice a day in Pattaya,
sharing a room the size of a closet?
Nikiema showed up at 3:45, petted the two cats who lived
there, and filled their water bowl with fresh water. He had gained some weight
since I last saw him in 2000 and now looked more like an ordinary person, though
still in shape. He hadn't been able to train for two months, he told me.
Sciatica. Intense pain in leg and left arm. Not a training injury. He didn't
know how it happened, just one of those things.
August and September are part of the two "low"
seasons in Pattaya. Fewer tourists, and fewer fighters (and lower prices). Every
gym was somewhat empty, although that varies daily and is always relative. That
has a positive side. More trainer attention, potentially, more space, more
access to training equipment (although some gyms have more than enough for any
eventuality). The negative side is fewer people to train with and learn from.
You can observe a lot by watching other people, either making mistakes, or doing
But this wasn't one of the times when it was possible to do
that. I did my usual 5-6 rounds with a trainer. Some people do more but 5-6 is enough if it is fast and hard, and the trainer gives
you some movement and attacks to react to. You can't always get them to do it,
unfortunately because it requires more energy than they sometimes want to spend.
But if you are a fighter preparing for a fight, representing that gym, you can
be sure of their best training attention. If you are a hobbyist, you will have
to ask them to step up the pace, and probably, pay them extra (for private
training), but then if you are on a super-tight budget, why did you go to
Pattaya? Spend less on something else and pay a trainer a little more.
Quality is more important than quantity. If you just want to
burn calories, you don't need a trainer. Hit the bags, jump rope, run, find
someone to clinch spar with. A trainer's job is to simulate an opponent. An
opponent will never stand in one spot, letting you attack him (or her). Neither
should a trainer.
Unfortunately that is what a lot of them do (with farang
novices). A certain degree of "persuasion" will probably be needed to get them to work productively
with you. The best way to get that process under way is to demonstrate that you
are aerobically ready to go 5-6 brisk rounds. If you can't, then that is what you
should be working on. Being in shape is a prerequisite to everything else.
Most trainers are more than willing to do what you want to
focus on, such as knees, elbows, whatever (except clinch). One option is to
start with 3 rounds of "English boxing", which, being about half as
energy-consuming as kicking and knees, is a good way to warm up. Then 2-3 more
rounds of straight "Muay Thai" (or the other way around).
Why go to Thailand to train boxing? Because boxing is awesome
too, and some Thai trainers know how to train boxers. Punching is a secondary
weapon in Muay Thai, according to Suriya Petchphayatahi (2004 Olympic bronze
medallist who later transitioned to Muay Thai, reversing the direction usually
taken by Thai fighters who compete in both sports). But the sport is evolving,
and more and more bigger foreigners who know how to punch, are competing. Thais
who have the weight to compete overseas will need to know how to punch, which
means "English boxing, which means trainers will need to know how to teach
them. If you find a trainer who has that ability, why not take advantage? Being
able to punch well is a great asset.1
There are lots of affordable lodging options near
Almost directly next door is the Navin Mansion, clean, convenient, secure, fully
equipped. One month costs 17,000 baht (about 19 US$) per day. Daily price during
low season = 600 baht, during high season 800 baht. These are pretty typical and
reasonable rates. There used to be really super cheap places in Pattaya (and you
would get what you paid for). Not now. Room rates are in 2013 about 2-3 times
what they were in 2000. But the rooms are better. That is the general trend.
Pattaya is becoming "family friendly."
Training costs however haven't changed much, if at all.
Training costs for one session range from 270 baht (Sitpholek) to 300 baht (Sityodtong,
Nikiema, and WKO). The exception is Fairtex, which is 800 baht. But every gym
offers substantially lower prices if you pay on a weekly, monthly, or longer
Find a gym that you like and don't worry about the money.
Training is essentially the cheapest expense you will have in Pattaya. It doesn't
make much sense to pinch pennies if you go to Thailand to learn or train Muay
Thai. A good trainer is worth his weight in gold.
Above. Mehdi, Looka, and Valentin.
Above. Nikiema, just arrived, watering his cats.
Above. Shared room for two fighters.
Above. Nikiema at computer.
For more about Stephane Nikiema see the original classic GTR
Nikiema fights on Youtube:
Versus Orlando Wiet (UFC participant)
1. Reported by Patrick Cusick, In The Ring, Bangkok Post
Sunday February 19, 2012.
(c) 2013, Roberto Pedreira. All rights reserved.