Women are a growing part of muay thai. International promoters such as Glory are including more female fighters, and in Thailand promoters such as Angel Fights are increasing the visibility of female fighters. The impact is easy to see, especially in rural areas. More young woman are getting inspired to test themselves in the ring, and while media exposure is increasing, wages are not. Nak muay ying, female muay thai fighters, still face stacked odds.
Similar to the situation in other sports, wages and promotions are geared towards male boxers. A highly paid female boxer in Thailand will make roughly 40,000 baht per fight, while her male equivalent will be paid 70,000. Muay thai is a business in Thailand and without an economic incentive, gyms pay little attention to female fighters. Raising a mediocre male fighter will gain a muay thai gym more money than producing a female prize fighter.
There are also cultural hurdles for women to overcome. Female fighters are not allowed to fight at the major stadiums of Rajadamnern and Lumpinee in Bangkok. This denies women the same financial incentives and sponsorships their male counterparts enjoy.
Female boxers must also enter the ring under the bottom rope. Some westerners find it offensive that their male stablemates enter the ring over the top rope while females must enter under the bottom.
These obstacles aren’t putting women off, however. A recent all-female promotion in Isan attests to the growing number of female fighters. Inspired by the increasing visibility, more young women and girls upcountry are getting into the ring. Social media has made it easier for women to connect with each other and support the sport. The odds are still against them but the nak muay ying are punching back.
hese photos highlight a handful of the increasing number of nak muay ying. Some such as Nungning are just starting. Others like Jennifer Tung have taken time out from careers to test themselves. Then there are those like Zaza Sor Aree, who have reached high levels in the sport.
Fighting against the odds takes determination, grit and heart. For female fighters, it takes even more. Photographing the world of female fighting has been a great honour and privilege. I hope these fighters’ careers and combative passions continue to grow.