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The Sports Journalist
All quotes by Matt Lucas, TV commentator.
If asked to imagine a Muay Thai (Thai boxing) ring, the first image that comes to mind is probably something akin to the cheesy 1980s Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick Kickboxer—a rustic concrete square beneath a leaky tin roof in some rural backwater, the sounds of flesh pounding flesh and grunting accompanied by the squawks of chickens and the breeze through palms.
And indeed, in many parts of Thailand they’d be correct.
However, they do things bigger in Pattaya.
Forget about the tin roofs and the chickens—the MAX Muay Thai Stadium has more in common with the Vegas MGM Grand. There are wildly spinning spotlights. There are announcers in tuxedos. There’s even a ring-girl.
The fighters are led out to booming Thai rock music and the roar of the crowd, each taking a moment to pose before entering the ring.
Each wears neon-colored satin shorts, festooned with golden logos displaying their names.
As they take their places in the ring, the roar of the crowd and the hypnotic, meandering drone of the pi chawa rise and fall with the rapid smashing of elbows and knees, the commentators growing increasingly hysterical as one fighter takes the lead on his opponent.
Tucked away beside the ring, you’ll often find American Muay Thai devotee Matt Lucas.
To say that Matt is a fan of Muay Thai is something of an understatement. He’s a foreign liaison at a Muay Thai gym, a freelance Muay Thai journalist, photographer, and author of a work of fiction set in the world of boxing in Thailand, The Boxer’s Soliloquy. And for two days a week, he’s an English-language commentator at MAX.
You watch fights all the time, so it can sometimes get repetitive.”
Matt confided to the Brewed in Bangkok podcast during his episode “Flying Elbows: The Gritty Details of Muay Thai Careers With Matt Lucas.”
But as a commentator, the whole point is you’re bringing excitement; you’re trying to bring something new to the show and that can definitely require some work. Just like any sort of public performance requires work.”
Like any other kind of public performance, commentators have different approaches.
My co-commentator Rob Cox is much more experienced than me. He’s been commentating and doing Muay Thai journalism for the last ten-plus years. So he mainly sticks to sort of play-by-play commentating. But also other commentators like, say, Vinny Shoreman, will talk about the person’s characteristics, sort of their past a bit more and that can be interesting too.”
We spoke to Matt to get more of an insight into the world of a Muay Thai commentator in Thailand—the day-to-day work, the successes and difficulties, and how one goes about breaking into the industry.
A typical day sees me drive from Bangkok to Pattaya with my coworker. Upon arrival we do a Facebook Live event where we talk about the upcoming weekend’s fights. I’ll write some content about the fights as well, with short interviews of the fighters, and then when the show starts I sit ringside and talk about the bouts live as they happen.”
Besides his commentating commitments, Matt also works as a foreign liaison at the FA Group Muay Thai Gym. This work entails spending time replying to foreigners interested in training at FA Group.
I arrange for them to stay at a nearby hotel, book fights, and take care of their concerns.”
It is extremely common for Muay Thai commentators and journalists to hold down a day job—there simply isn’t the work available.
There’s not much money in the sport now, so it’s hard to make a living off it. If Muay Thai gets into the Olympics that might change though. We’ll see.”
So how does one break into the industry?
The answer is, unfortunately: with a great deal of perseverance.
I think it would be very difficult for someone to find my exact job, or a very similar job, as a commentator.”
For starters, you have to be dedicated and have nurtured a reputation as a reputable source on the world of Muay Thai.
No credible Muay Thai arena would risk their reputation on hiring someone who can’t tell the difference between their maahd trong and their maahd tawat.
A good commentator must know the sport inside and out and must have credentials in the community. The best way of developing a solid rep—besides being an actual fighter, of course—is to begin in the world of journalism…Getting reporting jobs in Muay Thai is relatively easy, and a lot of people start off self-publishing or working with other prominent blogs.”
From there, the process of becoming known is the same as any other form of 21st century journalism—you find an audience, produce enough quality content to keep them engaged, and hope that you get the clicks required to build your profile.
Getting a foothold in Muay Thai journalism may prove tough—but getting a position as a liaison for a gym like Matt is even tougher.
Establishing oneself as a liaison at a gym requires dedication, and the ability to speak Thai. You need to have good relationships with the gym owners. It’s a cool job, but a lot of work to get, for not a lot of monetary reward.”
Besides the connections and the in-depth knowledge, there are a whole host of other skills necessary for a liaison position.
I had to learn a lot of skills by doing them, especially website building and social media skills. It’s a learning process still.”
Once you have the skills, the experience, and the reputation, landing a job is a question of networking. Matt’s reputation was stellar enough that he was headhunted for his role at MAX.
Because of my long background in Muay Thai journalism, I was approached by my current coworker and boss [Rob Cox] for the position. I interviewed [Cox] roughly eight years ago. We stayed in touch, and when I moved to Bangkok he recommended me for the position.”
For his role as a liaison, Matt had to rely on his fists a little more.
I trained at FA Group for an extended period of time before they took me on as a worker.”
Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks of a career like Matt’s is that it is unlikely to make you wealthy—at least at the moment.
As stated above, a commentator job—while undeniably glamorous—does not pay well enough to allow many commentators to quit their day jobs, with salaries ranging from 3,000 baht to 9,000 baht per show (MCs generally make a little more money, particularly if they’re already celebrities).
My many hats earn me roughly 40,000 baht per month.”
However, his is a job one does out of passion for the sport, not for the financial rewards.
The Muay Thai industry is young, and has only recently started to make inroads into the lucrative international market.
Right now, those at the forefront of the scene are still very much the hardcore, who can’t imagine doing anything else.
Muay Thai is a labor of love. Don’t expect to get rich. But it will make your life interesting.”
Now, on to You
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