Muay Thai is looking to go global this year. MMA fighters are increasingly borrowing the knee-strikes and foot-thrusts and the relentlessly painful shinkicks. A new reality show called The Challenger: Muay Thai is launching on AXN throughout Asia. The show, which pits fighters from around the world against each other like some kind of Van Damme kumite revisited, may not unseat the Kardashians. But still, you have to be impressed by a sport where part of the training involves smacking your shins with sticks until you have a bunch of microfractures, a process called bone conditioning or, more clinically, “cortical remodeling”.
There are two Muay Thai venues in Bangkok: Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen. Lumpini is more famous, but Ratchadamnoen has the same fragrant mix of Thai bookies, western gawkers and desperate fighters with names like “Hyper Battle Cyborg” or “The Turbine from Hell” (take the full ring-name quiz at My Muay Thai).
Photographer Jonathan Hanson, who has been a friend of mine for years, got a rare look behind the scenes on fight night at Ratchadamnoen. From the bettors cage to the training table to ringside, this is Muay Thai. —Nathan Thornburgh