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September 2016 Featured Photographer of the Month

Thailand's Aspiring Fighters

Austin Beahm | Thailand

The dream of Thai boxers is to join the pantheon of the sport's great fighters who've become champions in Bangkok's famed stadiums. The sacred headband worn here is the "mongkon." It represents the fighter's gym and is often blessed by a Buddhist monk.

This story focuses on the aspiring fighters that inhabit the vibrant and colorful world of Muay Thai kickboxing, Thailand’s national sport. Its setting is in the heart of Bangkok’s historic Rajadamnern Stadium where fighters do battle, and the spartan gyms where they live and train communally.

Young fighters from rural provinces fight to transcend poverty and better their lives through Muay Thai, beginning their fighting career as early as eight years of age despite being forbidden by Thai national law. Their path is often perilous, including the risk of injury and the ominous presence of gambling and corruption that pervades the sport. A select few, though, will ascend from the ranks to find riches, fame, and a name in Thai society.

The story also looks at the larger links between Muay Thai and culture in Thailand, with an emphasis on the rituals and traditions that imbue its fighters and the deep inroads the sport shares with Thai Buddhism.

Austin Beahm is a photographer and university lecturer of Geography and International Studies. His focus is travel and documentary photography in Latin America and Asia. In 2014, he was selected for publication in the “Food, Our Global Kitchen” exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC. And in 2015, he was chosen by National Geographic for publication in the “End Poverty” exhibit at the World Bank Headquarters.

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