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A Title for Joe

Honouring My Friend.

By Simon MorrellPublished 2 years ago 8 min read
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Friends Forever.

Written by Simon Morrell, told by Lee Mayo.

The ring seems to look at lot different now. It is as if it has more importance attached to it and somehow doesn’t feel the same. Sure, it has the same four sides, the ropes are the same size, the guy in the middle, the one that will call the shots and hopefully keep us safe. Well, he may be a different human in a different suit, but essentially, he is the same man doing the same job he and his have done for centuries, but for me this one just isn’t the same. This one is different for a massive reason and that reason is Joe. And of course, the fact he isn’t here to share it with me, with us. No, but he is the reason I am here at all.

The thoughts swirled around my head, confusing me, and upsetting me as I saw the curtain draw closed on Joe for the very last time. His demons had gotten the better of him and now it seemed our journey together was over. Our years of Muay Thai now closed, the same as that very curtain. It all comes to an end at sometime, doesn’t it? Or so I thought.

Because as sad as my feelings were, there was some part of me that knew this wasn’t done yet, this wasn’t finished. One of the big factors in our Muay Thai life together was the trip to its homeland, Bangkok, and Thailand itself. Joe was due to defend his hard-won title there, but now this wasn’t going to happen. The title would stay vacant forever, nobody coming to claim it. Unless?

The idea came as a fog at first, a lot of pressure, a lot of work to be done but then the fog cleared, and it was clear as daylight. Somebody would claim Joe’s title back and it was obvious who. That someone was me.

Before I start making this something real, I do my due respect and visit Joe’s wife Donna and not only did she approve of my plans, but she also honoured me by giving me Joe’s Thai shorts to wear during the fight and so with that in mind, Joe and I would still make that flight half-way across the world together, he just wouldn’t be in the seat next to me. We would probably have argued who sat next to the window anyway, so swings and round-abouts really. So, with the blessing Donna and the support of all our Southend Muay Thai family, we set about the bleary trip that would take us so far out of our comfort zones that we couldn’t even see Southend pier from where we would end up.

Heathrow is a lively place at best. Laughing holiday makers headed for sun-bound destinations, but duty free and the inflight movie were the last things on our minds. I take the trip with two close pals and fellow Muay Thai guys. Mark Swords and Colin Burman were also great pals with Joe, and they carry with their own memories, their own desires to see that Joe’s passing will not go unnoticed, unrecognised and that it will be forever a part of Southend history. Both guys will fight, both will take our buddy’s memory into the ring, but as any fighter will tell you, no matter what support you have, be it your team, the guys who promote you, friends, family and fans, no matter who is on your side it is on you at the end of the day. We all carry our own burden of the ring, the pressure of the build-up, we absorb the cheers of the crowd and try to block out the inevitable boos from the naysayers (who are these people anyway? What does their opinion matter?). And on our own, we pray for that beautiful hot sweet tea at the end of it all. We also prayer that we share it with ‘our others, our brothers.’

We arrive at Bangkok, step out of the airport and into the humidity of the city. Whilst we feel it, we also shrug it off. We aren’t here to be tourists, just fighters. I focus all my energy on Joe. I miss my friend. Though I can feel him, I miss him and how I wish he was here. But he isn’t, I must accept that, and I must accept the pressure of being the man that brings his title back home to Southend, where it belongs. Any fighter will tell you that the lead up to the fight seems like an eternity, but that when fight time comes around, it always seems to come around too quickly. There is no bigger contradiction in life than the build-up to a fight.

Come fight night and I remind myself that this is Thailand, this isn’t the Basildon Sporting Village or any other British venue for that matter, with its throbbing ring walk music, strobes, possible television crews and sometimes a very partisan crowd. No, this is Thailand, and they do things the Thai way. I wouldn’t want it any differently.

It is surreal, the ring set up in a crowded street. I catch an American accent, then British, the tourists who walk past the ring in this throbbing, bustling street. Through the smells of beer and food wafting the air, the laughter of holidaymakers, the street hawkers hollering out their name of their goods, desperate for the sale that will this night worthwhile, through all this I go into my zone. Even though Southend feels so far away now I know I have huge support from there and the crowd that made the trip with me. This just reinforces my belief; Nothing will get in my way tonight. Joe’s belt, his title and legacy will be on the plane back to Heathrow with me.

I am startled by a movement next to me as my opponent takes the adjacent chair. Back home we are kept apart. In Thailand he is practically sat on my knee. We nod to each other, a mutual respect but in my head one thought pops up. “They didn’t tell me the bugger was going to be this big.”

I had expected the usual Thai fighter, slim but powerful, short but strong. This one? Nope, this big boy had been the main eater in his family. It is what it is, I’ll hit him with everything I have and then more. We both get massaged, oiled up and then the crucial hand wrapping. If this part goes wrong, then it could be a disaster. Hitting another man’s skull can be like hitting a brick wall and if you haven’t got the wrapping right, your hand is done from the off. No coming back from a broken knuckle, finger or worse, a wrist. This isn’t the films trust me. If you know, you know and if you don’t and try to tell us differently, well let’s just say back home, back at our place well you would be known as a ‘melt’.

The wraps go well, the atmosphere changes slightly, passion becomes respect as each of us performs our Wai Kru. No laughing, no mind games and certainly trying to put the other guy off. This is a serious remit, and this ritual is shown the respect it deserves. And then the inevitable. The second were you either go all in or wish you were going all the way home. Mine was the former. As big as this lump was, I knew I had trained hard, and this was after all for Joe. My buddy Joe.

My hardest punches just seemed to bounce off this guy, my most effective turning Thai round kicks to his head just seemed to have no effect other than to make him shake his head a little, give me a nod and say “Okay, lets carry on.” Carry on I did. A low right round kick to his thigh seemed to wobble him momentarily, my punches started to have an effect, my supporters growing more excited. Did I hear Joe urging me on? I think I probably did. I start to throw with serious intentions, confidence growing as his eyes started to close. If you hit someone in the same place, often and hard enough it as the desired effect. The referee seemed to agree. As he pushed his way between us, I stood with my hands on my hips watching, hoping this was the news I wanted to hear, and it was. The referee waved it over. I had won. Joe had defended his title successfully and yes, there were tears. There must be tears.

Fighting brings about a pressure like no other, but you add fighting for your mate’s memory, doing something for him that a cruel world wouldn’t let him do for himself, well then, the body not only needs a release, but it also bloody well deserves one. And so yes Joe, the tears were for you.

As was the walk around the temple that night. The candles, the thoughts, and prayers we sent Joe’s way. Everyone has their own way of getting though emotion, everyone says goodbye in their own fashion and so I did mine.

The sadness, the relief, the sudden and completely unexpected pressure that came to me when I thought, “Shit I might have got this wrong. I might not have won this one.” But I didn’t. I didn’t get it wrong and that bought about elation as we, the Thais and us celebrated into the night.

Anytime you travel away from home to do a job, whatever that job is but particularly in the combat business, the journey seems endless. The car ride from home to airport, the queue from check in to the plane, the plane from one runway to another. It can seem an eternity. The journey back home, especially with reward in hand? Well that journey is like a stroll to your favourite corner shop.

I look out of the window at rainy old Britain, the cold street, Heathrow appearing in the distance, the sound of the wheels touching down on the tarmac, and it feels glorious. It feels glorious to drive back to Southend, my home, mine, and Joe’s hometown. It feels glorious hugging my family, my friends, and students. It feels glorious to hear the kettle boiling for that hot sweet tea I spoke about earlier. But you know what feels the most glorious of all? Putting Joe’s belt and photo on my mantlepiece, in his pride of place in my home.

All for you Joe, all for you.

My name is Lee Mayo and thank you for reading my story.

You can see the Lee’s fight for Joe’s title here

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About the Creator

Simon Morrell

I am the author of the award winning book From Bullied to Black Belt telling ofjourney from an agoraphobic, panic attack sufferer to award winning fighter & writer. My mission? To help people beat fear into submission & win at life!

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