“Hurts like Hell” brings to the limelight the national sport of Thailand, Muay Thai. A sport that is rooted deep in Thai culture has gradually turned into a dirty business. The limited series attempts to answer the reasons why the sport is gradually losing its credibility and whether or not Muay Thai will survive in the world of gambling and corruption. “Hurts Like Hell” takes a semi-documentary approach, in which it fictionalizes some parts of certain true events. With several interviews with Muay Thai professionals, we can comprehend how the country’s economic condition has affected the sport. Money has taken over to the point where corruption is the norm. The problem is far bigger than Muay Thai alone. Poverty and joblessness push one too many to take up the sport for quick money. Even though the quasi-documentary is repetitive in parts, it does what it sets out to do quite well: bring global attention to the problem.
‘Hurts Like Hell’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
One of the most important individuals in any Muay Thai event is the boxing guru. Several people make it their profession, where they bet on the players, hoping to make money and afford a luxurious lifestyle. A lot of research goes into understanding the potential of each player before making a bet. Though the ones who truly influence the matches are the “Big Gurus,” they are respected by other bettors for their status. Big Gurus are usually people who are wealthy and can therefore place a huge number of bets. Usually, boxing gurus do not challenge or negotiate with the big gurus. Big gurus challenge within their circle, knowing that they have the money to pay back. They do not take the risk of negotiating with a small guru since they might not be able to pay back if they lose the bet. Small gurus avoid any sort of conflict with the big gurus out of respect and sometimes even to get favors. Usually, small bettors bet on those big gurus’ bets, expecting low risk. Matches can also be influenced by spreading lies, such as how ill-prepared one of the players might be. Such rumors can largely affect the betting game. It is safe to not place bets in the first and second rounds, but rather in the third and fourth rounds. The interviews with the experts help the audience to understand the basic rules of betting on a Muay Thai match. And with it, a fictionalized story plays along.
The story is about a small guru, Phat, who is soon to be a father and has the responsibility of providing for his family. Gambling will bring him the quick money that he needs. He decides to challenge a big guru to earn the hefty amount, knowing that if he fails, he would have to sell all that he possessed. But such risks were worth the fortune he hoped to earn, and he challenged a big guru during the match, promising to pay if he lost. Even though the red player on whom Phat had placed his bet was losing ground in the initial rounds, he did manage to win the match in the end. The big guru refused to accept the result. He believed that the decision of the referee to allow the red player to fight another round after being knocked out once was unfair. As he protested, gathering a crowd, Phat argued with him, questioning his judgment. This angered the big guru, and he warned Phat that he was messing with the wrong man. Phat was stopped by his friends and safely taken out of the arena, after which he got into his car with his wife, Mint. She could see how tense Phat was and wanted to know the reason behind his anxiety. He was disinterested in answering her, but later had an outburst stating how he never wanted to have a child. As the couple argued, a man stood in front of their car and shot Phat several times. His wife saw him bleed to death as she sat next to him, helpless.
Such incidents are not uncommon in the world of Muay Thai, and the series establishes this in the first episode itself. “Hurts like Hell” gradually poses the question of how corrupt the sporting world is. It is not just the boxing gurus who go out of their way to win bets, but also the trainers, the referees, and the players who indulge in unfair means. How can a sport survive if everyone involved in it is corrupt to the core? Is there hope for the culture to survive?
How Can Players And Referees Influence A Match?
The job of a Muay Thai referee is not an easy one. His decision could go against the outcome the big gurus expect, leading to his death or injury. The referees are strategically appointed for matches, and they are paid a hefty amount to favor the big boss and announce the winner that they desire. In the fictionalized story, a referee is asked by the committee to stop the red player from winning in some way or another. The big guru had his eyes on the blue player, and therefore, he wanted to make sure that the red lost somehow.
Meanwhile, Phat wanted to bet on the red player. According to him, he had more chances to succeed, but that was not enough to win a challenge with a big guru. So just like the big guru, he too resorted to fixing the match. He asked the blue player to throw the fight after the fourth round and, in return, he would be paid 200,000 baht. The players are often the ones who are paid the least in the whole affair. They are the cocks in the fight, risking their lives for a small fee while the world around them gets richer, betting on them. Therefore, more often than not, players take advantage of the situation and agree to throw fights for money.
Even if a player agreed to throw a fight, he could not discuss the deal with his trainer since the trainer might have already received money to confirm the win of his candidate. Therefore, he had to pretend to be invested in the fight even if he knew he would purposefully lose. Meanwhile, the referee, Wirat, tries to help his daughter and ex-wife with the money he received as a bribe. His daughter returned the money, knowing how it was Muay Thai and her father’s addiction to the sport that destroyed their family. Wirat had money in his bank account, but he lost his family in the process. He was ashamed of the person he had become and felt lonelier than ever.
To confirm his win, the big guru made sure that the red player felt weak. One of the members of the red player’s team handed him a drugged drink that would dehydrate him. The trainer was paid by the big guru to make sure that his candidate lost, even though the player was never made aware of the arrangement. The red player struggled to hold his ground as he felt weak. He even urinated in the ring as a result of the drug. But the player had a strong will to win the match, and he refused to give up. The referee, who was paid enough to disqualify the red player after the first knockdown, chose to abide by the rules and allowed the player to continue fighting. He knew he was risking his life, but he wanted to be fair and be a good person in the eyes of his daughter. The red player won since the blue player chose to not attack since he was paid to lose the match by Phat. In the end, the red player won, enraging the big guru.
It is impossible to blame a single person for the state of the sport. The players cannot be solely blamed because the world around them was corrupt, and even if they joined the sport out of respect, they, too, learned the quick way to make money. The referees cannot be blamed as well because they risk losing their lives if they decide to be fair and go against the big names. The gamblers are spoiling all those who are involved in the match, and no one can bring it under control. But if money were removed from the game, would people still watch Muay Thai with the same excitement? Where would the poor kids go, who often take up the sport to help their families?
‘Hurts Like Hell’ Ending Explained: Why Are Children Banned From Fighting In A Muay Thai Match?
Children are often introduced to the age-old martial art at the age of six. After turning 10, many start fighting in professional matches, giving it their all. Several gamblers especially love betting on children’s matches, knowing how dedicated they are and how unpredictable the game can be. The unpredictability gives them the thrill that is often absent in adult matches. Many children are attracted to the sport, knowing how profitable it can be in the long run. Poverty is the primary reason why they resort to Muay Thai. The documentary introduces us to another story about a child named Wichian. Wichian’s mother earns by selling flower garlands, something that keeps her busy and distracts her from her tragic life. Her husband is an alcoholic who sleeps throughout the day and enters the home drunk at night. He watched as his father tortured his mother, abusing her every night. He was determined to help his mother in some way. He dedicated his life to Muay Thai, knowing he could earn money from the sport at a young age.
He trained passionately, and his trainer noticed the hunger in his eyes. He knew that Wichian would not just play to win, but he would fight his way through because he had nothing to fall back on. Wichian fought his first match and managed to win. He earned himself 1500 baht, though his trainer had earned a lot more from the game. Even though he received a small percentage, he could not have demanded more money since his trainer was taking care of him and, without him, Wichian would not have had the exposure. Phat had also placed his bet on Wichian, and he gave the kid a little extra cash for the good fight. He went home hoping to make his mother proud, but before he could hand over the money, his father snatched it from him. He was thrown out of the house by his father, and he slept at the gym that night. The trainer knew Wichian’s background and wanted to bet on his success. Wichian was chosen to play in a high-stakes match, and for that, he trained day and night. He was supposed to earn 10,000 baht if he won, and he wanted to use that money to move with his mother to another house away from his father. The match meant the world to him; he had to win it since losing was not even an option. He fought hard and used every technique he was taught in the best possible way. After striking the opponent multiple times, the kid he was fighting against dropped to the ground. He was announced as the winner, and he rejoiced in his glory, but within a few seconds, he realized that his opponent was in a critical state. The boy was neither breathing nor moving. He was taken to the hospital immediately. Wichian felt guilty even though he knew that he did nothing out of the ordinary. But as a little boy, he could only blame himself for the outcome. He felt a strange weight on his shoulder, as if a spirit was riding on him. He stayed at a monastery for some time until he could get over the incident and forgive himself for it. He and his mother shifted to a new place just like he intended to.
At the end of “Hurts like Hell,” we learn that the kid who fought against Wichian was hoping to qualify for the national team. He came from an affluent family, and his father even paid the trainer to confirm his son’s position at the match. The father regretted that decision for the rest of his life. The story was inspired by a real event where a child died due to cerebral hemorrhage after receiving repeated blows and falling headfirst during a match. It was then that child boxing was banned for those aged below 12. Even though the bill was passed, several Muay Thai professionals want the bill to be revoked and are fighting for it. The gambling aspect of the sport has resulted in referees being chased and beaten in town, leading to the death of a security guard who tried to intervene. Recently, a player and a bettor were arrested for manipulating a match. The case of drugging the player for winning a bet is also a common practice in reality. Some believe that as long as gambling is involved, matches will continue to be fixed.
But who can truly stop the gambling practice since it has been intertwined with the game for far too long now? Also, without the money, would more young children take up the sport? It is not enough to stop the practice since it might lead to more jobless youth and far worse economic conditions for many. Nonetheless, the amount of death and brutality involved in the sport as a result of gambling could eventually destroy the spirit of the sport. Some believe that it is only after stopping gambling completely can the sport be revived, whereas some continue to believe that no matter what, the sport will never die down, just like it has not been for so long.
“Hurts like Hell” is a 2022 Semi-Fictional series streaming on Netflix.