He'd Rather Fight and Switch

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RICK REILLYDrop everything else! There's an injustice to right! There's a cause to champion! A transvestite Thai kickboxer is being stripped of his dignity!

Injustice No. 1: The bra thing.

Sure, 18-year-old Pirinya Kiatbusaba, who is known as Nong (Va-Voom) Toom and has won all but three of his more than 30 fights, was permitted to wear lipstick and eyeliner and pink nail polish. And mascara. And shiny yellow hot pants. But Toom is planning to have a sex-change operation, and the female hormone injections are kicking in. He's beginning to get some, well, sizable breasts. So, for his recent fight in Tokyo, he petitioned Japanese kickboxing officials to wear a bra during the bout. And they balked!

True, they finally let him wear a sports bra under his short tank top, but all the hassle was just plain upsetting, you know? It's no wonder he lost the match on a decision. At the postfight press conference, Toom, clutching a stuffed puppy, told how every time he got hit in the breasts, he lost his breath. Plus, his opponent made fun of them and said they felt mushy to the punch. That's so disrespectful. They're only half the size of George Foreman's!

Yeah, you think it's funny fighting this kid until he hits you. He may look like Vickie LaMotta, but he punches like Jake. True, Toom comes to the ring all dressed up--I must look beautiful in the ring, he says--and it gets a little weird when he does his seven-minute version of the traditional prefight dance to appease the spirits of the ring. Wearing garlands of purple orchids, white jasmine and marigolds, Toom prances, pirouettes, twirls his gloves, raises his legs and, for the finale, does a split as he mimes putting on his makeup. (Extending one glove as if he were holding a compact, he feigns powdering his face with the other.) You don't think, back in the dressing room, Sonny Liston was doing that?

One time the spirits-appeasing dance made Toom's opponent so mad that when the referee asked them to shake hands, the opponent planted a wet kiss on Toom's cheek. Toom then planted about 18 kicks on the guy's face on his way to winning the bout easily--and gave him a wet kiss afterward. The poor guy looked as if he'd had the crap kicked out of him by a door-to-door lipstick salesperson. (I'm thinking that if by some weird chance you ever end up dating Toom, breaking up is going to get ugly.)

Injustice No. 2: The weigh-in thing.

Sometimes kickboxing officials ask Toom to weigh in naked, like all the other fighters do. But Toom isn't like all the other fighters. In his Bangkok debut 16 months ago he took a terrified look around, saw all the cameramen and photographers, turned his back to them, put one hand on his hip, the other on the bridge of his nose and began to cry. Finally, he was allowed to weigh in wearing his drawers.

By the way, until he turns 20 and saves enough money for his sex-change operation, the equipment is very real. So is the body: broad-shouldered, slim-waisted and ripped like an Olympic swimmer's, only with B cups.

Why persecute the man? Do we pick on boxers who skip rope, covet each other's jeweled belts and slow dance on pay-per-view television?

Injustice No. 3: His own country may soon ban him!

After the operation Toom will be fighting as a woman, only he'll still take on men. But instead of seeing this as the greatest leap forward in the equality of the sexes since Sable, the Thai kickboxing community will rally against him. In Thailand women aren't even allowed in the same ring the men use, as it angers the spirits. Yeah, right. They're not afraid of the spirits. They're afraid of Toom the Mascara Mauler!

It's enough to wilt a guy's perm. Poor Toom doesn't know what he's going to do. He's not having much luck getting hired as a luk thung (Thai-style country music) singer, although he has a CD out. Yes, please, where's your transvestite kickboxer Thai country music section? Japanese filmmakers are also looking at him possibly to star in gangster movies. But is that realistic? I coulda been a contenda, Cholly. I coulda been somebody. Do my thighs look fat?

No, what we need is an American boxing honcho, like, say, Don King or Bob Arum, to bring Nong (Va-Voom) Toom over to the U.S. to fight. After all, he smells nice in the clinch and can save a promoter some real money. Not only can Toom fight, but he also makes a wonderful round-card girl. Best of all, he'd be living, butt-kicking proof that in the world of sport--unlike a few other, more serious rings--it doesn't matter what color your nail-polish is. What counts is the size of your box office.

From Sports Illustrated