From 37 professional Muay Thai fights to a three percent chance of survival and homeless in Thailand to Klong Prem Prison, Chris Tramell’s 38th professional fight has been a long, long time coming.
In his mid-30s, Tramell was living the ideal life for a successful kickboxer. He was in Thailand, had rubbed shoulders with a who’s who of UFC and Muay Thai royalty for the majority of his career, trained regularly overseas and even had a Thai fighting girlfriend.
While training in Bangkok for a fight under the GLORY banner, Tramell was receiving routine staph infection treatment, and back-and-forth twice-a-day late night motorcycle rides were simply a part of life. It was the same route day in and day out with no issues until one night when Murphy’s Law took the wheel.
“In the deepest part of the curve, my back tire scooted or I hadn’t leaned far enough into the turn or something,” Tramell recalls. “The inertia turned my body, and I did something that’s called a high side, where it just kind of launches you off the bike and I came flying off at about 60. Bam! There was a metal light pole coming right at me.”
The Main Event for Lion Fight 63 should be a good one 🔥 we've got two heavy hitters as Hassan Oseni will face off against Chris Tramell for the North American Cruiserweight title! Catch it all live on @UFCFightPass! #LionFight63 #LionFightonUFCFightPass pic.twitter.com/msYFovwtDr— Lion Fight (@LionFight) February 3, 2021
With little control of the outcome of the situation in front of him, the only option Tramell could possibly exercise saved his life. The lifetime Thai fighter mangled the unforgiving pole but not before instinctually slipping his head out of the way.
The decision may have spared him his life in the moment, but had it not been for the help of three Thai spectators, Tramell may have survived the wreck only to immediately find himself on the wrong end of a car speeding through.
“The s**t hit me in the chest, collarbone area and totally destroyed everything inside,” Tramell explained. “What happened was I ended up bouncing off the pole, landing on the cement, and it didn’t even knock me out. At that f****** speed I didn’t even get knocked out. I’m sitting on the ground trying to catch my breath and three Thai guys come from out of nowhere and drag me out of the road and one guy grabs my bike.”
Between luck, shock and a language barrier, Tramell thanked the men as coherently as he could before they added to the most unbelievable story of their lives by driving away. With very little recollection of the four-hour drive home, distinct memories of his return home are burnt into his memory.
“I laid the bike down and I told my girlfriend there was something wrong inside my body and then I passed out,” Tramell said. “She thought that I had been out drinking, starts going through my phone, puts me in the shower. While I’m in the shower I pass out, smack my head on the wall, hit the floor. She comes to get me out of the shower. She swears she thinks I’m drunk or something. So she lays me on the bed starts going through my phone and while we’re sitting there my heart stops; and she looks over at me and I’m f****** dead.”
With no movement, breathing or pulse, Tramell’s girlfriend launched a Hail Mary, performing CPR until his heart started again and was able to call paramedics. While Tramell was being driven to the hospital, his girlfriend was in the position of trying to explain that he showed up disoriented complaining of a motorcycle wreck with few scratches on him or the motorcycle.
With no road rash on him and no damage to the bike that skidded to a stop on the open road, the hospital corroborated Tramell’s story when they removed Tramell’s kidney and spleen, and began treating a punctured lung and plenty more for the next 12 weeks.
“I’ve got some horror stories. Like the very first moment I woke up, I was laying in there naked on a table covered in blood; I thought that I was in a body chop shop,” Tramell recalls. “Like they were harvesting me for body parts. I had no idea I was in a hospital. When I finally realized I was in a hospital I woke up strapped to this bed. I guess I had tried to escape at one point. I ripped an IV out of my arm, I ripped the catheter out and tried to make my way out of there because I really thought I was kidnapped.”
The weight of reality and vital organ trauma set in for Tramell and his girlfriend. Nowhere near in shape enough to function as a normal human, hospital bills began building up and time began slipping away. It wasn’t long before Tramell was left with one option. Pay or go home.
“It was a GoFundMe actually that saved my life,” Tramell said. “It was something that my ex, Maureen, did. It put together like $60,000 in three days.”
Although the money came pouring in, rumors began swirling. Theories of assault and run-ins with the Thai Mafia spread among his peers back in The States. In recent years, many of Tramell’s donors explained to him that with the shape he was in, they weren’t donating to save his life, they were donating to get his body back home.
With the help of hundreds of donors, including former opponents of his, Tramell was able to get the emergency surgeries necessary, but it was only the beginning. Twelve weeks in a Thai hospital wasn’t nearly enough time to reattach muscles, treat his spine or the other surprise injuries they were finding left and right after a hospital treatment with minimal English or time to waste.
It took a wreck this devastating for seven broken ribs to go under the radar for days after his release from the hospital. Even the treatments that saved his life came with their own consequences.
“I went back to the States with giant holes in my stomach because there had been infections in Thailand and certain surgeries didn’t close,” Tramell explained. “So I had surgery holes the size of a 50-cent piece or a silver dollar in my stomach. You could literally see my intestines under the thin layer of skin.”
While he had the ability to make it back to the United States, his abdominal muscles were so detached and damaged that life was completely upside down, even months later. Any activity requiring core stabilization was out the window. Even holding coffee in one hand was physically impossible. The goal posts were pushed back again, however, when Tramell realized that the final surgery came with the lingering effects of the necessary rebuild of his entire self, both mentally and physically.
“After that I started kind of mending a little bit, but by then I was just depressed. I was living in Colorado, wasn’t coaching anymore, wasn’t training anymore, didn’t have a team anymore,” Tramell explained. “No girlfriend, no friends. It’s amazing how people turn on you. Well, not turn on you but just kind of push away from you when something really, really depressing and huge happens like that.”
With nothing to offer the United States and no chance of fighting ever again, Tramell looked for a change to take him back to a point in his life when he remembered true happiness. He connected with an old friend from Thailand on social media and made up his mind. He was saving money and flying to Thailand.
“By the time I landed in Bangkok she was already in love with me,” Tramell recalls. “I had a girlfriend from day one. That honestly made things really great. I was depressed, I was in a terrible place and I just fell in love with this girl. My first six months in Thailand was pretty much just fantasy.”
Fighting was pleasantly in the rearview and Tramell found what he was looking for, and with only a few kinks to be worked out in his relationship, he was the happiest he’s ever been.
But alcoholism that affected his girlfriend spilled into his life. Soon followed an addiction to painkillers followed by relationship turmoil that overshadowed any good times. The all-time high that Tramell had felt for months was met with all-time lows. He now envied the man laid up in the hospital with a three percent chance of survival.
An inevitably messy breakup paired with no work permit gave Tramell few options. He was able to initially afford hostels and hotels sporadically, but it wasn’t long before he was left wandering the charmless downtown streets of Bangkok.
“I would get so completely messed up on pills and get drunk that I just wanted to die. I would go up to different high rises and sometimes I would sleep on the ledge of the building hoping that I would roll off in my sleep,” Tramell explained. “I wanted to die so bad but I couldn’t commit myself to do it so I would get really hammered and climb up to like a 10 or 15 story ledge and just go to sleep right there.”
The odds of a smooth, upward trajectory seemed to be smaller than his chance of survival years before. The unavoidable halt to his drifter lifestyle came one morning before he had reached the next ledge he planned to sleep on.
After stumbling through the streets in search of food, Tramell woke up in a Thai convenience store. After waking up completely clueless and walking outside Thai police showed up demanding an ID. With no wallet on him, the only form of identification Tramell had was an expired passport.
His theft of $7 worth of chicken may have saved his life from the Bangkok high rise but it cost him his freedom.
“I was in a really horrible little city jail there in Bangkok,” Tramell laughed. “They’re just God-awful. I can’t even describe it to you. Sleeping on the ground, covered in insects and there’s poo and piss on the floor. Nobody was really speaking English to me. But they motioned up to me to let me know that I was going somewhere.”
With every court appearance being conducted in Thai, Tramell was simply along for the ride until he was transported somewhere he was very familiar with. A place famous for inmate fighting documentaries, Klong Prem Prison.
The Thai streets and high rises were a paradise compared to his new home. No beds, no cells, an open floor with over 100 prisoners for 16 hours a day managed to introduce Tramell to a new low. He arrived with no shirt, no shoes, no toothbrush, no shower bowl, and with no opportunity to make money in his position, he was staring down the barrel of melting into his own boredom, depression and filth.
Meditation and random court dates made up the next six to seven months of his life. Proceedings were conducted in Thai with the option of a separate translator available. Through the translator Tramell was relieved to learn the stipulations of his punishment. Pay for the chicken you stole or receive 2 ½ years of prison time. He was given ten days to come up with the money.
He came up empty.
Tramell showed up to court on his final court date with no money to offer and had mentally accepted the 2 ½ year sentence. Another guardian angel from Thailand came from the hallway and gave Tramell another lifesaving miracle.
“Apparently, some Thai woman who was there for something completely unrelated, I guess she overheard this,” Tramell said. “She pokes her head in the court proceedings and they’re all speaking something to each other in Thai and I’m getting ready to get 2 ½ years if I can’t pay this money. The judge talks to this woman and says, ‘This woman, she wants to pay for you.’”
A free man now, Tramell never learned the woman’s name or information. To this day he’s never had a chance to thank or repay the stranger who spared a meal’s worth of money to pay for his freedom.
Deported and back in the U.S., Tramell now approaches what would have been close to his release date, looks back at his life, and the food tastes a little better and his bed is a little more comfortable.
Back in The States, he’s just days away from his return to combat sports and the Lion Fight North American Title is on the line. Win or lose, the fact that Tramell is even in the position to revamp his career at 41 is unexplainable.
Alcohol and pills are a thing of the past. Tramell coaches Muay Thai at Cooper MMA six days a week and is on the front end of a five-fight contract with Lion Fight. He hasn’t been able to use the word “normal” in over a half a decade, but against all odds he seems to be right where he wants to be. Fighting, mobile and clean. The only thing that could make this wild ride a little wilder is if he captures gold in the main event of Lion Fight 63.
From the depths of the valley to the top of the mountain.
Catch the long-awaited return of Chris Tramell at Lion Fight 63 Friday February 12 at 6 pm PT ONLY on UFC FIGHT PASS!