FORMER champion boxer Noun Sorya has found two new careers outside the ring – one teaching his skills to young Khmer fighters in the United States, and the other as an artist known for his abstract paintings.
Now aged 30, Noun Sorya began his career as a free boxer in Banteay Meanchey province at the age of 17, growing up the hard way in village rings and perfecting his moves and agility in attacking with free knees, elbows and kicks.
Though born in a village in Kampong Cham province, his boxing career saw him fight many Cambodian and Thai boxers in provinces such as Banteay Meanchey or Battambang before the young boxer moved to Phnom Penh.
He is one of the most recognisable boxers to fans of the sport in Cambodia. He fought at 67 kilograms, standing at 1.66 metres.
In his later career he beat many foreigners who thought they could take on the power and agility of Khmer boxers, but a leg injury saw him retire from the ring in 2002.
An old friend suggested he look for another career. After thinking, Noun Sorya asked his friend to find him a painting teacher because he wanted to learn how to be an artist.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to strike in a fight any more since my leg was hurt. I like painting, so I asked her to look for a teacher for me,” he said.
After a year’s tutoring, he found he could copy classic paintings of colourful city landscapes or the Cambodian countryside. Sometimes he painted portraits of his friends while they were boxing or training, to show the reality of a boxer’s life.
“I spent only a year learning how to paint pictures. Maybe my talent would help me. Anyway, I still had five years of learning how to paint ahead of me,” he said.
At first Noun Sorya just copied paintings or did realistic portraits, but later found he could work with oil paints to produce abstract paintings.
“Actually, I prefer the abstract paintings because the pictures come out from the painter’s feelings and thoughts,” said Noun Sorya.
So far he has painted more than 1,000 artworks, mostly sold through stalls at Psar Toul Tom Poung or Russian market, and a few shops along Street 178 in Phnom Penh. Larger paintings cost up to $30, while medium-sized canvases cost about $10.
“They ordered me to paint more but I’m busy, so I had to stop painting for a month,” said Noun Sorya.
He may be luckier than many former boxing champions, whose incomes tend to dwindle when they can no longer fight regularly for prize money.
Five years ago Noun Sorya got a job training young fighters at Samrek Reachkasei boxing club, where he could pass on his skills and also find time to paint.
However, he flew off to a new round of life on Sunday to work for six months in Massachusetts at the invitation of a Khmer boxing club to train others in the deadly arts of free fighting.
“In future, I never plan to give up my boxing skills. I will train young boxers, and I’ll never give up my painting career either,” said Noun Sorya.