For the first time in history Cambodia’s Bokator warriors will pit their fighting skills against rivals from different martial arts background away from home.
Adding a new dimension to this epoch-making expedition to Malaysia for a mixed martial arts competition from September 10 to 12 is the presence in the team of a foreigner, Antonio Graceffo, popularly known as the Brooklyn Monk, who holds a black kroma in Bokator.
The four-member Cambodian team, which besides Graceffo comprises big guns Say Teven, Tun Serey and Kong Ravy, is heading to Selangor for an MMA fest with a fearsome name – Mayhem 2 – which the organisers claim is Hell in the Cell where the fights take place in a steel octagon cage.
“Bokator fighters had never gone out of the country to fight other martial art forms and this mixed martial arts show will be a whole new experience in their lives for them,” Antonio Graceffo told the Post yesterday after an intense training session at the K-1 Fitness and Fight Factory near the Olympic Stadium.
“I think the Cambodian Bokator fighters will do well in Malaysia and adapt themselves to mixed martial arts, although they will be called upon to do lot of things differently. Some of the native techniques will definitely be of advantage like the use of elbows Bokator fighters are so good at.
“What they are up against will be a combination of boxing, kicking and wrestling within a confined space and they need to make some adjustments to get into this mould,” added the 44-year old Antonio, a heavyweight at 94kgs.
“I strongly feel that the best way to spread Bokator and popularise it is to encourage fighters to get into mixed martial arts.
“I feel it is a great honour to be representing Cambodia in Bokator. I have pursued different forms of martial arts all over the world. That’s my passion and that’s what brought me to Cambodia nearly six years ago. Rules here do not permit two foreigners to fight in Bokator. One of the contestants will have to be a Cambodian,” said Antonio, who will be having his first professional fight in nearly five years.
Grandmaster San Kim Saen, whose name is synonymous with Bokator, feels this trip to Malaysia could well be a tipping point in the history of the sport.
“So many techniques are the same and I think our fighters will do well. It is an exciting change and the one we all are looking forward to,” said San Kim Saen, who heads the Cambodian Bokator Federation.
“Thankfully the three Cambodian players will get their passports in time and we are ready and eager to go,” said San Kim Saen, who is expected to accompany the team.
While Say Teven, Tun Serey and Kong Ravy have been training at the Bokator Academy for more than a month in a traditional way, Antonio roped them all in last week for a grueling fitness session with Alvaro Lealdela Torre, the lead grappling instructor at the KI Fitness and Fight Factory.
Thanks to a generous offer from David Minetti of Team Minetti, the owner of the Factory, Antonio has been going through the grind with Alvaro, as tough a fitness guru as you can imagine.
“For us it was a whole new world,” the three Cambodian fighters said in one voice after their hour-long session with Alvaro.
“Apart from fitness, Alvaro passed on some valuable tips on fighting techniques. The experience was great,” one of the fighters said.
The 28-year old Kong Ravy, who weighs 65kgs and stands 1.66m, won the National Championships in 2009. The highly talented Say Teven has eight Bokator fights behind him. The 25-year old fights in the 68kg class and is expected to do well in Malaysia.
The 25 year old Tun Serey is considered as the best Bokator fighter in Cambodia. He was the only fighter to last three full rounds against French fighters in an international show at Siem Reap on July 16 this year.
“Many of the competitors Tun Serey will be facing in Malaysia may not be as good as the French Fighters,” Antonio pointed out.
“It is a tournament. So, we do not actually know who we are fighting. Opponents will be assigned randomly. In the preliminary fights we will have one three-minute round which is meant to be a knock-out (KO), choke or submission (tap out).
“In the semi-finals and final we will fight three rounds of three minutes each,” Antonio said.
The Cambodian team is scheduled to leave Phnom Penh on September 9 for the three-day event.