Sunday sees the inaugural bout of CTN’s Kun Khmer Champion, back for its second season to find a local kickboxing champion out of 12 unknowns
Photo by: VIRGINE NOEL
Contestants on Kun Khmer Champion pose for the cameras after a March press conference announcing the new season’s lineup with technical director Paddy Carson (back row, far left) and trainers Meas Sokry (back row, second left) and Sok Vichay (back row, fourth right).
TWELVE unknown rookie fighters will try to slug their way to wealth and fame in the second season of Kun Khmer Champion at the CTN boxing arena, which airs its first show Sunday.
For the dozen newcomers the Kun Khmer Champion reality series offers a chance to skip years of fighting in little-viewed undercard bouts and go straight to the main event, where packed arenas cheer every punch and gamblers shower their winners with prize money.
Like fighting sport the world over, a boxer's ability to command big money rides largely on his popularity, with fighters often spending years brawling in obscurity before breaking into the limelight.
"A year ago I was pouring cement," said Sam Ournlourng, a 21-year-old from Prey Veng and one of a dozen hopefuls on the show. "I'd rather fight."
With a professional record of 10-1, Sam Ournlourng comes to the show with a better chance of winning than most. The majority of contestants arrive with little or no professional experience.
"For this season, we wanted completely unknown fighters," said the show's producer, Ma Serey, who spent weeks scouring boxing's ranks for the newest and most talented youngsters at 65 kilograms.
"We wanted to take guys at the very bottom and build them up," said Paddy Carson, a trainer and technical director on the show. "We wanted to give the young guys an opportunity to become Kun Khmer champions and make a name for themselves."
Now in its second season, Kun Khmer Champion puts 12 fighters under one roof to live and train.
Each week, the fighters face a physical challenge to determine who will fight at the weekend. Challenges include carrying sacks of rice, racing cyclos and other timed tests of strength and fitness.
The fighter who scores highest in the week's challenge gets to choose his opponent from among the three lowest scorers, with the bout taking main event on CTN's Sunday fight card.
Winners get to stay on the show and fight again. Losers go home.
Unlike typical weekend matches where fighters represent their club, contestants in the Kun Khmer Champion series fight for their native province, which helps them build a hometown following.
"Kun Khmer fighters are like boxers everywhere. They develop loyal followings," said series co-producer Aaron Leverton. "If we can start that process early or earlier, then I think that is a good thing."
Fights earn top dollar
In addition to building a fan base, series contestants also get a crack at purses far beyond what is available to most newcomers.
"Boxers receive a substantial purse for each fight, especially considering they are at the beginnings of their careers and are not yet drawcards themselves," Leverton said.
For each fight, contestants pocket US$100 regardless of the result, considerably more than a standard rookie purse of $25 for winners, $15 for losers.
For the fighter who wins it all, an eye-popping $1,750 grand prize awaits, plus a 12-month salaried contract with CTN.
The second-place winner receives $800, still a staggering amount by local standards, where top-name fighters often work for half that amount.
"From a Cambodian kickboxing perspective, it's a huge amount," Leverton said. "But from a reality series standpoint, it's pretty standard, at least with CTN."
Winners of similarly formatted programs receive comparable cash prizes.
A pre-taped Kun Khmer Champion episode airs on Saturday at 1pm on CTN as a buildup to the inaugural fight of the season screened live on Sunday.
The trainers are Meas Sokry and Sok Vichay, with Vorn Viva, the ISKA world middleweight champion, serving as assistant trainer.
Chhit Sarim and Trueng Sossay were the trainers in the first series, and Ei Phouthang served as assistant trainer.
The first- and second-placed winners from last season, Cheam Adam and Seung Kangsan, respectively, received massive exposure when the two fought in August on the undercard of two international world title fights.
"Cheam Adam defeated Seung Kangsan on his way to the first Kun Khmer Champion title," Leverton recalled. "Then at the world titles last year the two of them fought in the Olympic Stadium before more than 5,000 people."
"That doesn't include the more than 50 percent of the total TV audience who tuned in live," Leverton said. "How many fighters get that kind of opportunity at the beginning of their professional careers?"