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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodians impress at ONE: Total Victory

Cambodian fighter Thai Rithy (right) lands a punch on Jerome S Payne during their ONE: Total Victory bout on Saturday night in Jakarta.
Cambodian fighter Thai Rithy (right) lands a punch on Jerome S Payne during their ONE: Total Victory bout on Saturday night in Jakarta. ONE

Cambodians impress at ONE: Total Victory

The usually staid surroundings of the Jakarta Convntion Centre came alive as the ONE Championship juggernaut rolled into the Indonesian capital on Saturday night for ONE: Total Victory. Cambodian hopes rested on the powerful shoulders of kun Khmer trio Phat Soda, Thai Rithy and Sim Bunsrun.

The 22-year-old Kandal province native Rithy, a KWC 3 champion who was already a late call-up with only a week’s training at Phnom Penh MMA gym Cambodian Top Team, was thrown into further confusion when his original opponent at featherweight, the 31-year-old Indonesian kickboxing and jiu-jitsu proponent “the Terminator” Sunoto, retired from the bout due to illness.

“It’s a huge shame Sunoto had to pull out,” said Cambodian Top Team trainer Chan Reach when the news arrived the day before the event. “We were really looking forward to showcasing his skills, both in kun Khmer and MMA, to the wider world and make the people back home proud.”

That desire, however, was to be realised as a last-minute replacement was found. In a catchweight fight, Rithy was paired with Liberian flyweight Jerome S Paye. Like Rithy, Paye, 39, is renowned for his striking ability, paving the way for an intriguing battle of the strikers.

Like the gales that had earlier in the day buffeted the palm trees that line the entrance to the convention centre, Rithy came flying at his opponent from the off. The early stages of the first round saw Rithy force his opponent against the cage before he eventually took him to the mat but failed to hold him there.

After some cagey striking exchanges, Paye took Rithy to the floor. Rithy’s groundwork defence, however, meant Paye was unable to capitalise with the ground and pound and Rithy eventually got back to his feet and rocked his opponent with a strong right hand in an exchange of punches and looked to have controlled round 1 when the bell rang.

Straight out of the blocks in round 2, Rithy went right to his opponent, rocking him with a flurry of punches and the fight was over by knockout within 19 seconds. A first Cambodian victory was recorded in the first fight of the 10-bout card.

“I feel happy to get my first victory in ONE Championship,” Rithy said after the fight. “But now and I am only thinking of my teammates.”

Rithy’s trainer Reach spoke of the unsettling build-up the fight in which he was paired with Paye at the last minute after the Liberian’s original Thai opponent Yodsanan Sityodtong failed ONE’s pre-fight health check. “We knew nothing of Paye so the plan was to feel him out.

But when he got hit, he went into autopilot and fought to his strengths, and he got the win, which was so much sweeter after the uncertainty beforehand. It was his will to win for Cambodia that spurred him on.”

In the third fight of the card, Soda was making his ONE debut, despite an experienced kun Khmer career, against Indonesian Adrian Matheis. Matheis (3-4-0) spoke of his boxing background in the pre-event press conference, throwing up the interesting prospect of a kickboxer and boxer meeting in the MMA cage, in a kind of reverse Mayweather-McGregor fight.

A three-time national kun Khmer champion with record of 115 wins and 35 losses in the sport, Soda got off to a promising start, aiming a series of powerful kicks at Matheis. Matheis then landed some decent punches, and in a clinch they went to the floor as Soda eventually got his man to the deck. However, Matheis skilfully got out of the hold and turned the tables, pinning Soda to the mat.

Eventually Matheis got the ground and pound on Soda, and as the Cambodian fought his way to his feet, Matheis landed some fierce punches into his face before getting Soda into a standing rear naked choke, throwing Soda to the canvas in the hold and the Cambodian tapped out three minutes into the first round.

Speaking on behalf of his fighter, Reach said after the fight: “The plan was to stand up, but I think Soda got a little bit of stage-fright, was slightly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the occasion, and this played into his opponent’s hands somewhat.

“He now knows what to expect, and it won’t be a problem next time. He made one small mistake. MMA is like chess – your opponent will capitalise on any mistake. He has gained a lot of experience from this event and will come back all the stronger for it.”

In the pre-main event bout, 24-year-old Bunsrun was paired with 30-year-old local hero Stefer Rahardian. Fighting at flyweight and with 11 wins and one loss in his kun Khmer career, Bunsrun, after a cagey opening where each fighter sized the other out, acted first, aiming kicks as he looked to strike, but Rahardian moved in and took Bunsrun to the mat.

Bunsrun defended the ground and pound bravely, but as he attempted to free himself, Rahardian got him in a rear naked choke hold on the mat and eventually the Kampong Cham native tapped out in just a little over a minute into the first round to leave Rahardian undefeated at 7-0-0, while Bunsrun dropped to 3-4-0.

“I made one small mistake. He was fishing and I took the bait ,” Bunsrun said ruefully after the loss.

So not “Total Victory ” for the Cambodian team in Jakarta, but with one win and two impressive performances in defeat, Cambodian fight fans should be proud.

“We don’t lose, we learn and we move on to the next fight,” said trainer Reach. “I hope Cambodia is proud of our fighters here. We went to enemy territory and tried to pull off upsets for our country and bring the wins back home. One win from three isn’t bad away from home and we will only come back stronger.”

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