Blaring dance music, high-octane footage of previous events, including the hugely successful Rise of the Kingdom, and an appearance by a mixed martial arts legend heralded ONE Championship’s upcoming return to Cambodia yesterday.
Speaking amid the fanfare of the press conference at NagaWorld, ONE CEO Victor Cui enthused about Cambodia’s place in the MMA world.
“Cambodia has an energy that captures the essence of sport. As much as people love football or golf, martial arts is the only truly Asian sport, and Cambodians understand martial arts.
It is the spirit of Asia. It is in our DNA – it is our pride. And you will see that pride on display in next month.”
ONE: Kingdom of Khmer will feature Cambodian MMA fighters on a card that includes the co-main events of Lowen Tynanes from Hawaii against Russian star Raul Yakhyaev, and Japanese wildcard Riku Shibuya against Thailand’s Anatpong Bunrad.
“Our commitment to Cambodia is not only professional. We are committed to the development of martial arts in Cambodia.
“There is some way to go, because Cambodian fighters must still prove themselves, but we’re confident it will happen because Cambodians understand the soul of martial arts.”
The event, to be broadcast live on CTN here in Cambodia and available to an audience of millions, will be headlined by a mix of top international talent while also featuring several up-and-coming Cambodian MMA stars.
Secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia Vath Chamroeun yesterday thanked ONE for giving the Kingdom’s fighters the platform to showcase their skills to a global audience.
“It is important to remember that we have our own martial arts and want to develop them. So we are grateful that ONE supports and helps our fighters so they can show our martial arts to the world.”
Asked if there will be more opportunities for Cambodian mixed martial artists to test their skills against foreign fighters, Cui replied: “The growing interest in MMA here and its development means there will be more international matchups [with] Cambodian fighters.
“Chan Rothana is a prime example [after he defeated Ramon Gonzales at Age of Champions in Malaysia in March to becoming the first Cambodian to win on foreign soil]. There are going to be lots of opportunities for local fighters to develop with foreign matchups.”
Legend comes to town
At Rothana’s Selapak gym in the capital, UFC legend Rich Franklin held an MMA seminar yesterday afternoon after the press conference for local MMA practitioners.
Hardly breaking a sweat after the training session, Franklin, a two-time UFC champion and a vice president of ONE, gave his opinion of Cambodian mixed martial artists.
“They are great strikers. Their kun Khmer tradition gives them that; striking is not an issue. When I think of Cambodia fighters, I always think of their tenacity, their toughness. It’s always like: ‘Wow, this is going to be a battle.'
But their ground game is their main weakness. They are able to use good takedowns, but it is utilising them that is the problem.
Rothana is a case in point; His yutakun khom background gives him an advantage in groundwork [over others with a purely kun Khmer one], but he trained hard to develop that for MMA and that can be seen with his record.
We have seven ‘diamonds in the rough’, as it were, in Cambodia, and, yeah, they will go on to succeed in time I’m sure. It is the Cambodian work ethic in martial arts that will make them successful in MMA.
We at ONE want to develop fighters. We could just put on a card of foreigners, take the money and run, but we want to develop the fighters and the sport here. There is a big focus on building athletes.”
It is this athlete-building program that took Franklin to Selapak to impart his knowledge to a group of eager MMA practitioners.
While a former champion in UFC and now deeply involved in ONE, admitted a jointly promoted match between champions from both promotions was unlikely to happen anytime soon.
“Not in the foreseeable future,” he said. “But then there was a time in the States when I never imagined MMA would become such a huge global phenomenon. I never thought I’d be stepping off a plane in Cambodia.
What would be really cool is if MMA grew in Cambodia so much so that we could put on shows in cities other than Phnom Penh. That would be amazing.”