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Belarusian fighter Sasha
Belarusian fighter Sasha Revolver gestures in the training room after victory in a Kun Khmer fight in Siem Reap last week. Clarke Illmatical

Sasha Revolver fires off in Kun Khmer ring

Sasha Revolver has been fighting in Cambodia for two years; his journey into the world of pugilism started in Belarus. At the age of 25, he started studying Muay Thai. “In Belarus, Muay Thai is very popular. Belarus school is [sic] kind of mixing school, for karate, boxing, Western boxing and Muay Thai,” Sasha says.

Kun Khmer is Cambodian’s version of Muay Thai kickboxing. In this form of boxing, the jab is almost non-existent. In Western boxing, when a referee would normally break fighters in a clinch, Kun Khmer grappling is where the action is: knees are viciously delivered to an opponent’s body.

On a humid afternoon at the CTN Angkor Arena in Siem Reap last Wednesday, in front of a crowd of over 250, Sasha (three wins, one loss and a draw) delivered a second round knockout to Eh Chantrea of Prey Veng (10 wins and six losses), fighting in the 73kg weight class.

Following his training in Belarus, Sasha had five fights in Thailand (three wins and two losses) where he honed his Muay Thai skills. Speaking of Thailand he said: “They have [sic] pretty good history of building Muay Thai system, training camps and schools. It is [their] national sport.”

Thailand appears to be a training ground for Muay Thai boxing even for Cambodians, as many visit and train in the neighbouring country to improve their skills.

“During the civil war in Cambodia, they couldn’t practise it. The majority of the smartest fighters, smartest coaches were killed. In Thailand you have everything, you can buy all the equipment. Really good quality gyms with good coaches.

“Muay Thai is famous because of Thailand. Nobody knows about Cambodian boxing. That’s the problem: it’s pretty hard to bring people to Cambodia to train because everybody wants to train in the motherland of Muay Thai,” Sasha said.

Compared to traditional Western boxing, Sasha explains how Kun Khmer is different. “It is a martial art with eight parts of your body. You can use two hands, two legs, two knees and two elbows.”

Like in Muay Thay, Kun Khmer fights are proceeded by flute music played over speakers; a percussion section sits at the side of the ring, adjacent to the judges, beating on drums. The rhythmic beat is constant during each round, almost dictating the pace of the fight.

Nick is Sasha’s training partner at the Angkor Fight Club in Siem Reap, an American with a traditional Western boxing background. He elaborates on the differences between the styles of boxing: “The differences are massive.

The big things are that they don’t use their hands so much here.” Khmer boxers he said “are very square, they stand almost square on”.

Sasha makes his way to the ring, his posture a confident swagger. In traditional Kun Khmer fashion, he respectfully engages in what looks like prayer at the base of the ring and then a second time in the ring while the ceremonial music plays.

He’s greeted with cheers from a base of foreigners, many of whom train at his gym, and locals in town – he’s received with equal respect by the Cambodian crowd, who smile and applaud his presence.

Round one starts slowly, both fighters moving to the rhythm of the ringside beat. Chantrea is the more patient of the two: he’s focused on Sasha’s legs and appears to be more aggressive, successfully striking with kicks to Sasha’s shin and thigh area. Sasha is active and counters successfully with kicks of his own.

The second round begins; the game plan involves elements of more traditional boxing. Sasha starts using more head movement, weaving and ducking Chantrea’s punches. Sasha’s footwork is better, using more lateral movement, which appeared to frustrate Chantrea, who wildly throws haymaykers, which Sasha easily avoids.

In the middle of the second round, while the two fighters clinch, Sasha delivers a perfectly timed knee to the rib cage area of Chantrea, who goes to the canvas in agony.

The referee delivers the count, but as Chantrea lies on the floor, wincing and grabbing at his midsection, it is obvious he is not going to return to his feet in time.

Sasha raises his hands in victory and is celebrated by the entire audience.

Following tradition, after the fight is over, and having impressed the onlookers, Sasha walks among the crowd, accepting money offered as a gift, an additional bonus to his purse for fighting that evening.

As he sampehs to those in attendance, it’s obvious that he was fighting for adulation: the respect from the local and foreign fans in attendance.

As he makes his way to the locker room, not heavily scarred, he is greeted by Khmer familiars who are happy to see him win.

Describing his opponent’s strategy after the fight he says: “Typical Cambodian fighting style – they believe barang have weak legs. He tried to get me with elbows: I saw many elbows – and miss, miss, miss.”

As far as fighting in the future, Sasha says: “It could be my last fight. I’m fighting because our members from Angkor Fight Club deserve it. They want to see a show.”

As he sits in the locker room, not heavily perspiring and clinching the money received after the fight, two tattoos of six-shooters visible on his torso, there is a look of the fight in Sasha’s eyes. Sasha Revolver may yet have bullets still left in the chamber.

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