Phnom Penh has seen two international kick-boxing tournaments recently. Chea Sotheacheath
talked to some of the men who earn a lean living by slogging it out in the ring.
Hailing from the provinces, the Ministry of Interior, and the RCAF, local pugilists
share at least one thing in common - a moment of prayer before each bout.
"We rub on oil to warm up for the fight, but before we enter the ring we have
to pray," explained Long Saravan, a native of Battambang town.
"It's an old tradition. The result of my prayer can give my enemy a headache,
or make him confused and exhausted," he said.
Saravan's love of sports drew him into kick-boxing five years ago and he is talented
enough to have made the national team for the last three years. But despite his success,
the difficulty of combining work at the Interior Ministry with the sport - and the
poor financial returns from the ring - have forced him to think about his future.
"One day I will change from boxer to something else for my life. I want to resign,
but for now I still like the sport," he said.
Dreams of becoming a kick-boxing "star" - and a love of the sport - keep
contenders in the ring even though many complain of the low pay and lack of training
Nonetheless, appeals to magic and regular training are no match for a decent diet,
argued 22 year-old Sday Nas, a national champion in the 48 kilogram division.
Confident he was equal to his Thai competitor in "tactics", Nas acknowledged
that his better-nourished opponents had the edge in stamina.
"When I get to the third round I lose energy," he said. His supporters
were obviously aware of his handicap.
"Defeat him before you run out of gasoline," they shouted as he kicked
into the second round.
But not all Cambodia's kick-boxers entered the sport quite so willingly as Saravan
Nuon Phirum became a young apprentice to the art when he became the target of school
"I was very poor and when I went to school the older kids always beat me. I
got angry... but then I met a coach called Hong," said Phirum.
It was a fortuitous meeting, according to Phirum. Soon he was entering competitions,
and "winning all the time." "The older kids stopped fighting [me]
then," he added with a grin.
The need for respect, to be a "strong person and not allow others to look down
on him" still drives Phirum, but he admitted the occupation has its drawbacks.
"No woman loves a kick-boxer because they think the sport is dangerous and boxers
do not make any money," he said matter-of-factly.