It's the final day of fighting at Cambodia's national team selection tournament and
the 21inch color TV sets are disappearing out the back door fast.
Fighters stand on the podium after the final bout at the national team selection tournament held between October 20 and October 31 in Phnom Penh's TV5 arena. Winners will represent Cambodia internationally.
The first-place prizes are being hauled through the rear exit of Phnom Penh's TV
5 stadium by satisfied supporters of newly crowned champs, and even by some sweat-drenched
Chan Samrith has one. The repeat champion and 2004 Southeast Asia (SEA) Games silver
medalist in the Western boxing style has just won his fifth national title, this
year in the 69 kg weight class, and carrying the cumbersome trophy is an honor he
"I'm happy that I won and can compete again for my country," Samrith, who
hails from Phnom Penh's Talei Damrei Prich boxing club, told the Post on October
31. "I'm happy to get the prizes, too."
The exodus of electronics marked the end of 11 days of combat. The national team
selection competition began on October 20 with 876 entrants from 37 boxing clubs
and organizations from across Cambodia. Those left standing, like Samrith, will have
earned a place on the national squad to represent the country in international competitions.
The finale, which brought more than 1,000 onlookers to the cramped confines of TV5
and riveted television audiences all over the country, crowned 36 champions, 36 runners
up and 72 third-place finishers.
The atmosphere surrounding the fights is a unique sensory assault. Even the most
casual of observers would be stirred by the intensity, the clamor and the crowd.
Bullhorns call the competitors to the ring and the fervent crowd urges on - and wagers
on - their favorite fighters.
The 2006 national boxing team selection tournament featured 876 competitors from 37 fight clubs across the country. The entrants competed in both kickboxing and Western-style boxing formats for 36 coveted championsips. The first place finishers were awarded 30,000 riel and a 21-inch color TV.
Cigarette smoke curls to the ceiling with the lilting notes of the traditional musical
accompaniment and refreshments are sold by children who clamber among the spectators
seated on the creaking wooden bleachers. Sponsors' advertisements boldly proclaim
the benefits of "muscle wine" and American tobacco. Gamblers brazenly crowd
the ring, gesturing to other punters in the stands and speaking hurriedly into cell
phones. It's the premier fighting event in Cambodia - and, organizers say, a proud
"From beginning to end, the whole tournament has run smoothly," said Mel
Kado, secretary-general of the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation. "This year
we've seen improvements in the quality of fighting and the numbers of competitors
increased as well."
Kado said the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) contributed more than
$75,000 for the annual event and TV5 pitched in the prizes. The finale was presided
over by Bun Sok, secretary of state at the MoEYS. First-place winners were awarded
30,000 riel and the color TV, second-place finishers received 20,000 riel and a VCD,
third-place fighters brought home 16,000 riel and a fan.
The competition is arguably Cambodia's most popular sporting event and, for many
entrants, it is an opportunity to slug their way out of poverty, unemployment or
Beuth Kham, 19, from the Salavorn Keila Club in Phnom Penh, spoke to the Post just
minutes before he received an award after winning his 60 kg final. He'd won four
consecutive fights to reach the championship and was now sitting alone, wrapping
his fists nervously, deep in the mud-stained locker rooms of the raucous arena. Kham
is a popular, up-and-coming fighter with many knockouts in his more than 50 televised
"I am just hoping that God will give me the power to fight hard and beat my
opponent," Kham said. "I have trained very hard every day to come here."
Kham emerged from the training room determined, and with a flurry of kicks and brutal
combinations advanced to a decisive victory.
"Many fighters don't have many opportunities to show their skills in competition,
and Cambodia doesn't have many chances to show its fighting styles to the world,"
said Troeung Sosay, coach of the Military Police Club in Phnom Penh. "The government
and the boxing federation should look for more opportunities to assist our fighters
and send them abroad."
Sosay said that the popularity of kickboxing could be harnessed to keep young people
from drugs, alcohol and dissolution. When youth become involved in the sport, he
added, they learn discipline and respect for Khmer traditions.
"The Khmer martial arts, like kickboxing, are a reason to be proud of being
Cambodian," he said.
For competitors from distant provinces, the competition is also an abrupt introduction
to the capital. Most travel to Phnom Penh with the members of their fight clubs,
bring their own food and sleep in the bleachers for the length of the tournament.
At last year's event, which featured more than 600 competitors and was presided over
by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, fighters who were defeated in their first fight were
given money for a return bus ticket home.