Igor Cabrita (left) from Brazil in the heat of battle with Paddy Moun Sophea. JORGE RODRIGUEZ SANTOS Photograph: Jorge Rodriguez Santos
Siem Reap’s first kickboxing stadium opened on March 20, in Charles de Gaulle Road opposite the Tara Angkor Hotel. The 700-seater CTN Angkor Arena, dubbed ‘The Ring of Champions,’ will host tournaments every Wednesday featuring fighters from all over the world, broadcast live on Cambodian Television Network (CTN).
The arena is the brainchild of legendary boxing promoter and trainer Paddy Carson, in collaboration with CTN. Having already opened the successful Paddy’s Fight Club in Phnom Penh, Carson felt it was time to bring Khmer kickboxing to Siem Reap.
“More tourists are coming here than to Phnom Penh, about 80 per cent,” Carson says. “So we thought, they want to see traditional Khmer boxing, and it’s a good opportunity.”
Kun Khmer or ‘pradal serey,’ is a form of traditional Khmer kickboxing that has been practiced since Angkorean times, according to Carson. Also, there are carvings at Angkor Wat depicting warriors fighting using the bokator style of kickboxing, the predecessor of kun Khmer.
At the CTN Arena boxers will compete in five fights every Wednesday from 4pm. In the inaugural tournament, competitors came from France, Columbia and Brazil to fight with local champions including International Sport Kickboxing Association world middleweight champ Vorn Viva. The first tournament was free to spectators, but Carson thinks even if it hadn’t been, the stadium would have been packed to the rafters. As it was, there were queues of Khmer around the block.
“You should have seen it – if we’d had another 500 or 1000 seats, we would have filled it,” he says. “All around, they were just watching.”
Having carved out a 30-year career for himself in South Africa as a boxer, trainer and promoter, Carson eventually moved to Thailand and, twelve years ago, relocated again to Phnom Penh, where he has been training boxers ever since. He is also the president of the International Sport Kickboxing Association Cambodia.
“I was the biggest kickboxing promoter in South Africa,” claims Carson. “I had my own clubs, my own fighters, I created five world champions. My dream coming here was to give the Khmers a world title fight which I did: we’ve got one current International Sport Kickboxing Association world champion, Vorn Viva.”
The brand-new stadium sits halfway down Charles de Gaulle Road, next to the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf and Spa Resort. Carson feels confident the CTN Angkor Arena will be a hit both with tourists and local Khmer, the latter paying a reduced ticket fee of $3 rather than the standard $15.
“The South Koreans and the Chinese, they love all contact sport,” he says. “It’s big in South Korea – they have K-1, Mixed Martial Arts, and Muay Thai. Also in Vietnam.
So it’s something that they know. But there are a lot of foreigners that would love to see it too. And the Khmers that live here who haven’t been to Phnom Penh have
never seen a live show, so they’re very excited.”
The CTN Arena is creating something of a buzz among expats too, many of whom are thrilled at a new addition to Siem Reap’s attractions that isn’t a souvenir market or an Apsara show.
Before the first tournament on March 20, Carson drew on his years of promotional nous to organise a kickboxing demonstration in Pub St. He took one of his fighters, Paddy Moun Sophea – all his fighters take his name, so people will know whose training stable they come from – to spar in front of the crowds of curious tourists. This week, Reapers may have spotted another unusual addition to the Pub St masses.
“On Tuesday night I had ten fighters dressed in their fight gear, going around Pub St giving out flyers,” he says with a smile.
For the moment the arena will hold fights just once a week, but in due course Carson might increase this. “We’ll see what the market wants,” he says.
In the future Carson is also considering opening up a boxing club in Siem Reap because his Fight Club in Phnom Penh is extremely popular with fitness enthusiast expats. But for now he will concentrate on the kickboxing arena.
“It’s a great stadium,” he says. Everybody can see the fights, they’ve all got a good view. I think it’s going to do very well.”
CTN Angkor Arena tournaments are held every Wednesday from 4pm – 6.30pm. Tickets cost $15 for tourists and $3 for Khmers, and are available from the venue or on: 012 217 877.