Two-time SEA Games gold medallist Bird Sangkhem – along with promoter and matchmaker Sreu Sreng, widely known as “Samnob”, and his coach Sen Bunthen – left Cambodia for Australia on February 7, where he will prepare to fight for a World Boxing Council (WBC) belt.
Scheduled for February 17, Sangkhem will take on Thailand’s Yothin FA Group in the 57kg class, under International Federation Muay Thai Associations (IFMA) rules.
Even though Sangkhem has fought many international bouts, and claimed gold at the 2022 and 2023 SEA Games, when he climbs into the Sydney ring, it will be his first time competing on Australian soil.
This will also be his first shot at a WBC belt, and expectations are high that he will bring the belt back to the Kingdom.
“This is the first time I have had to travel so far to compete, and the first time I have fought somewhere so cold. Fortunately, I have time to prepare. We will arrive 10 days before the match, so I will be fully acclimatised before we fight,” he said.
Sydney weather forecasts showed an overnight low of 19 degrees Celsius, and highs of just 24C.
“I will try my best during the bout. If we are lucky, and our efforts yield a good result, I will bring this belt home,” he added.
Samnob described Sangkhem as the latest Kun Khmer exponent to earn the opportunity to challenge for a WBC belt, but also the one most likely to do it. He recalled that Chey Kosal fought for a WBC title more than a decade ago, but was only informed of the title fight at the last minute.
He explained that this matchup was confirmed around two months ago, so Sangkhem is well prepared.
“Brother Kosal once competed for a WBC belt, but failed to win it. When he departed for the match, he was unaware it would be a title fight. We are well-prepared. This is the first time that the WBC organisers have contacted me and asked me to send a boxer,” he said.
When asked about Sangkhem’s chances of success, Samnob was confident.
“We are aiming for success! We will learn from them, and they will learn from us as well. We can fight and we are able to win. If Sangkhem fights well and they enjoy his style, they will offer more of our boxers a chance to compete for more belts,” he said.
Heng Sokhorn, president of the Cambodian Kickboxing Federation (CKF), suggested that Sangkhem’s title shot is all part of the federation’s strategic plan.
He said the federation aims to send its boxers abroad to demonstrate how Kun Khmer is thriving.
Sokhorn admitted that the Sydney matchup will be a challenge, as Yothin has won many belts, including from the IFMA World Championship and the Rajadamnern World Series, also in the 57kg weight class.
“This is the first time that one of our elite boxers has gone to compete there. A win or a loss is ultimately the concern of the boxers themselves, they are also serving as Kun Khmer ambassadors. The CKF takes great pride in sending our fighters to world-class events,” he said.