French-Cambodian Benjamin Sebire delivers a knee to the face of Mov Tong Hoeun. Photo by: ROBERT STARKWEATHER
Shouts of “finish him” from French coach Philippe Sebire echoed throughout the air on Saturday as 20-year-old fire fighter from Marseilles, Celestin Mendes, delivered a sustained flurry of punches to the face of his Cambodian opponent Peo Cheydarith.
Collapsing in the face of the assault, Cheydarith lay prone as Mendes applied a chokehold that saw him tap out only 50 seconds into the first round of their fight, a pattern repeated throughout the day as a team of French fighters dominated their more experienced opponents in the first international Bokator tournament held on Cambodian soil.
Held at an elephant corral in front of Phnom Bakeng temple, the Bokator in Angkor tournament was billed as a “return to the historic site of that saw the birth of the sport a thousand years ago”, by Pierre Yves Clais, who helped organise the visit of a five-man French team of Bokator students to face off against a selection of home-grown fighters from clubs across the Kingdom.
Only Siem Reap native Say Tevin from the Mohanokor Club managing to stay upright in the ring for the entire nine minutes of contest, with the French contingent recording two outright wins via chokeholds and two submissions.
Better nutrition, coaching and previous training in Jiu-Jitsu, Karate and Muay Thai helped win the day for the tourists according to Benjamin Sebire, who dispatched his opponent Mov Tong Hoeun, also from the Mohanokor club, with a chokehold early in the second round.
Before the fight, 18-year-old Sebire told The Post that while he was the probably the most well versed in Bokator of the French team – having studied under Grandmaster San Kim Sean, founder of the Cambodian Bokator Federation – he had not fought in a professional match since 2004 and was anxious about the outcome.
“This is my first time on the floor fighting Bokator, although I’ve fought boxing bouts in the past,” he said. “We don’t know what they’re going to do out there because Cambodians are like animals in the ring. They are very unpredictable, and we fear that.”
Sebire’s apprehension proved unfounded as the international fights kicked off with a bout in which 19-year-old Julien Carrara’s three years of Kun Khmer boxing experience was applied to brutal effect against Angkor Reach Bokator Club fighter Ki Deth.
Submitting by tapping the matt in the second round after Carrara bested him in a series of grapples, Ki’s quick and brutal defeat set a pattern that quickly became the norm for the day.
Next up was 23-year-old Dered Bidaut, who in addition to a year’s Bokator training previously learned Wushu and Muay Thai kickboxing, against 26-year-old Kampot fighter Meng Samath from the Neak Krahom Bokator Club.
Bidaut’s fight was an exception to the two round norm as, after unleashing a series of solid kicks to Meng’s legs, he grappled his shorter opponent to the ground and choked him repeatedly until submission in the closing minutes of round one.
This was then quickly followed by Celestin Mendes’s lightning fifty-second victory over Peo Cheydarith.
The emotional high point of the day came as Moha Nokor Club member Say Tevin, a Bokator teacher with ten years experience and the winner of two Gold Kramas at the last national championship, faced off against 19-year-old French fighter Jordan Gomez.
Both fighters rested on 19 points after the first round as they retired to their respective corners, the crowd wildly cheering on Tevin, who clearly represented the home team’s best chance of winning a bout.
Sustaining a number of head punches during the closing minutes of round one, the Cambodian was in worse shape than his opponent at they reentered the ring, an opportunity Gomez exploited to it’s full effect by grappling Tevin to the ground to finish up the second round five points ahead.
Despite rallying in round three, a clearly exhausted Tevin scored 48 points to his opponents 56, the best result of any local fighter.
The fightcard was then completed by French-Cambodian Benjamin Sebire, who overcame his opponent Mov Tong Houen in two rounds, finishing up with a slide tackle that thrust the Cambodian out of the ring.
Speaking before the first international fight, Grandmaster San Kim Sean told The Post that he hopes the tournament will mark Bokator’s emergence as a officially recognised world sport.
“Bokator is like a diamond for Cambodia, if we let it die out we will lose a sport that has a 1000 years of tradition behind it. If we let the sport shine internationally through tournaments like this then we can secure a future for it,” he said.
The five international fights followed two earlier national matches which featured Sovann Chahna against Yuth Yot and Tha Sao against Try Kun Thea.
Sovann won the first with a 59 to 54 points margin while, despite a short rain interruption, Tha walked away with a one point victory after scoring a quick punch in the closing minutes of the third round.