Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Im Ouk’s champion team looks to put Cambodian MMA on the map

Im Ouk’s champion team looks to put Cambodian MMA on the map

Im Ouk’s champion team looks to put Cambodian MMA on the map

24 Ei Phouthang

Khmer boxing legends Ei Phouthang (front left) and Pich Seiha practise ground techniques at the A Fighter MMA club in Makara 7 district yesterday. The fighters will look to swap rings for cages as they learn MMA for future prize bouts. Photograph: Sreng Meng Srun/Phnom Penh Post

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is the fastest growing sport in Cambodia, and it is no surprise that Kun Khmer fighters are keen to compete in the cage.

An emerging local powerhouse is the A Fighter team led by founder Im Ouk, which boasts a few famous names among its ranks.

Ouk says that although MMA has only recently started to enjoy popularity in Cambodia the techniques have been practised by its people for thousands of years.

“A lot people don’t know that Khmer martial arts also have wrestling and submission moves in their ancient art of fighting,” he told the Post. “You can see some of them in carvings in temples that can be traced back as far as 2,000 years ago.”

Inspired by these ancient drawings and in a bid to preserve an obscure aspect of Cambodian culture, Im Ouk founded the A Fighter team, which has brought together a group of established local fighters to train in becoming successful mixed martial artists.

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“Our team consists of 25 champions including Ei Phouthang, Outh Phouthang, Chey Kosal, Pich Seiha, Kim Dema and Long Sophy. We have young and old champions. All these guys are well known, and we train five days a week together purely on wrestling and submissions.”

With Asia’s premier MMA promotion ONE FC looking to put on a show in the Kingdom next year, opportunities for these fighters to compete on the biggest stage could arrive sooner rather than later. Im Ouk has already produced champions in other places and hopes to do the same thing in his homeland.

“I was born in Cambodia during the Pol Pot regime,” he said.

“After losing two brothers and the fall of the regime I was lucky to be alive with my parents, and we migrated to Thailand and then to New Zealand and Australia.

“I used to run a gym in Australia which produced a number of champions, and since I met my wife and moved back to Cambodia I wanted to continue preserving the Khmer martial arts.”

Kun Khmer is the local equivalent of Muay Thai, but the financial rewards for fighters in Cambodia are only a fraction of what can be earned by their Thai counterparts in the Bangkok stadiums. Im Ouk says this is one of the reasons that his team is so keen to compete in this new discipline.

“Yes, the money will be better than Kun Khmer fights, which is good. Now we have two TV channels that will hold MMA events on a regular basis, and many of our fighter’s dream to fight internationally for UFC or ONE FC,” he added.

The two trainers at A Fighter are both Cambodian but have backgrounds in submission wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, according to Im Ouk. Of the 25 or so fighters on his roster, three of them already have experience of professional MMA competition and two will be in action at CTN arena next Tuesday.

It will be a chance for people watching all over Cambodia to see what the A Fighter team is capable of, and Im Ouk hopes that he will see his charges progress from taking on the best in local competition to one day representing the country on the international stage and challenging the top fighters in the world.

“I have handpicked 25 champion fighters and we are keen to jump in and show the world that we can mix it with anyone,” he said.

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