Suasday Chau is a part of Cambodia’s lost generation of children – born in a refugee camp over the border in Thailand, he has never seen or set foot in the country his parents called home.
The 32-year-old is ethnically Cambodian but has lived almost all his life in Australia, where he is rapidly making a name for himself as a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.
On June 8, Chau will have a chance to become a champion when he challenges for the Fury MMA Featherweight Title. He will be an underdog against Pat Promrangka, but the battle he faces inside the cage is nothing compared to the adversity his parents overcame.
“My parents lost most of their families at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and in fear for their own lives, they escaped to a Thailand refugee camp in hope for a chance of a better life.
“I was conceived and born in Thailand, and at approximately the age of two, immigrated to Australia having been sponsored by a host Australian family,” Chau told the Post.
In an interesting quirk of fate, the man whose title he plans to take was also born in Thailand, but both fighters are now Australian citizens. Between them, they have 13 fights without any going to a decision, which Chau thinks will be a recipe for fireworks when they meet in the cage,
“Our past fights could only suggest that it will be a very explosive and entertaining fight,” he said.
“I hope it will be a spectacular show and night out for all who come to support Fury MMA.”
With the recent formation of the Cambodian Mixed Martial Arts Association and a couple of small-scale shows in the pipeline, the MMA scene is slowly starting to take off in the Kingdom. Sporting competition is not something that Chau has ever associated with his parent’s homeland, and he admits that for many years he harboured no desire to visit.
“For most my life, I had no want or desire to see Cambodia because what I had heard, read and seen about it only brought me feelings of despair and anguish and questions as to why and how such evil can be allowed to happen,” he said.
Chau grew up speaking Khmer at home, and as he grew older, found himself increasingly interested in making an emotional trip.
“My siblings and I were all brought up speaking both Khmer and English, and throughout my primary school years, I would translate for my parents. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about Cambodia which woke an inner voice in me and made me want to visit and find a way to make a positive difference,” he said.
While Chau’s Khmer may be a bit rusty these days, he has retained an interest in martial arts since childhood and initially decided to compete in MMA because he thought the experience would allow him to mentor young fighters more effectively.
“I have been training martial arts for most of my life beginning with karate then judo, tang soo do and in the last few years BJJ [Brazilian jiu jitsu] and kickboxing,” said Chau.
“About 18 months ago, one of my students at my martial arts club expressed a desire to compete in MMA. I believed that for me to be an effective coach for him, I had to know what it felt like in the cage.”
He discovered that he had a real aptitude for the sport and, after losing his professional debut, went on to win his next three fights. What began as a way to become a better teacher developed into a personal passion, which he is still pursuing.
“I had studied a lot of the theory, but that was not enough for me. I had to compete myself to know for sure. Just over a year later, I find myself thoroughly enjoying the process of preparing for competition,” he said
Chau is forced to fit his training around his work commitments as a postman, but hopes winning the Fury title will allow him to become a full-time fighter. His burning ambition at present is to become an MMA champion with an eye on a bout in Cambodia.
“Competing in Cambodia would be a great honour and source of pride for my parents. It would be a great moment in my life,” he said.
The featherweight title fight between Chau and Promrangka is the main event of Fury 6, which is taking place in Caloundra, southeast Queensland, on June 6.