Thun Sophea faces Contender Asia TV series star Dominik ‘Akuma’ Zidov of Switzerland, while ISKA World Middleweight Champion Vorn Viva headlines Thursday night fights at CTN
LOCAL great Thun Sophea will take on Muay Thai bad boy Dominik Zidov in the co-feature of a star-studded international fight card Thursday night at the CTN indoor studio.
Nicknamed "Akuma", or "Devil" in Japanese, Zidov rose to fame as a fighter on the reality television series The Contender Asia, where his colorful tattoos and raw attitude earned him instant popularity.
With wild hairstyles and pop-star girlfriends, the 28-year-old Swiss-Croat carries himself with cultivated rough-boy swagger. But it's not all bluff.
Zidov says he spent nearly two and a half years during his early 20s in a Zurich prison on counterfeiting and drug-related charges. Huge letters tattooed across each forearm bear witness to the Devil's madness - "Psycho" reads the left arm, "Maniac" the right.
"When I was young, I had only shit in my head," said Zidov by email. "I made trouble wherever I could make trouble."
Trying to put his past behind him, Zidov moved to Thailand in 2003, hoping to parlay his street-fighting youth into something more constructive. He hooked up with well-respected Danish fighter Ole "Iron Fist" Laursen at the Legacy Gym in Ubon. In those early years, hungry but relatively inexperienced, Zidov honed his fighting skills on the rural Issan circuit, earning a few thousand baht per fight.
Things went well until 2005, when Zidov broke his hand sparring. The injury forced him back to Switzerland. In Zurich, he inevitably started running with his old buddies, and before long he was back in jail.
Faced with the dreadful monotony of doing time once again, Zidov, now 25 kilograms overweight, knew the madness had to stop.
He started training with a single-minded passion, and by the time of his release five months later, he was back down to a fighting weight of 67 kilograms. He took a job in a chocolate factory with a "really crappy salary" and counted the days until he could afford to return to Thailand.
The Contender Asia calls
After a productive year back in the ring in 2007, Zidov got the break of his life.
One of the fighters on The Contender Asia had broken his arm, and producers wanted Laursen to replace the injured fighter. But Larsen was nursing a broken ankle and could not fight either, so he suggested his longtime friend and training partner Dominik Zidov instead.
Zidov placed sixth in The Contender Asia, getting eliminated by Australian powerhouse John Wayne Parr in episode 11. But more important than his rank, the show earned Zidov vast recognition as a fighter, and promoters quickly saw the value in his affable, roguish appeal.
After filming of the show finished last year, the WMC Lamai club in Koh Samui lured Zidov away from Legacy with promises of better fights and bigger paydays.
His next primetime challenge arrives Thursday when he faces Thun Sophea in Phnom Penh.
"I don't know to much about him," Zidov said of the Cambodian veteran. "Just that he is very strong."
A native of Svay Rieng, Thun Sophea started fighting a decade ago at the age of 16. Like many veterans, he has lost count long ago of wins and losses. The milestones that mark his 10-year career, however, are undeniable.
Now 26 years old, Thun Sopheap has beaten nearly every Cambodian fighter of note, including Outh Phouthang, Chey Kosal, Sen Bunthen, Meas Chantha and Vorn Viva.
He expects a good fight from Zidov (33-13, 28 KOs), pointing to Zidov's international experience as proof of the Swiss fighter's pedigree. "Akuma is strong," Thun Sophea said. "He has fought and won in both Thailand and Singapore."
At the same time, Thun Sophea is quick to note that Zidov is not the only one with experience abroad. "I've fought in France, Australia, Belgium, and I won, too," he said.
In terms of quality of opponent, the advantage leans toward Zidov, who has fought world-class heavy-hitters such as John Wayne Parr and Eli Madigan. But in terms of quantity, Thun Sophea takes ultimate precedence, counting more than 200 professional fights.
"He's strong," said Thun Sophea of the Swiss champion. "But I am strong, too."
On the cards
The card Thursday night is comprised of five fights, with three international and two local bouts.
In the headline fight of the night, ISKA World Middleweight Champion Vorn Viva will face 21-year-old Charlie Gillespie (24-5, 18 KOs) of England in a non-title bout at 73 kilograms.
In the second match, Thun Sophea faces Dominik Zidov at 69 kilograms.
In the first, Sen Bunthen, one of the hottest welterweights in boxing, takes on Ervant "The Russian Wolf" Atagyan (18-4, 7 KOs). Wolf was invited to fight in the Kings Cup of Thailand in 2008, a prestigious accolade for any fighter. In his last major outing in April, Atagyan lost a narrow split decision to top-notch Australian fighter Bruce "The Preacher" MacFie.
The two local fights on the undercard include a non-title bout between Um Dara and May Sopheap, the current welterweight champion, and a fight between winners of CTN's reality series Kun Khmer Champion, with season one winner Cheam Adam to face season two winner Sam Ounluong in the opening bout of the night.