Will it be case of third time lucky for Cambodia’s nascent mixed martial arts scene on November 15?
Tok Sophon will become the third Cambodian kickboxing king to cross codes to the ONE FC cage when he takes on Malaysian Muay Thai expert Saiful Merican in a flyweight contest at Kuala Lumpur’s 16,000-seater Stadium Putra.
Sophon, 21, from Chak Klanch village in the Peamro district of Prey Veng province, will look to secure the first win in the region’s leading MMA promotion for his club A Fighter, which has sent two local fighters to compete at ONE FC events in the previous two months.
Long Sophy lost his bout against Indonesia’s Max Metino via a second round armbar submission in Jakarta on September 13, while club-mate Khim Dima had his victory against Filipino Rene Catalan in Singapore on October 18 overturned and ruled a no contest for illegal strikes to the back of the head.
However, A Fighter trainer Im Ouk claims this time there will be no dispute over their tactics. “Our fighters are learning fast about MMA, so we have no worries about the rules,” he told the Post.
“[Tok] Sophon already knows the local MMA rules very well, but with ONE FC there is soccer kicks and downward elbows which we keep on telling our fighters to remember.”
Sophon has been fighting professionally for the past four years, during which time he has amassed a Kun Khmer record of 50 wins, 14 losses and one draw. He has won both of his MMA matches on Cambodian soil, including a controversial points decision over England’s Dave Newbrook on May 28 at CTN’s TV arena.
“I’ve got my tactics for winning the fight,” he told the Post/i> on Monday. “They include using my elbows and especially kicking my rival’s thigh.”
It promises to be an intriguing battle between two men well practiced in the art of stand-up combat.
Sophon is adamant that he will not be caught out if the fight goes to ground. “I will try to escape from ground moves to prevent my rival from punching [and submitting] me easily. I’m now learning how to escape using wrestling techiniques.”
When he is not trying to drop opponents, Sophon enjoys dropping the beats of his favourite music genre, hip-hop. “I also dream of being a DJ,” he said.
Whether Sophon will cue up the right track to victory come November 15 remains to be seen as his opposite number will be a formidable foe in front of a boisterous home crowd.
Merican is a veteran of more than 100 Muay Thai bouts, claimed the Best Fighter trophy in Thailand in 2010 and last year, finished runner-up in the Malaysian Muay Thai Association 61kg competition.
Nicknamed The Vampire, he has an MMA record of 1-1, having lost in his ONE FC debut against compatriot Gianni Subba at Return of Warriors on February 2 before defeating India’s Aditya Deshpande by unanimous decision at the Malaysian Invasion Grand Finals in June.
“We are expecting a war in the stand-up department because both fighters are strikers. No fight is ever easy, but we know Sophon will never give up,” said trainer Im Ouk.
A Fighter MMA Club are currently seeking sponsors to help fund their fighters and facility. “I really want the news of my fighting to spread across the country. I want the public to support this sport and me,” added Sophon.
The 10 bouts of ONE FC: Warriors Spirit will be headlined by the inaugural ONE FC welterweight world champion title fight between hometown hero Adam “Shogun” Kayoom (4-1) and Japanese striker Nobutatsu Suzuki (10-1-2).
The rest of the card has now been confirmed, with a co-main event featuring ONE FC debutants and top middleweight prospects Leandro Ataides (5-0) of Brazil and France’s Brayan Rafiq (8-2). Peter Davis (6-3), the celebrity face of Malaysian MMA, is slated to square off against Egyptian lightweight Alaa Mazloum (1-0).
Two all-Malaysian bouts on the undercard feature Gianna Subba (2-0) against fellow flyweight Chen Yun Ting (1-0) and a clash between AJ Lias Mansor (1-3) and Melvin Yeoh (7-1) to decide the champion of the Malaysian national featherweight tournament.
A meeting of two undefeated MMA masters – Brazilian flyweight Adriano Moraes (9-0) and Josh Paiva (4-0) of the US – will mark their ONE FC cage debuts.
In other matches, American featherweight Steven Durr (1-1) will meet Belgium’s Samir Mrabet (2-0), Indonesian welterweight Zuli Silawanto (6-6) encounters Malaysia’s Nik Harris (4-2) and Casie Suire (3-0) of the US has a bantamweight contest with Raymond Tan (2-0) of Malaysia.
A live broadcast of the night’s fights can be viewed on both local channel MyTV and international channel STAR Sports.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHENG SERYRITH