Going To A Cambodian Kickboxing Match

After the weight of the previous post, I was ready for a lighter side to Cambodian living–something spirited, celebratory, and proud. Well, the same taxi driver who escorted me to the genocide museums knew of a Cambodian boxing event. So off we went…

If you read previous posts, you know that the Cambodian people (the Khmer) have experienced turbulent times since their geographic peak. It was in about 1100AD that the Khmer empire encompassed much of modern-day Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Back then, pictures of fighters employing a similar style as today are etched into the temples.

But then the withering of their empire began, and the Khmer almost went the way of other great, ancient civilizations. Almost. Like a skinny, but persistent fighter, they’ve scrappily held on. Today the Cambodians continue to fight–literally and figuratively.

The Cambodian boxing of today was influenced by French colonizers who formalized the matches and introduced gloves and a ring. The Khmer Rouge of the 70’s had outlawed the sport. The art was resurrected in 1979. Today it’s Cambodia’s national sport, and many come each week to watch the bouts. Matches are held each Sunday in a mid-sized arena behind a TV station. This way, fights can be televised live:

Pregame show
Pregame show

The ring sat in the center with bleachers and chairs filling with spectators.

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They'd get more excited once the fighting began.
They’d get more excited once the fighting began.

I got my seat and awaited the bouts. Soon, out came fighter #1:


And then his rival:


They got to their corners and prepared:


Cameraman needed to pump himself up:


What’s Cambodian boxing (pradal serey) like? A more knowledgeable source (like this Wikipedia article) can offer you better details, but I can tell you that the big difference here is the use of kicking.

Another difference is pre-fight rituals: opponents walk around the ring bowing. Even the referee bows to the crowd. Traditional music plays loudly to introduce the boxers, during their pre-fight, and even during the match. As the fight begins, the music starts off slow, but soon the pace quickens. The result, at times, was a dance-fight appearance, each fighter bouncing to the beat and punching or kicking to the rhythm.

Each evening features five matches. This night, the first one was called because one fighter’s face wouldn’t stop bleeding. Another fight ended in knock out. The young man in this fight must’ve had the heart of an adult to along with his adolescent body:


His opponent:


The boy survived a knock down and five-count in the first round.


In the second, he took a few punches, and while on the run, another connection knocked him down. Attempts to get up were met with drunken-like, off-balance tipsiness. The state he must have been in! Was the room spinning? I can only imagine a mother watching her son in this state. Then again, this is a sport that evidently makes the country proud. The audience cheered; the fighters showed honor in their partaking.

Here’s some footage from fight night:


’til next week,


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What say you?