The history of Cambodian MMA is short, but interesting. In 2012, several promotions sprung up in Phnom Penh with events broadcast live on domestic TV. Almost overnight, the country went from having practically no scene to speak of to having televised cards every single weekend.
Not all the results are recorded, but during this period there were a lot of MMA fights. It was clear from watching them that most of the participants weren’t cross training in multiple disciplines. The Kun Khmer fighters were just happy to find a new source of revenue and didn’t seem too worried about whether or not they could stuff takedowns or secure submissions.
There was very little infrastructure in terms of training facilities so the fighters weren’t improving, even though some of them has amassed over 20 pro wins. The TV companies had assumed that audiences with no previous awareness of MMA would instantly fall in love with the sport after watching low level fights every single weekend.
Unsurprisingly, the boom turned to bust. But one man had been involved with Cambodian MMA long before local TV producers decided to briefly shoehorn it into their schedules. Hun Chanreach trains and manages a group of fighters in Phnom Penh and several members of his team are on the ONE Championship roster.
He was not surprised when interest in Cambodian MMA fizzled out and thinks that it was a simple case of too much, too soon.
“In my opinion, I think it started too fast, too early. Our fighters wasn't at a level where it would be entertaining and the general public wasn't too familiar with MMA at the time,” he said
A few years on and Chanreach has decided that the time is right to launch a new promotion in Phnom Penh. His Cambodian Top Team fighters have scored some impressive wins overseas and he wants to give the local audience an opportunity to see them in action.
“With our recent success in other MMA organizations, we built a pretty good fan base and with our team working hard to educate the public here in what MMA is, there's actually a lot of demand now to see Cambodian athletes. Also, my main reason is to create a platform for the new generation of Cambodian MMA fighters to gain experience and to create jobs for retired fighters here,” he said.
Chanreach has yet to reveal the date of his promotion’s maiden show. But it already has a name and he explains the concept as follows:
“My new promotion is called Cambodian Fighting Championship (CFC). It will be the first Cambodian promotion where we will not only showcase athletes from all over the Asean (South East Asia) region as well as Cambodian athletes.”
The last few years have not been kind to small local promotions in the region. Several have either shut up shop completely or ceased putting on regular shows. But with ONE Championship going from strength to strength, Chanreach feels it is important to give fighters a platform to begin their MMA careers.
“CFC wants to help breed ASEAN fighters with a high enough skill level to compete for bigger shows like ONE Championship. They need to use this opportunity in order to gain experience and build character before stepping into bigger shows and we hope that ONE Championship can use our event to scout for talent.”
Cambodian Top Team fighters Rin Saroth, Sor Sey, and Khon Sichan have all tasted victory under the ONE Championship banner this year. Chanreach is hoping that they might have the opportunity to fight in Cambodia soon.
“After years of competing abroad, the people in our Kingdom are very interested in these fighters. It’s been a process of trial and error, we learn from every fight and try to improve ourselves every time we step back in there. But shows like CFC can help to build confidence and gain experience before stepping up to the big leagues.”
Cambodia is not as developed as other countries in the region like Singapore and Malaysia. But it is home to a thriving Kun Khmer scene, meaning there are local fighters with strong striking skills who could conceivably make a successful transition to MMA. Cambodian Top Team has already sent several to ONE Championship.
The launch of Cambodian Fighting Championship should give existing fighters an opportunity to experience professional competition without having to travel overseas. Hopefully, it will also be a boost to the sport’s popularity in a country where the MMA scene burned brightly for a couple of years before burning out altogether.