Cambodian National Kickboxing Championships, begins October 9th, 2006, at TV5 stadium. Two rings, 100 fights over five days.
For more Cambodian kickboxing photos, see Ian Taylor's kickboxing set at flickr.
In Cambodia, boxers turn pro at about 14. Along with the amateur ranking, so to disappears any notion of kid gloves. Pros fight five, 3-minute rounds with 2 minutes rest between. Knees, elbows, kicks and punches are allowed.
Fights are scored on a 10-point-must system. This means the winner of a round must be assigned 10 points. The loser gets nine points, minus one point per knock down. Fights are scored by five judges.
In Khmer boxing, fighters are allowed to throw an opponent. Sometimes, they go into a clinch and one throws the other. Or one will block a kick in such a way that the opponent falls. Fighters sometimes wait until the opponent is kicking, and then kick his base leg out from under him. Any of these types of throws count highly with the judges, but they don't count as a knock down.
As a rule, judges like kicks, elbows, knees, and throws. They generally don't score punches too highly, unless the punch results in a knock down or a knock out.
The first two rounds of a fight are usually not particularly exciting. Unless you get a knock out, it is difficult to win in the first two rounds.
The real combat starts in the third round. The winner in the third knows that if he wins the fourth, he can cruise through the fifth and take the fight. The loser of the third round knows that he has to win the fourth round.
The most exciting fights are ones that are tied after four rounds. This means they will both be going full-tilt in the fifth round, trying to steal the win.
Although the risks involved in fighting are the same the world over, the payoffs for guys like Eh Phoutong and Boss are particularly limited. Fighting for tips is essentially the pinnacle of the Cambodian circuit.
While top-name fighters can make $100,000 per fight in Thailand, hundreds of thousands in the K-1 in Japan and millions in the United States, Cambodia refuses to participate in international competition, effectively condemning Cambodia's boxers to careers spent fighting in obscurity for small-time prize money.
Part of the reason for Cambodia's hermit-like boxing behavior lies in the unrestrained self-interest of the boxing associations. If Khmer fighters entered international competitions, governed by watchdog agencies, local promoters would lose control over the fights, and thus their ability to maximize profits and overlook regulations.
A massive row with Thailand over the origins of the sport further adds to the country's reclusive nature. Back in the 70s, while Cambodia was mired in civil war, Thailand exported kickboxing to the world under the name Muay Thai.
That's a sore point for Cambodian fighters, whose Angkorean forbearers ruled much of what is now Thailand. Bas reliefs at Angkor Wat depicting scenes of ancient kickboxing are proof to many that the sport not only belongs to the Khmers, but was invented by them.
So instead of swallowing their pride and reintegrating with the burgeoning worldwide sport known as kickboxing, Cambodia, at least for now, remains content to fight in the shadows for small-time purses, cheap wine and cigarettes.