As we arrive via tuk tuk to what appears to be a huge mall parking lot in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, we catch sight of the bright lights illuminating the boxing ring in the distance.
On the suggestion of our Cambodian friend, Long, we’ve come to see Cambodia’s version of Muai Thai boxing, named Pradal Serey. Although the former style is more popular around the world thanks to the UFC, from what I can gather the Khmers’ (people of Cambodia) style of fighting was actually a precursor to Thailand’s Muay Thai.
The crowd surrounding the ring is substantial; on the periphery numerous locals are seated on their mopeds, in the middle layer hundreds of locals stand together, and finally an inner circle of seated spectators encircle the ring.
Since we are late, and the fights have already started, I presume we’ll be viewing from a distance.
Instead, we all follow Long as he pushes through the crowd, and points to the only row of empty seats, directly next to the ring.
We all sit, and immediately become transfixed by the swift kicks, punches, knees and elbows of the Cambodians duking it out. The sound of the traditional fighting music played by a band of cross-legged men provides an eerie melody but sets the tempo for the movement of the fighters.
It is almost as they are dancing to the music; as the tempo of the music picks up, so does the intensity of the fighting.
However, this dance is bound to leave a few bruises.
As the first round ends, we notice both of the local cameramen have zeroed in their cameras directly on us.
“Long, why are the cameras on us?” I ask.
“They want to show the people watching at home, as well as the sponsors of the event how popular this is. If there are foreigners here, it must be good!”, Long replies as he bursts into his characteristic high-pitched chuckle.
Now I begin to understand why we were given VIP seating – we’re practically celebrities in Cambodia! Immediately, I feel a hint of guilt at the preferential treatment. Especially since we haven’t paid a penny to be here.
As the fights progress, a similar pattern emerges that Marina and I witnessed at a fight in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Namely, the pattern of “tough” guys with intense stares, big muscles, and excess bravado getting their asses handed to them by their slighter, unassuming, and seemingly weaker opponents.
In many instances, these surprising victories are achieved by severe knockouts and accompanied by plentiful blood. In other words, not only did the more physically intimidating contenders lose the bout, they lost BADLY.
You can almost see a fighter’s ego being deflated as he gets knocked down by a seemingly inferior opponent.
While I was already a pacifist, watching these fights certainly reiterated an important life lesson:
No matter how weak your opponent might look, they could kick your ass. Thus, avoid fights at any cost.
So if you’re ever in a confrontation, do your best to talk your way out of it.
Otherwise, if your opponent doesn’t respond to reason, run like hell!
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