MMA: Thailand grapples with first big bout

Japanese MMA fighter Yoshitaka Naito (right) avoids a kick from Thai fighter Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke (left) during their title bout at the first ever One FC event in Bangkok on May 27, 2016.
Japanese MMA fighter Yoshitaka Naito (right) avoids a kick from Thai fighter Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke (left) during their title bout at the first ever One FC event in Bangkok on May 27, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand hosted its first major mixed martial arts event late Friday (May 27), as cage fighting makes inroads in a country fiercely proud of its homegrown Muay Thai boxing tradition.

But the near-capacity crowd was left disappointed as Thai-born Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, lost out to the Japanese strawweight challenger Yoshitaka Naito.

Some Thai fighters are turning from traditional Muay Thai to MMA, a transition smoothed by the Thai sport's versatile elbow, punch and kick techniques.

Friday's glitzy event, under the banner of the One Championship which is pushing cage fighting across Asia, was held despite opposition from Muay Thai purists who fear the new, big-spending sport could chip away at the domestic martial art.

"I'm buzzing watching MMA in Thailand. I'm sad for the Thais but it's a great game... It's just so raw, so real," said one spectator Charles O'Farrell, who recently joined Dej's gym in Singapore.

"There's no hiding in the cage, make no mistake about that."

The growing international clout of MMA is offering a greater lure to Muay Thai fighters - and that has ruffled the feathers of traditionalists in Thailand who fear the all-action sport may one day eclipse the kingdom's venerated boxing style.

In recent decades MMA has gone from a niche sideshow to a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the world's fastest growing sports - with Asia no exception - and many cage fighters are trained in Muay Thai.

The Sports Authority of Thailand wants cage fighting banned in the kingdom, saying it threatens Thai culture and is overly violent - something which has raised wry smiles among fight promoters who say Muay Thai is hardly for the faint-hearted.

But Thailand's sports and tourism ministry allowed the fight to go ahead.