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Professional MMA cage fighting comes to Bangkok
A Thai university professor/fighter talks about the sport’s growth in Bangkok and what attracted him to the ring
Mixed martial arts (MMA) -- one of the fastest-growing sports on the planet -- can now be viewed live in Bangkok thanks to a newly formed promotion called DARE Championship.
The MMA organizer held its inaugural event at the Insomnia Night Club on June 25, which was extremely well received by fans who thrilled to the action as 14 fighters from as far afield as the United States, Britain, France, Malaysia, Korea, Brazil and Thailand pitted their muscles and wits against each other.
The second show -- to be held at the same venue -- is scheduled for Saturday, September 24 at 4 p.m. It will feature a number of international fighters but there will also be a healthy contingent of homegrown fighters.
Cage fighting might not be a hobby you would expect to appeal to a young university professor, but people from all walks of life are studying MMA.
One of them is 22-year-old Shanonpatr Wiratchai, who will be making his professional MMA debut at the upcoming DARE Championship event this Saturday.
He has just graduated from Bangkok University, majoring in Chinese, and scored a teaching job at Srinakarinwirot University. Despite his day job, Shanonpatr is determined to test the fight skills he has been honing for m ore than a decade.
“I started learning martial arts when I was in grade three, in primary school, because I always got bullied by my friends," he says. "At that time there was a TV series about Nai Kanomtom, the father of muay Thai which I was crazy about but I didn't know where to study muay Thai so I started training yudo at Chulalongkorn University which was near my school."
MMA fights can take place in a normal boxing ring but most promotions, including DARE, prefer to use a cage. This allows the action to continue uninterrupted without the risk of the fighters falling under the ropes.
MMA incorporates elements of muay Thai, wrestling and jiujitsu and there are numerous schools in Bangkok where you can study these skills.
'It's a tragedy that my parents don't want me to fight'
In the United States the sport has grown in popularity to the point where more than a million people will pay to watch an event on pay-per-view. There are a handful of critics who feel MMA is unnecessarily brutal and Shanonpatr, who has a 5-1 amateur record, admits that his family is not enthusiastic about his fighting career.
“It's a tragedy that my parents really don't want me to fight," he says. "But I'm really stubborn, I'm only interested in martial arts and that has always made my parents worried.
"But you know, when I'm going to fight, there are only two people in the world who really cheer me up and pray for me. My parents. But they just want me stop fighting as fast as possible.”
Although MMA is not without its risks the rewards are potentially vast. Former WBA Super Featherweight champion Yodsanan 3K Battery is one of the most successful boxers to have emerged from Thailand but he recently decided to switch codes and start competing in MMA.
He is one of the stars of One Fighting Championship, which is Asia’s biggest and most prestigious MMA promotion. Yodsanan made his MMA debut earlier this month, winning by stoppage after kneeing his opponent in the head in the second round.
More than 7,000 fans watched his victory in the inaugural show at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, with many more watching around the world on a free Internet stream.
Shanonpatr was one of them and he was inspired by his compatriot’s performance and hopes that if his career goes as planned he might find himself fighting in front of an enormous audience in a mainstream MMA promotion.
More on CNNGo:ONE Fighting Championship -- A fight to end all fights
“I've watched that fight and as a Thai I’m really proud," says Shanonpatr. "Yodsanan showed a good combination of muay Thai and MMA skills and this is another big step for Thai people in MMA. It’s my dream to fight for one of the biggest shows in the world like One Fighting Championship. I don't know how far I can go, but I'm going to do my best."
Shanonpatr decided to take up a traditional Chinese martial art known as Baguazhang during his high school days in addition to his judo training. It was here that he was first introduced to MMA through a senior student who had competed in some old fashioned no-holds-barred style fighting competitions.
He had his first taste of MMA competition in Naksu, a Bangkok-based promotion that puts on fights using amateur rules, meaning that competitors wear head protection and certain strikes are not allowed. Shanonpatr won five out of six amateur fights which brought him to the attention of the DARE matchmakers.
Shanonpatr will be facing another judoka, Chiang Mai-based brawler DK Panjabutra, in the first round of the DARE lightweight tournament on September 24. The entire event will be broadcast live on the Internet on pay-per-view.
The eventual winner of the tournament will take home US$125,000 in prize money meaning that, despite his parent’s disapproval, Shanonpatr's hobby could prove to be extremely lucrative.
However Shanonpatr, who fights under the moniker "One Shin," is not thinking about the prize money. He just wants to help the sport of MMA become more popular in Thailand.
“Some Thai people know about MMA but they don't like it because they don't understand the ground game," he says. "I want to make MMA more famous in Thailand and I have already opened my own amateur MMA gym with my friends at Saphan Kwai Bangkok."
The DARE Championship will take place at the Insomnia Night Club on Saturday, September 24, on Sukhumvit Soi 12. Doors open at 3 p.m., fights start at 4 p.m. For more information and tickets visit www.darefightsports.com.