Two years after his successful promotional debut, Sor Sey (3W-1L) is ready to make his return to the ONE Championship cage.
Tonight, the Kun Khmer specialist will face unbeaten Lethwei warrior Phoe “Bushido” Thaw (5W-0L) at ONE: Quest for Gold at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in the bustling city of Yangon, Myanmar.
Both martial artists are admired for their toughness. With that in mind, Sor expects a lengthy battle.
“Lethwei competitors can take a hit, and I can take a hit,” the 35-year-old said.
“It is very hard to nearly impossible for us both to get knocked out, so I think it will come down to who has the better cardio, and who has the bigger heart. I come from nothing, and I am trying to build something, so my heart will be all in.”
Born in a small village in Kandal to a family of poor farmers, Sor lived below the poverty line, yet somehow managed to get by. Because of that, his parents could not afford martial arts lessons and instead Sor soon found himself helping out on the farm.
Making things even more difficult for Sor was his short stature.
“Growing up, I was a very short and weak compared with other kids, so they would pick on me a lot and not let me join in on any sports activities. That gave me a lot of free time, and in that free time my parents would make me gather all the buffaloes and feed them,” he explained.
“This was no easy task for a boy my age, because I would have to pull and push, and wrestle the buffaloes to get them to move. But as the years went by, this type of work strengthened my body and mind and it became a lot easier. I guess this was my father’s way of teaching me hard work and building strength.”
Growing in stature and strength, he decided try traditional Khmer wrestling on a whim.
“My village is known for wrestling, as it is a tradition here,” he said. “During festivals, there are wrestling matches and buffalo races.
“I decided to enter the wrestling competition that year without any training in wrestling, and I won. All those years of wrestling with my buffaloes really helped me.”
Still, wrestling competitions did not pay the bills and Sor soon moved to the capital to look for work. He worked different jobs in the construction and labour industries and even made deliveries for extra cash.
Then he discovered Kun Khmer on television and saw an advertisement promoting the sport as the fastest way to make money. Eager to compete, he immediately signed up for a bout.
“I had my first match,” he recalled. “I was expecting to win with my wrestling and strength. But I lost, badly.”
To make matters worse, he struggled to find anyone to train him because of his short stature. Nonetheless, he was still determined to make a breakthrough, even if that meant self-training in a martial art he was not entirely familiar with.
“The gym trainers said to me that I would not have a future in Kun Khmer. This made me lose hope, so I would just go to watch the matches and mimic the moves they would do in the ring,” he recalled.
“I did that until my first trainer, the legendary Eh Phouthong, saw me and asked me why I was doing this. I told him that no gym would take me in because they said I am too short. He said they were right, I am short, but it does not mean you cannot train and compete.”
Phouthong trained Sor for several years and helped him to become more successful in Kun Khmer. Still, he had difficulty finding opponents.
In 2012, however, he discovered MMA after Cambodian Top Team head coach, Kru Chan Reach, stumbled into Phouthong’s training camp.
“Kru Chan Reach was looking for athletes to transition into the MMA cage,” Sor said. “I saw this as an opportunity to restart my career in the cage in the hope of supporting my family.”
He dedicated two years to learning the necessary disciplines so he could be a force inside the cage. Despite losing his professional debut via decision in November 2014, he won his next two bouts by stoppage victory, and then was snapped up by Asian MMA behemoth ONE Championship.
The Kun Khmer specialist made his promotional debut at ONE: Kingdom of Khmer in December 2015, where he defeated fellow countrymen Chim Chetra via TKO in the second round.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It was the best feeling in the world, because I got to show what I can do on the global stage, and also the prize money is what paid for my wife’s medical bills at the time. So ONE actually saved my family.”
For the next two years, Sor furthered his training in Japan, and taught Khmer martial arts. But now, back home, he is focused on making a victorious return to the cage against Myanmar’s own Phoe Thaw.
Although the Cambodian is the shorter man, he is used to the height differential.
“He is very tall compared to me, and he has a wild and unorthodox style,” Sor said. “This will be a big challenge for me, but I have faced taller and better strikers than him and beat them. I think my experience will help give me a mental edge.”
Meanwhile, his opponent Phoe “Bushido” Thaw has proven to be Myanmar’s most talented featherweight martial artist and is targeting a win to maintain his fierce reputation in the cage.
“I am excited about my match,” the 33-year-old said.
“I am undefeated against local athletes and it is the first time I am facing a foreign athlete. People are counting on me, and want to see what my skills are capable of against a foreigner.”
Thus far, Phoe has shown to be a very capable martial artist and had a very good relationship with Cambodia – the home of his opponent. Courtesy of martial arts charity Fight for Cambodia, Phoe has made two trips to Cambodia to train alongside Selapak coach Chan Rothana as well as to learn from H/Art Academy Jiu Jitsu to improve his ground game, and others.
Yangon-born Phoe has been practicing the Myanmar traditional martial art of Lethwei since 2015 and was always fascinated with the style. He soon came to appreciate the health and self-defence benefits.
“I like Lethwei because it is Myanmar’s national martial art and I love the method of training, and it is good to use in case you get into a real fight,” he said.
“The training is really good, both mentally and physically. Lethwei can make you very healthy and extremely strong in terms of physical condition.”
Although this is the first time “Bushido” will be squaring off against an international opponent, he is not worried.“I have no worries about Sor Sey. I do not know too much about him. He seems like he has good punching and kicking, but I have a stronger kick and knees than him,” the Yangon featherweight said.
We will discover who the stronger competitor is tonight.