After leaving the Kun Khmer ring for the Mixed Martial Arts octagon, Chan Rathona, a kickboxer with more than 100 wins, has been doing nothing but training. Rothana has been awarded the status of a ONE Championship roster and brings great pride to his fellow countrymen. Then last Friday, his conquest of Gustavo Balart, the Cuban grappler and three-time Pan-American Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion is the biggest win in the history of Cambodian MMA. Now, with three consecutive victories at the biggest MMA promotion in Asia, what’s next for the Angkorian Warrior? Kanika Som corners Chan Rothana for an exclusive.
GT2: Can you describe your journey briefly? How did you get into Kun Khmer and Mixed Martial Arts?
Rothana: My journey of becoming a fighter today began with the early training of Kun Khmer with my father. I was born in a refugee camp and my father is a master of the Yutakhun Khom, an ancient Khmer martial art. Thus, I was well trained in Kun Khmer by my father from a young age. I had my first real match in 2003 and since then I have gone more than 100 matches in kickboxing.
Then in 2013, the free-style combat of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which allows for striking, grappling and a variety of fight techniques on stage, caught my eye and I wanted to learn it. Then, when ONE FC, now known as One Championship, held its first event in Cambodia, I wanted to test how far my ‘knee’ technique can go in MMA, leading to my first MMA bout in 2011.
GT2: How did you adapt to MMA? And how different it is from Kun Khmer?
Rothana: There is a huge difference between Mixed Martial Arts and Kun Khmer. The rigorous Kun Khmer martial art is renowned for its kickboxing and its uniqueness of using elbow and knee strikes. Therefore, it requires different techniques when practising Kun Khmer.
However, the way you fight your opponent in MMA is different. You need to get through tough training to learn a variety of fighting techniques, starting from how to clinch your opponent… to taking him down. You also need to be well-rounded with wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo as they teach you the submissions, body control and mat technique. You are also trained to be faster, tougher and stronger.
GT2: What does it mean to be a MMA fighter? Is it a hard job?
Rothana: Despite the fact that it is a hurtful business, I couldn’t be more grateful for the chosen sport I have fought in all these years. Even though each match is almost a brawl, I fight with honour and to represent my country against the world. All of these years, having received unconditional love and support from Cambodian people, all I know is that I must do my best.
To become a fighter, the most important thing you need to have is mental willingness. To be a recognized fighter, being physically fit is not enough; you need to be strongly committed to your goal, be well-disciplined and mild-mannered.
GT2: So far what is your biggest moment in the octagon? And why?
Rothana: My biggest moment in the MMA octagon would be my first fight at ONE FC 20 in the kingdom. It was a success and a trial for me. A controversy during the match made me see the bigger picture and geared me up to strive for more success in my chosen profession.
GT2: Any change to your daily training schedule before a bout?
Rothana: Generally, as professional fighters, we usually have a rigid and gruelling schedule for training to stay physically fit as well as maintaining our strength. However, before an upcoming match, I need to undergo much heavier training in advance for two months in order to prepare for the fight.
GT2: What move would you execute to take down your opponent? Have you mastered it?
Rothana: For every move you make in the ring, you have to know your opponent’s strength clearly. Being able to sharply estimate and measure my rival’s strength and weakness is one of the skills I am gifted with. One technique I can share is that when you are grounded by your opponent, don’t use your power and strength to retaliate but rather, cling on to him tight so he cannot make any move to hit you. It’s easier said than done. To master this, there is no other way but endless training and sparring.
GT2: The current champion in your weight limit (Bantamweight) at ONE Championship is Bibiano Fernandes from Brazil? Do you think you will face him one day for the title?
Rothana: He (Bibiano) has defeated many famous fighters and earned a profound recognition for his championship. And it is every fighter’s dream to become a champion in their weight. I also hope to meet him one day but to get to that level, I must double up my hard work and try my best with every move I can apply in the octagon.