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WBC goes muay thai

The World Boxing Council, currently the most popular professional boxing organization in the world, has gone muay thai, and is bringing world-class professional Thai kickboxing to the Philippines. Filipinos know the WBC more as the governing body for the sport under which Manny Pacquiao has won various world boxing titles in the last six years. But now, the WBC sees the national sport of Thailand as an exciting, viable addition to traditional professional boxing, with a potentially larger market in Asia and Europe.

WBC Muaythai was formed in the last few years, with retired Gen. Kovid Bhakdibhumi, a close friend of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as chairman; Filipino businessman Tony Reyes is the vice-chairman for Asia.

“This is a very exciting sport that already has a large base, and the potential for growth is enormous,” Reyes says. “After our successful big promotion in Malaysia, we were very excited to bring it to the Philippines.”

On June 26, Reyes is holding three WBC world muaythai title fights at the Resorts World Manila’s performing arts center. Given the limited number of seats available, the WBC is expecting the high-priced tickets to sell out fast. This early, many entertainment personalities, sportsmen and politicians have already signified their interest in the event. Local multinational corporations are also negotiating for sponsorship rights. It will also be an opportunity for big-time gaming aficionados.

“Muay thai”, depending on the interpretation, literally means “Art of Eight Limbs” or “Science of Eight Limbs”. In recent years however, it has been known more as “The Dance of Eight Limbs” owing to the “way kru”, the important prayer dance that each fighter does before each bout. This is a practice that has been passed on wherever the sport has made inroads in the world. In some countries, it is believed that the fighter who performs a better way kru will win the match. The sport’s name owes to the fact that, unlike other variations of the sport, a fighter may use his hands, elbows, knees and feet. Mixed martial arts fighters from many countries travel to Thailand specifically to learn the upright striking and clinching techniques from muaythai masters themselves.

With the explosion of Asian martial arts into Hollywood cinema, muaythai has joined kung fu as a staple in many actions films. Jason Statham, whose signature kicking and striking style made the “Transporter” movie series and 2010 film “The Mechanic” box office hits, is a devotee of muaythai, and has even narrated documentaries on the pilgrimage of Caucasian athletes to the motherland of the sport.

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Worldwide, because of the multiplication of “alphabet soup” boxing organizations, the hurried development of boxers rushing to win “world titles”, the greed of promoters and the absence of compelling performers and rivalries especially in the heavier weight classes, boxing has suffered a decline. This may also be attributed to the rise of mixed martial arts. In the US, outside of big-name boxers like Pacquiao, boxing matches no longer draw crowds the way they used to, and are increasingly dwarfed by the attendance of UFC and MMA cards.

Now, muaythai, a pure and more high-impact form of the fighting arts, is poised to boost boxing through the WBC.

Reyes has also revealed plans to promote muaythai at the grassroots level through schools and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. In this manner, more and more Filipinos will be able to defend themselves, learn values, and use the sport to promote peace and order throughout the archipelago. Muaythai is relatively easy to learn, and has been in the SEA Games more than our own traditional sport of arnis. The long-term goal is also to use muaythai for economic benefit.

“We want provide employment to Filipinos who teach muaythai,” adds Reyes, who owns one of the largest chains of gyms in the US. “As teachers in their own country they may not earn what they are worth. But if we can grow the sport here and place instructors overseas, we will have an alternative to sending our countrymen overseas to perform menial tasks and manual labor. As muaythai masters, they will be looked up to and respected.”

Muaythai received a boost years ago when action star Robin Padilla accepted the chairmanship of the Muaythai Association Philippines, thanks to the efforts of his good friend and mentor, the late Roberto Valdez. Valdez, in fact, mentioned to this writer three years ago that the WBC wanted to form a professional organization for the sport, so that national athletes particularly in Asian countries could have a future source of income. Before his death, Valdez explained that even popular international reality shows like “The Contender” were already planning muaythai versions of their series.

The Thai sport is very well-suited to Filipinos, who have already won Southeast Asian Games gold medals. Fighters are divided into weight classes, therefore eliminating the need for size. Filipinos also have the same natural agility, rhythm and skill needed to succeed in the sport. And with the coming of the WBC Muaythai, they will also have something to look forward to later on in their careers.

Congratulations to Amis Tumang and Amazing Playground on its anniversary, and its participation in the MMA festival held yesterday.

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