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Gloves off: A Muay Thai renaissance

Brunei Darussalam has been known for producing talents in diverse martial art disciplines whether it is in the form of combat like mixed martial arts (MMA) or demonstration such as wushu.

The country’s latest achievement came in the form of Muay Thai, after local exponent Pengiran Md Khairul Bahri bin Pengiran Ali Umar won the under-68 kilogramme (kg) Muay Thai Championship title at the Marubotok Fight Championship in Narathiwat, Bangkok last month.

He defeated local favourite Fipsi Sikuyai Rooni in an impressive fashion via a technical knock-out (TKO) with a roundhouse kick as his finishing move.

Muay Thai is slowly gaining popularity; with widespread interest and a growing fanbase in the region highlighted by the surge in viewership and strong following in the One FC Championship, the largest MMA promotion in Asia.

Comparable to the American-headquartered Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the One FC Championship’s rising popularity has inspired notable switches of athletes from rival organisations including Eddie Alvarez and Brandon Vera.

Originated in Thailand and popularised by Western practitioners, Muay Thai is a mixed martial sport that primarily involves the use of stand-up striking.

Pengiran Md Khairul Bahri bin Pengiran Ali Umar. PHOTO: FADHIL YUNUS

Muay Thai is a challenging sport, requiring a lot of strength and endurance, both mentally and physically.

In Brunei Darussalam, the sport is well received not only by men, but also among women and the younger generation. However, despite the boom in the region, it is practiced either for recreational training or fitness in Brunei Darussalam.

While boxing has slowly received significant attention in recent times, the favourable response in the emergence of Muay Thai must not be left ignored.

Despite a lack of recognised competitive practitioners, owed to the absence of participations in regional and international meets, several local gyms, supported by a good number of coaches have introduced Muay Thai as one of their specialty classes.

More importantly, offering Muay Thai acts as a suitable alternative for aspiring martial artistes to pursue, apart from the mainstream paths of boxing, taekwondo or karate.

While the country has demonstrated expertise in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and MMA, notably evident with homegrown stars Eazy Anuar, Nur Hidayat Abdul and Adib Sulaiman. In this context, it is rather unique to celebrate the achievements of an athlete who specialises in Muay Thai.

Given the limited exposure in the international scene, Pengiran Md Khairul Bahri’s success last month suggests that the country boasts potential in a sport less travelled.

The local fighter first captured a Muay Thai title in 2018 in a rare feat and was also a national pencak silat athlete during the early days of his career.

A tanding specialist, he bagged bronze in the Class E (70-75kg) category in the 2011 Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in Jakarta, Indonesia and the Class G (75-80kg) category in the 2013 SEA Games in Naypyidaw, Myanmar.

There is no shortage of talents in the country following the immense performances of local fighters during the Strike:Redemption tournament in 2019.

The trio of Wali Rahman of Silverback Muay Thai, Aaron Lim of Project Mayhem, and Saufy Jaman of Nak Muay Fight Gym all tasted success in their respective bouts.

In January this year, Renegade Martial Arts Academy, a martial arts institution based in Brunei worked together with the Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) Sports Complex to launch a kickboxing club catered mainly towards students.

The sessions taught participants techniques in kicks, punches, knees, self-defence and combinations.

Last August, a Muay Thai inter-club exhibition was held featuring a number of athletes from various classes representing various gyms in the country.

Classes organised by the various gyms are also beginner-friendly, allowing both walk-in and member participants a general understanding of the basics and fundamentals.

Though kickboxing has been practiced on a lesser scale, local gyms have introduced classes mainly for fitness and encourage enthusiasts to learn a new skill.

The introduction of a kickboxing session at the start of the year serves not only as a guide for newcomers to the sport but also a platform to create promising and potential athletes. – Fadhil Yunus