The story of the first Cambodian Bokator MMA team to fight outside of Cambodia.
By Antonio Graceffo
I wanted to carbo-load before the fight, but they rang the bell before I finished my pasta Alfredo.
Mayhem II MMA tournament: I won my 1st fight, ground and pound, but lost my 2nd. Tun Serey of our Cambodian Bokator team came in 2nd in his division. It was a good fight. I didn’t get hit at all in the first fight. I caught a kick to the head in the second, but injured my elbow in a submission.
The first fight went off like clock work but I can’t take any credit. I had a really soft opponent and felt confident. When they introduced him they said his martial arts were tae kwan do and Jiu Jitsu. My plan was just to box with everyone, regardless of their skill set but particularly if they were a grappler.
I came out throwing leather but didn’t land a single punch. Instead, he shot and tried to take me down, but I sprawled and caught him in an almost guillotine. I was trying to choke him, but realized I wasn’t going to get it. Also I was worried that he was a BJJ guy and I thought it would be better to let him go and box him. So I began to turn him lose. As he was standing up, I pushed him against the cage, and tried for a standing choke. Still couldn’t get it, so rather than waster energy, I was just going to release, walk off and strike. As I was backing off, he lunged at me. I caught him around the head and threw him over my hip. I landed on top of him in side control. Then I mounted him and sunk in my grape hooks.
I was still thinking of escaping, and fighting stand up, but there was a world title holder, named Daniel, who was in my corner shouting advice. He yelled for me to keep him on the ground.
I took out my grape hooks and sat on his chest, and began ground and pound. Daniel yelled, “Put your weight on him, so he can’t breath.” So, I slipped back a little, to sit on his stomach. And I kept punching his face and head. He kept trying to cover up, obviously, but at K-1 they showed me how easy it is to just move the guy’s arm out of the way first, then punch. Then he puts his arm back, you move it and punch. He kept trying to buck me or turn me, but the K-1 training came into play. I had a good wide base on my knees and kept my balance the whole time. When he bucked, he just used energy. At one point I also used a technique that the trainers had done on me which was, setting my knee on the guy’s bicep, to hold it down, and then easily punching him in the face.
At first, even in the mount, and punching him, I was afraid that he would use BJJ or that this was a trap, but slowly, I began to realize it wasn’t. Daniel yelled, “don’t do anything stupid and you will win.” I thought of going for a can opener or submission, but decided that qualified as doing something stupid. So I stayed on top, punching. Most of the blows weren’t punches, instead, I was throwing hammer fists, to keep from hurting my hands. The strategy paid off, because the next day, my hands were fine.
I started to feel badly for the guy I was fighting. He looked really young and probably had no idea what he was getting into. I hope the experience doesn’t discourage him from continuing with MMA. Daniel was yelling encouragement to me, but I think it was a psychological strategy to break the kid. He yelled, “He’s getting tired.” Then he yelled, “He has no idea what to do here.” Next, “He’s going to tap any second.” And finally, “He’s about to cry.”
Eventually, Daniel said, “I think there’s only ten or twenty seconds left. Keep doing what you’re doing, and you will win.”
When the bell rang, I fell down on my opponent and just gave him a huge hug. I was so grateful for the win. But what I liked most of all was that everything went according to training, if not to plan. ALL of the K-1 training came into play. All of it came instinctively. I only had one month of grappling with K-1 and yet I knew how to sprawl, choke from the sprawl, press against the cage, throw from he head, land in side control, move from side control to full mount, to grape hooks, to sitting on the chest and punching, to riding the bucking bull, and pounding.
In training, the teachers would ground and pound me. And I would ground and pound the grappling dummy, but I had never done that to a human being before. So that was new, but it worked, I guess I learned from being done-to, rather than from doing.
The cardio training also paid off. At the end, I wasn’t even breathing hard. In fact, I was simply warmed up.
Daniel came up to me after and said, “You told me you are not a grappler, but you looked like you’d been doing it for ten years. You looked like Tito Ortiz up there.”
A lot of what happens to you in a tournament is based on luck, the luck of getting an easy or a hard opponent. And I know that the kid I fought was not a tough opponent, and that he didn’t know as much as he thought. BUT, what I am proud of is that I used the technique. And in all honesty, I didn’t USE the technique, the technique just happened and I was lucky enough to be standing there when it did. Luckily I wasn’t over-thinking. The minute he tried to take me down, my game plan was gone, so I was working on instinct. And the instinct was the training.
I learned it all in one horribly intensive month. K-1 Fight Factory, K-1 Fight Factory, K-1 Fight Factory! I can’t say it enough times.
My three Khmer training brothers had varying degrees of luck. Tun Serey was matched with a muay Thai guy who I know in Selangor. The guy is famous for practicing lots of martial arts, especially Muay Thai, entering competitions, and losing. I pretty much knew Tun Serey could take him standing. And if the guy wanted to go to the ground, his skills wouldn’t be as good as his Muay Thai.
Tun serey roughed him up a lot standing. They went to the ground and Tun Serey continued to fight like a lion. He won a fairly easy victory.
Kong Ravy, on the other hand, had the misfortune of having been matched with Raymond Tiew, the San Da champion of Malaysia. He is also my good friend, and I knew that he had joined an MMA team and spent three months doing nothing but ground fighting, to prepare for the competition. He beat Ravy fair and square, but it was no cake walk. And Ravy was in the fight the whole time. He fought well against an opponent with a lot of skill and experience. I was very proud of Ravy.
Say Tevin also had a tough match. He had to face a fighter from Kazakistan. Those Kazaks all seem to be very tough and have excellent grappling skills. Once again, Tevin fought very well, but in the end, he was outmatched.
Going into the semi-finals, Tun Serey met a good all-around fighter, with an apparent background in both striking and grappling. All of the Khmer guys are good on their feet, particularly with kicks and elbows. They lack boxing, but so do the Malaysian fighters. Tun Serey roughed the guy up standing. The opponent pushed Serey against the cage where they kneed and elbowed each other, but for the most part, the fight went boring. Eventually, Tun Serey went for a throw, but the opponent had better training and landed in a position of advantage, namely, he had Tun Serey in a guillotine choke.
From where I was sitting, actually from where everyone was sitting, it looked like the choke was in solidly, and Tun Serey would soon be tapping out. We hadn’t practiced too much how to get out of the choke, and as I said, the choke was tight.
Training pays off for everyone and Tune Serey was the only one of the three Bokator fighters who had turned up every morning for grappling practice, with me and Sarin, our grappling coach from the French Bokator team, during my first week of training, before I went to K-1.
Suddenly, to the disbelief of everyone, myself included, it looked like the opponent was tapping. At first, I thought he was shooing away flies. Next, I saw the choke. Tun Serey had applied a US Army choke that I had taught him during our week of grappling. It is one of the chokes that can be done from the front, rather than the back. In this case, it was being done from inside of a guillotine.
The tapping became so frantic that the referee finally stopped the fight and awarded the win to Tun Serey.
After the fight, Serey told us, “He tapped, but no one saw it. So I applied it harder and harder, and I was worried he would die before the referee stopped the fight.”
Cambodia now had three wins. And Tun Serey would be fighting again in the finals.
My second fight was less glorious than my first. Where I did everything right in the first one, everything went wrong in the second. My second opponent weighed 107 kgs, the heavy-weight judo champion of Malaysia. He was much taller and bigger than me. And I have to admit I got scared when I saw him. The plan had been to throw heavy leather, punching him in the face and trying to avoid a take down. When the bell rang, I ran forward to punch and he threw the slowest, hardest, most powerful kick I have seen. I easily avoided it, but realized when he threw those cement legs at me, I needed to avoid them, rather than block them, because blocking would hurt too much.
Now my game plan was out the window. I didn’t realize he would be kicking. Originally, I thought I could stay away and just come in to punch, but now, staying away was dangerous, he kept throwing these huge elephant kicks and I managed to avoid them. Daniel shouted, “He is fat. Make him busy and he will get tired.” I decided to just keep sort of jumping in and out, to make him chase me and throw kicks to wear him down. But I was worried it would look like I was just scared. And since I was scared, I wanted to push myself to go in and fight. So, I ran in to punch him, and he kicked me in the head. The kick landed on my left ear. It was so hard, my knees buckled and I almost went out.
Once again, K-1 training paid off. At K-1 we frequently did an exercise, where I had to spin around in a circle for a minute, then spin the other way for a minute, till I was dizzy and nauseas, to simulate getting almost knocked out. When the coach gave the signal, I had to come out of the spin and hit the pads. I would be on wobbly legs, not knowing left from up, but the coached wanted me to throw hard, frequent leather, just to keep the opponent off me.
In a fight, if you get hit hard enough to get a standing 8 count, it takes between 6 and 8 seconds to recover. If you get hit on the jaw again during that time, you will go out. By throwing punches, even if they don’t land, you will keep the guy off of you. There is also the possibility that if he rushes in, with his guard down, hoping to score the knockout punch, you may get lucky and lay him out.
When that kick hit the side of my head, everything went black, my knees buckled and I almost hit the floor, but as a former boxer, I have been there a million times before. The K-1 training kicked in, and I did exactly what the coaches taught me to do. I charged forward, on unsteady legs, punching.
Unfortunately, this must be when the guy took me down. I was still groggy, when I found myself on my back, with my right arm in an armbar. I tried to escape for about two seconds, but the guy has is legs over like two stone pillars. I could do nothing. So, I tapped, but either he didn’t realize I was tapping, or he was too excited by the fight, but instead of releasing, he pulled harder. I felt something just about to give in my arm. I cried out in order to alert the ref. He arrived a fraction of a second too late, and I knew my arm was injured.
I had lost, but what bothered me most was that I just hadn’t been in the fight. I never hit or kicked the guy, even one time. I had already defeated myself mentally before the fight started.
At this point, team Cambodia had three wins, and our only chance for more was Tun Serey, who was advancing to the next level.
The next fighter Tun Serey had to face was Ahmurat, the winner of Mayhem I. In Mayhem I, they only awarded a single, open-weight division trophy. During the course of that tournament, Ahmurat had fought five times. His final fight was against a 145 kg opponent, who he decimated, which is amazing, as Ahmurat weighs in the 50 kg range.
As much as I wanted Serey to win, I knew he had no chance against the more experienced and better trained opponent. To Serey’s credit, the fight lasted much longer than I expected. He stood toe-to-toe with Ahmurat in the stand up. Ahmurat took him down and got dominant position, but Tun Serey got a reversal on Ahmurat. Serey managed to hold dominant position for most of the fight ground on. Eventually, however, Ahmurat won.
After the fight, Ahmurat said, “Tun Serey is like a piece of iron.”
Serey won the second place trophy. More than that, by the next morning, he was already a hero to the Khmers on the internet. Apparently some Malaysian person had posted a cell phone video of the fight on youtube. It was ironic that the Malaysian video went to Cambodia, and that a Cambodian sent me the link, while I was still in Malaysia.
Many people had tried to black Grand Master San Kim Saen, saying that he would embarrass the country if the boys lost. His feeling was that just participating in the fight was already a victory. Everywhere we went in Malaysia people already knew about Bokator, because of me. All of the Malaysian people were incredibly excited to meet the Grand Master and the Bokator team. They were given gifts and invitations at every turn.
The completion of a dream for me was when my Cambodian Grand Master met my Malaysian Grand Master, Guru Mazlan Man. They immediately liked one another and vowed to arrange martial arts exchanges for youth from Malaysia to learn Bokator in Cambodia, and Cambodians to come to Malaysia.
Far from embarrassing the country, the Bokator team had done a lot to strengthen sporting ties between the two countries.
Many people asked to take photos with Say Tevin, the hero of the battle of Angkor Wat. In the first international Bokator (MMA) fight ever, Say Tevin had been the only Cambodian to last a full three rounds against a French opponent. Through the internet, and maybe a little help from me, he had become a minor international celebrity.
Now in Malaysia, Tun Serey had his day in the sun, coming in second place in one of the largest MMA tournaments in Southeast Asia.
The Khmers made new friends. The Malaysians learned a bit about Cambodia. And I not only got to be part of it, but I also got to fight in a cage, twice! Who’s better than us?
Cambodian iron warriors in their first international fight, I was proud of my brothers. As for myself, the first fight was a dream, the culmination of all my training. The second fight taught me a lot of lessons about mental preparedness. At Age 44 with 4 weeks of grappling, fighting in MMA for the first time, I am happy with my results. Once my elbow heals, I plan to go into serious training again, and be prepared for the next fight.
As for the future, I can’t wait to get on a plane in Kuala Lumpur, escorting the first group of Malaysians to Cambodia to study Bokator.
Antonio Graceffo is self-funded and needs donation to continue his writing and video work. To support the project you can donate through the paypal link on his website, www.speakingadventure.com
Brooklyn Monk, Antonio Graceffo is a martial arts and adventure author living in Asia. He is the author of the books, “Warrior Odyssey’ and “The Monk from Brooklyn.” He is also the host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” which traces his ongoing journey through Asia, learning martial arts in various countries.
Warrior Odyssey, the book chronicling Antonio Graceffo’s first six years in Asia is available at amazon.com. The book contains stories about the war in Burma and the Shan State Army. The book is available at http://www.blackbeltmag.com/warrior_odyssey
See Antonio’s Destinations video series and find out about his column on http://www.blackbeltmag.com
Brooklyn Monk fan page
Brooklyn Monk on YOUTUBE
Brooklyn Monk in 3D
Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
Brooklyn Monk in Asia Podcast (anti-travel humor)
Brooklyn Monk in 3D
Order the download at http://3dguy.tv/brooklyn-monk-in-3d/