ONE Championship sets stage for lethwei grudge match
IT’S their biggest stage yet for a long-simmering lethwei rivalry. ONE Championship’s State of Warriors will see Yangon’s Thuwunna Indoor Stadium host a world strawweight championship defence as well as the return of Aung La Nsang, making his sophomore appearance on October 7 to face Polish fighter Michal Pasternak.
But one of the night’s biggest fights may be one familiar only to lethwei fanatics: a down-card contest pitting Saw Ba Oo and Kyawl Sin Phyo for the fourth time.
The two have previously met three times – and fought to three draws. They will also be available as substitutes for the event’s featherweight (70.3 kilogram) championship tournament if a fighter is found physically unable to continue, but the draw of a title match is only a side-show to the opportunity for both fighters hungering after a decisive victory over a longtime rival.
“I’ve got my eyes set on Kyawl Sin Phyo – I’ve been preparing non-stop in lethwei style fighting but also ground and grappling styles. Kyal Sin Phyo is strong fighter, and he has a powerful weapon in his kicks. We’ve met three times already, so we know each others’ styles well by now – I’ve learned his strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve prepared to take advantage of them,” Saw Ba Oo told The Myanmar Times.
“All of our previous meetings have ended in draws, but not this time – I’m going to be fighting to win,” the Kayin fighter added.
Saw Ba Oo, 27, who trains with the famed Taung Ka Lay lethwei gym in Hpa’an, Kayin State, competed in ONE Championship’s Kingdom of Warriors in July 2015, where he overpowered Dawna Aung with a rain of floor blows for a victory, before he was dispatched by Thway Tit Aung in only 2 minutes, 25 seconds later in the evening.
He won favour with the crowd at Kingdom of Warriors for arriving at the ring in traditional Kayin dress, wielding a crossbow. He was also flanked by fatigue-clad promoters, who carried a framed portrait of Saw Ba U Gyi, the first president of the Karen National Union whose death is commemorated on Karen Martyr’s Day.
“I am proud to wear traditional dress to represent Kayin State and its people, and this year I plan to wear it again,” he told The Myanmar Times, adding that perhaps this year he would leave the weapon at home.
The fight won’t be a first on the ONE stage for Kyal Sin Phyo, either. The 25-year-old, who trains at Ah Phyu Yaung Thway Thit gym, made an appearance as a bantamweight (65.8kg) at ONE Championship’s Union of Warriors in March 2016, where he battled the previous event’s featherweight champion Tha Pyay Nyo in a three-round brawl before finally succumbed to fatigue and a well-timed knee to the chest.
Kyal Sin Phyo also competed in the nationwide Golden Belt Championship in Yangon in June, where he fought his way to the 63.5-kilogram final before losing to Thar Ahthel Ta Pwint.
“I’ll try my best in the coming fight. I’ve been training for a standing fight as well as brushing up on my ground techniques,” Kyal Sin Phyo said.
“I’ve faced Saw Ba Oo three times already, and I think I’ve been getting closer to a victory each time we fight. I’m looking forward to getting another chance,” he added.
Saw Ba Oo cut an intimidating figure arriving in traditional Kayin dress at ONE Championship’s Kingdom of Warriors in July 2015.