• Continued outbreaks of the coronavirus has halted Chatri Sityodtong’s ability to restart One Championship events.
  • The fight promoter, arguably the most powerful figure in Asian combat sports, last held a show in late February and this week had to cancel a planned show for May 29 in Manila.
  • Sityodtong told Insider he is not giving up, is “scrambling behind the scenes,” and is determined to put on fights as soon as possible in as safe a manner as possible.
  • Sityodtong is also adding the brutal Burmese martial art Lethwei to his events and even said he would love to recruit the most famous Lethwei practitioner Dave Leduc, an expert head-butter.
  • “I love Dave Leduc,” Sityodtong said. “The guy is a monster.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Asia’s biggest MMA firm would love to recruit Lethwei “monster” Dave Leduc once the coronavirus pandemic has waned worldwide, One Championship chairman Chatri Sityodtong told Insider.

As a self-confessed fan of all martial arts, Sityodtong told us he not only wants to incorporate Lethwei bouts into his future combat sport festivals, he would happily bring in Leduc, probably the most famous Lethwei practitioner, to show off what the fighting discipline is all about.

“One Championship is a celebration of all martial arts, not just mixed martial arts,” Sityodtong told Insider in an interview in early April.

“We’ve done submission grappling, we’ve done boxing, we’ve done mixed martial arts, muay thai, kickboxing … we’ve actually done Lethwei before on an undercard.

“But One Championship is a celebration of Asia’s greatest treasure — martial arts — and I want to showcase all the martial arts.

“It’s not just about MMA,” Sityodtong said. “I happen to love MMA. I’m a practitioner every day of Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu. So I fully appreciate all the arts and want One Championship to showcase all the martial arts.”

On Leduc, specifically, Sityodtong said: “I love Dave Leduc. The guy is a monster! I would love to have him in One Championship.”

Bloody Elbow and Vice describe Lethwei as one of the most brutal striking styles in the world as it is a bareknuckle sport in which one cannot traditionally win without knocking out the opponent. Without a knockout, a bout tends to be declared a draw.

If you want an example for how tough the sport is, it is completely legal to use “gowl tite” — headbutts. Knocked out competitors are even allowed a time-out in which they can be revived by their corner. This is not normal even in other martial arts.

Lethwei’s most famous practitioner right now is Leduc, who is the first non-Burmese athlete to win the coveted Lethwei golden belt and a pretty good headbutter in his own right.

Lethwei is a ‘genuine art’

FILE - In this  July 30, 2019, file photo, One Championship founder Chatri Sityodtong, center, gestures as Reece McLaren, right, of Australia and Danny Kingad, of the Philippines face off during the media presentation for this ONE Championship mixed martial arts fight dubbed: Dawn of Heroes, in suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. As his mixed martial arts promotions go behind closed doors and audience free, Sityodtong says he's finding ways to thrive during the coronavirus pandemic that is shutting down sports around the globe.  (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

ONE Championship boss Chatri Sityodtong.

Associated Press

Also known as Burmese boxing, the art-form of Lethwei could be confused if it is regarded as a bareknuckle version of MMA similar to what bareknuckle boxing is to the sport of boxing.

That’s according to Sityodtong.

He said: “For me, bareknuckle boxing … there’s very little technique involved and it’s almost like a street fight between two untrained combatants.

“Whereas Lethwei is a genuine art. There’s mastery involved. It takes a decade of training every day to get to the top.

“There’s a real mastery, a real martial art. Whereas, bareknuckle boxing, I’ve seen someone who has zero technique, zero anything, just in a brawl.

“I don’t appreciate that — it’s not an art. Art is what we see in One Championship,” Sityodtong said.

The global outbreak of the coronavirus, together with a resurgence of COVID-19 in localized cities and countries in Asia, has restrained Sityodtong from being able to operate despite a desire to host events in times of crises.

When Insider spoke to Sityodtong he told us that there had been a new surge of coronavirus cases in Singapore because of importation, and this led to travel restrictions and a governmental shutdown.

His planned events in that country for April were therefore canceled. “It has become increasingly harder” for live event companies like Sityodtong’s to work, he said, and even though One Championship this week had to cancel a May 29 show in Manila because of the pandemic, he refuses to give up.

While it is unclear when high-level mixed martial arts will be able to safely restart in key Asian territories, Sityodtong said he will be “scrambling behind the scenes” to find solutions.

Additionally, there may well be conversations with Leduc, who told Bloody Elbow last year: “Maybe someday I’ll compete in One.”

Sityodtong said: “I love [Leduc’s] fighting style, I love his aggression, and I love his finishing ability. He’s a real stud.”

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