In the early days of ONE Championship, it was in desperate need to build legitimate star power. Their solution was to create Grand Prix tournaments that would make it easier for fans to follow fighters and hype future title fights.
This series will take a look at the winners of these tournaments. Their fights, the aftermath, and where they are now.
In this article, we’ll be looking at Sam Ang Dun.
Into the Unknown
Back in the early days of ONE Championship, the promotion was trying to make as big a splash as possible in as many places as possible. This includes countries that have near-zero experience with the sport, such as Cambodia.
In 2014, ONE made its first attempt at breaking ground in Phnom Penh as its 20th event, with ONE: Rise of the Kingdom.
This card featured the first fight of what would become the trilogy between Geje Eustaquio and Adriano Moraes as the main event. While most of the event was dedicated to the Cambodian Featherweight Grand Prix.
This was the third Grand Prix ONE built, but unlike the past two tournaments, all the rounds happened in one night. The winners had to fight twice in the same night to win it all.
This only makes sense when one considers management fears that they might not be able to return to the country. This tournament needs to create a star as quickly as possible.
The tournament featured four men with an alternate match thrown in just in case one of the winners is unable to fight again. These matches were:
- Sam Ang Dun vs. Chin Heng
- Chan Rothana vs. Prak Chansin
- Meas Meu vs. Chan Heng (alternate)
The Dark Horse Emerges
A large number of the Cambodian fighters on this card were primarily Khun Khmer boxers that transitioned to MMA around the same time in 2013. Many of the early spectators didn’t expect much from the grappling side of the game, though the fighters did give it a go.
Sam Ang Dun was a replacement for Chan Reach, who couldn’t make it to the card.
The Sam/Chin semi-final was the fourth fight on the card, with Chan Rothana and Meas Meu already winning their respective bouts.
The fight started quickly with Sam throwing strikes, backing Chin to the cage. Chin went for a double leg but didn’t take Sam down. Instead, Sam wrapped his legs around Chin like a monkey and Chin just stood there. The awkward picture lasted almost ten seconds before Chin slammed Sam to the ground.
The ground fighting was what many saw coming from the two until Sam reversed position to end up on top. Chin surprised everyone, however, when he threw his legs up in an armbar attempt that legitimately looked dangerous. The next few seconds were a headscratcher.
After Sam slipped out of the armbar, he turns to face Chin, who is still on the ground and punches him in the face once. Chin, then immediately turtles, prompting referee Joey Lepiten to jump in.
The Unluckiest Lucky Guy
ONE Championship has been known to be near authoritarian when it comes to preserving their image as the honorable side of MMA. All of their stars managers, agents/advisors have to go through the ONE Agent Certification program.
This ensures that the people in charge of their fighters’ careers outside the cage won’t sign off on anything that would compromise the image of both the fighter and the promotion according to the company’s standard.
But life in the cage is never this rosy and there will always be controversy. Management will try their darndest to sweep it all under the rug though. With the controversy of the Askren/Sapo fight approximately seven months in the future, this fight was the most controversial bout ONE had to deal with in its short history.
The finale of the Cambodian Featherweight Grand Prix was an exciting enough affair.
Rothana flew across the ring with a kick that opened him up to a body clinch and takedown from Sam. The action on the ground was surprisingly back and forth, with both fighters attempting leg locks. But neither one is getting much advantage.
They both stand up, with Rothana feeling behind on the cards, rushes Sam for a takedown. Rothana momentarily gets stuck in a guillotine but escaped and began raining down ground and pound. Rothana disengages to throw and miss a soccer kick. He turns around and drops an axe kick onto Sam’s face.
The referee jumps in and Rothana thinks he won, but of course, gets a red card for an illegal stomp. Rothana loses via disqualification and Sam Ang Dun is declared the Cambodian Grand Prix Featherweight Champion.
The action between the two wasn’t over though, as a fight between the corners almost flared up Khabib-style while the fighters were leaving the cage.
The True King of Cambodia
Because of the controversy of how the fight ended, as well as the events on the sidelines, it’s near impossible to watch a video of the fight. However, it would fuel the promotion of the rematch when ONE returned to Cambodia over a year later at ONE: Kingdom of Khmer.
Since Rothana’s loss, he’s knocked out Ramon Gonzalez at ONE: Age of Champions. On the other hand, Sam preferred to compete in Khun Khmer boxing, fighting twice during the interim. Much of the attention during the lead up was on Rothana, as his redemption story became the main storyline.
The action began two minutes into the first with both fighters exchanging handily on the feet. Sam was the first one to take it to the ground, scoring two takedowns on Rothana. During their second scuffle on the ground, Rothana reversed position with a hip toss, landing on top.
Rothana does a bit of ground and pound before posturing up to deliver the final blow. The fight is over with just over thirty seconds left and Rothana avenges his first loss as a pro.
The Lost Champion
After this card, ONE has yet to return to Cambodia and the Cambodian Featherweight Grand Prix Champion has never stepped back in the cage.
There are scattered videos on YouTube of Sam Ang Dun fighting in Khun Khmer Boxing promotions but it’s difficult to confirm when exactly those bouts happened.
There was a definite feeling around 2014 that the Grand Prix crown went to the wrong fighter, and that might have contributed to Sam’s sudden disappearance. Admittedly, the man didn’t win in the best way possible, but none of it was his fault. Rothana was the one who broke the rules, he deserved the loss.
Imagine being vilified for a year for something you didn’t do in a sport that didn’t even have that many fans, and then to have those smug comments proven right. It’s understandable for him to think it wasn’t worth it.
The tournament itself was a failure as well. Not only was the finale one the promotion actively discourages people to remember, but it also didn’t create the breakout star they were hoping for.
This was a rare case where winning was the worst thing to happen to a fighter. If Sam never won the tournament he might have had more freedom to improve on his game. But the pressure may have felt left a bad taste in his mouth, forcing arguably Cambodia’s second-best MMA prospect from the sport forever.
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