World Lethwei Championship (WLC) began in 2017 after investors saw Myanmar’s enthusiastic reaction to ONE Championship’s mixed martial arts events.
There was a clear appetite for combat sports in the country and what better way to celebrate their history and sport. However, wanting something to happen is different from making it happen.
Three years ago, the Lethwei scene was almost entirely amateur, which not many would pay money or attention to. This is why the WLC brass went into an agreement with ONE to loan some of their athletes.
The agreement is reminiscent of the now-defunct ONE FC Network, which allowed different gyms and promotions to share fighters with ONE.
The injection of talent that ONE provided to WLC arguably helped it get off the ground in terms of initial viewership and level of competition. So who were these Lethwei heroes that helped grow this relatively obscure sport?
The man known as Bushido was already making a name for himself in the Myanmar MMA circuit after winning the Second Myanmar Featherweight Tournament in 2016.
The MMA crowd would only see him once the following year, but he actually fought three times. The other two bouts were for the first events of WLC.
Thaw beat another familiar face in Jian Kai Chee, who participated in the ONE Malaysian Featherweight Tournament, by knockout. He followed that up with a knockout of Australian Josh Fitzroy.
Bushido has yet to return to the WLC, choosing to focus on his MMA career. However, he wouldn’t meet much resistance if he ever thought of getting gold as a World Lethwei Championship athlete.
Tha Pyay Nyo
A Gold Belt Lethwei Champion and winner of the First ONE Myanmar Featherweight Tournament in 2015. The one-night tournament saw Tha Pyay Nyo knockout Hilt Hilt Lay and Myo Man Thit both in the first round.
Tha would then continue his domination by knocking out Kyal Sin Phyo and Htet Aung Oo in ONE: Union of Warriors and ONE: Light of a Nation respectively.
Ironically, his debut as a World Lethwei Championship athlete didn’t go as smoothly as his MMA career did. He lost to Saw Ba Oo at WLC: Bareknuckle King. But he would bounce back with two more stoppage wins against Phoe La Pyae and Sokhkrukh Kholmurodhov at WLC: Knockout War and WLC: Heartless Tigers respectively.
He was forced to a draw in his latest bout with Yan Naing Tun at WLC: Fearless Tigers, keeping his WLC record at a respectable 2-1-1.
Tha seems to enjoy himself immensely with WLC, but perhaps mixing in some time in MMA couldn’t hurt. After all, he’s still undefeated within the ONE Championship Circle. More Lethwei fighters finding success in MMA would generate more interest in the sport on the international stage.
Saw Min Min
The crowning achievement of Saw Min Min’s MMA career was when he won the ONE Myanmar Flyweight Tournament. Unfortunately, nobody remembers it because that was the night when Aung La Nsang became the Middleweight Champion.
Saw’s MMA woes don’t stop there though, as he dropped his next match against Ye Thway Ne at ONE: Quest for Gold via Split Decision.
Saw would reappear in competition as a World Lethwei Championship athlete, quickly establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with, getting victories over Saw Darwait and Aung Aung Htoo. This was when a shadow from the past would come back to haunt Saw Min Min.
He was booked to fight Ye Thway Ne at WLC: Fearless Tigers, the same man that beat him more than a year prior.
Saw wouldn’t be able to avenge his defeat but he didn’t double his losses either. The fight ended in a draw and this could end up becoming a stirring low-key rivalry.
Nou Srey Pov
Let’s flip the script a few times with this one. Unlike the others on this who first became exposed on ONE before going to WLC, Nou Srey Pov fought for WLC before coming to ONE.
Not only that, Nou isn’t primarily a Lethwei practitioner. She’s actually a Khun Khmer Champion, the martial art of nearby Cambodia.
Nou currently has an undefeated record with WLC, getting decision victories over Shew Sin Min and Shwe Nadi. She made a splash in her ONE debut when she beat Rika Ishige at ONE: Clas of Legends, but dropped a fight against Priscilla Hertati Lumban Gaol three months later.
Looking at her career, it seems that Nou is most comfortable outside her comfort zone. She competes in different countries in sports other than her own. Most fighters often take years before moving out of their own region.
This is a woman with guts and I can’t wait for the time when she gets the skills to take her to the next level.
Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat
We just talked about Nguyen Tran Duy Nhat when he called out Rodtang Jitmuangnon not so long ago. Here’s another example of a foreigner coming into WLC before heading over to ONE.
Nguyen fought and won with WLC twice in 2019, defeating Pich Mtes Khmang and Izat Zaki. Not wanting to miss a beat, Nguyen fought at ONE barely a month after the Zaki fight and won against Che Wil Azwan.
With Rodtang actually acknowledging his call out, it seems Nguyen is going all-in on his Muay Thai career in ONE Super Series.
The first time the majority of combat sports world saw Sasha Moisa was when he fell to Smokin’ Jo Nattawut at ONE: Enter the Dragon. But before that, he knocked out Shwe Yar Mann at WLC: Mighty Warriors.
The fight was deemed good enough to give the Ukrainian a shot at the WLC Light Middleweight belt which was then held by Polish fighter Artur Saladiak. The title bout was scheduled for WLC: King of Nine Limbs, which was roughly three months after the Nattawut fight.
This didn’t give Sasha much time to lick his wounds. But it all ended in his favor, as he beat Saladiak via Unanimous Decision to earn WLC gold.
His latest fight was a knockout victory over Shahzaib Rindh at ONE Warrior Series 10.
Sasha intends to pursue his career simultaneously with ONE and WLC, which may pay dividends for him down the road. Although, it might mean a more cluttered schedule for the Lethwei Champion.
Considering how instrumental ONE was in the founding of WLC, more scenarios like these are inevitable to keep playing out. Will the next ONE Burmese star come from WLC, or will another WLC Champion come from the ranks of ONE?
Let’s just hope the WLC clicks with the global audience and become the next combat sports sensation in Asia.
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