Lethwei may just be a fight fan’s dream; no gloves, allowing kicks, elbows, and even headbutts, and World Lethwei Championship plans to introduce it to the rest of the world.
Lethwei originated in the country of Myanmar as records exist of matches millions of years ago in the Pyu Empire of Myanmar. During those times, entertainment was the sole purpose of Lethwei matches. Rings were not used as matches were done in sandpits and the only way to end them was by finishing your opponent or if your opponent was unable to continue.
The rules were modified for today, however the traditional rules still deliver exciting matches. The traditional rules prohibit fighters from wearing gloves, their hands must only be wrapped in tape or gauze. There is no point system in place, meaning fights would still go until one could not continue or was knocked out. Rounds are in play, as there are five, three minute rounds with two minute rest periods. Here’s where it gets fun. Acceptable strikes include all punches, elbows, kicks, knees, headbutts, along with longer clinching and sweeps and throws. Traditional rules also include an injury timeout. Fighters can use injury timeouts only once during the fight and not during the final round. These timeout give them two minutes after being knocked out to decide whether they wish to continue or not.
World Lethwei Championship uses a slightly altered set of traditional rules. At WLC, there is a point system in play, along with judges, meaning fights can end in decision. Fighters can still use the same striking techniques listed above along with extensive clinching and sweeps and throws. But, in WLC, there are no injury timeouts. Although they use a different rule set, WLC will use the traditional rules in some bouts.
The Creation of World Lethwei Championship
A group of businessmen based in Burmese were the investors of World Lethwei Championship. The same group was responsible for bringing the first ONE Championship show to Myanmar. This sparked the creation of WLC as they decided, “why don’t we do this to showcase Lethwei and Myanmar culture.”
WLC became the first media property produced in Myanmar by bringing in world class directors. Their events are also top notch as they come with unique walkouts and the best Lethwei fighters in the world.
But of course, as with any business, they did face some obstacles as CEO, Gerald Ng, said, “of course we faced some challenges with the established promoters that felt we were invading their turf.” But as the sport continued to grow, those promoters saw what WLC was doing for the sport and how important it was to bring the world’s attention to it. Ng would go on by adding, “all the major promoters are partners with World Lethwei Championship now.”
Notable World Lethwei Championship Events and Fighters
The biggest event of WLC history happened just this year. On August 2, two title fights headlined WLC9: King of Nine Limbs as the light middleweight world championship and inaugural cruiserweight world championship.
The main event featured the cruiserweight title as Dave Leduc made his WLC debut against former UFC fighter, Seth Baczynski. Baczynski became the first UFC fighter to compete for WLC. As for Leduc, before entering WLC he had won all major Lethwei titles around the world. With a second round knockout win over Baczynski, Leduc captured the title and became the #1 Lethwei fighter in the world. Ng also shared that Leduc “is a social media superstar who travels the world showcasing lethwei techniques and have trained with the likes of Bas Rutten and Jon Jones. He is also currently on this season of The Amazing Race Canada and have become one of the most controversial contestants on that show.”
Ng would go on to list a couple more notable fighters as he said, “Other notable names include Antonio Faria, the first Light Welterweight World Lethwei Champion and a fighter who had one of the most amazing lethwei fights in history. His bout against Mite Yine in 2018 was considered one of the best fights of the year and the fight went viral, chalking up 3 million views on Facebook alone. Another fighter to look out for and probably the best Myanmar fighter today is Soe Lin Oo. He is nicknamed ‘The Ironman’ and has never been knocked out before. He has the biggest fan following in the sport and a superstar that transcends lethwei into the mainstream world.”
Introducing World Lethwei Championship to the World
As they became the first media property produced in Myanmar, that led to major TV deals around the world. World Lethwei Championship can be viewed on major networks such as Canal+ (Myanmar), K+ (Vietnam), and Fight Network among others. Along with these networks, they are also available to stream on UFC Fight Pass.
As they have secured major television deals across the world, Ng believes the best is yet to come. “We are also on the stage of a global boom for the sport. I have top guys from the UFC, boxing, kickboxing that want to compete for us. You won’t even believe some of the megastars messaging us.” said Ng. He would add, “I can’t reveal it yet but we have been negotiating with all the biggest free agents in the world of mixed martial arts and kickboxing and you can expect some jaws to drop when they hear the next round of our signings, especially with the upcoming event in the US.”
Not only are they on the verge of big signees, they also plan on putting on cards outside of Myanmar. He revealed that a show has been confirmed for Cambodia in March 2020 that, according to Ng, “already has the entire country buzzing”. He would also share that there are shows being planned for the United States and Japan. The US show does not have a confirmed venue just yet, however they are currently looking at Wyoming or Miami for July 2020. As for the Japan show, they will be heading to Tokyo in December 2020.
WLC10: Fearless Tigers
World Lethwei Championship’s next card is coming up in October streaming live on UFC Fight Pass. On October 4, WLC10: Fearless Tigers will feature eight fights with a light middleweight match up in the main event. Ng has said, “This next card is the biggest we have done so far.”
The main event features a pair of undefeated fighers. Myanmar’s own Thway Thit Win Hlaing enters the contest with a WLC record of 3-0 record. His most recent outing came in 2017 at WLC3: Legendary Champions as he faced off against Shan Ko. Hlaing would win the fight by knockout, the first of his WLC career, as his first two wins came by unanimous decision. His opponent, Burutlek Petchyndee Academy, enters with a WLC record of just 1-0 as he made his debut in May at WLC8: Karen Spirit against Kyaw Zin Latt. He would go on to win his debut fight as he knocked out Latt in the first round. The German Thai-power striker now goes up against an elite counter striker in Hlaing.
The co-main event features one of the brightest prospects in combat sports today. Making her Lethwei debut, Nicola ‘The Burmese Dragon’ Barke, takes on Bianka Balajti. Barke is a striking specialist, having captured major titles in England and China before deciding to take her talents to Lethwei. She had already gained a massive following in Myanmar and will be competing there, in her mother’s birth country, for the first time. Her mother will also be in attendance.
Her opponent, Balajti, will also be making her debut and enters the fight with a decorated striking background as well. Hailing from Hungary and living in Vietnam, Balajti has captured many major titles before coming to WLC. Those included titles in both Muay Thai and kickboxing under promotions like IMFA and WAKO. She enters the fight bringing her ferocious, powerful, in your face style as she takes on the cool, collected and more technical Barke.
Rest of the card:
Featherweight: Mite Yine vs. Nguyen Thanh Trung
Light Welterweight: Shuklaine Min vs. Thun Chantak
Light Welterweight: Thway Thit Maung vs. Omar Elouers
Lightweight: Hein Tun Aung vs. Auk Chin Lay
Light Welterweight: Saw Min Naing vs. Saw Kaung Htet
Bantamweight: Thein Soe vs. Soe Win Than