In under a year, Kingdom Fight Gym (KFG) in Siem Reap has managed to make quite the name for themselves in the local martial arts community.
Now, they are taking their small gym to the international stages of the world as they are set to make their ONE Championship debut with their homegrown talent Kong Sambo at ONE: CALL FOR GREATNESS on Friday, 22 February.
Behind the gym are the two founders Kwok Leung Tsang and Mark Van Dongen, a duo of lifelong martial arts devotees who are working hard to spread the word of Kun Khmer and take the local scene to the next level.
Since their founding, KFG has grown exponentially, and nowadays, the gym is regularly represented in local bouts and tournaments.
Their biggest challenge to date will come on 22 February as both Sambo and Phnom Penh-based Kun Khmer veteran Khon Sichan will travel to Singapore to represent Cambodia in The Home Of Martial Arts.
Sambo, a 24-year-old Kun Khmer talent, will make his highly anticipated debut in the organization’s popular all-striking league ONE Super Series (OSS) as he takes on the very accomplished Chinese kickboxer Zhang Chenglong.
The bantamweight contest will mark the first time KFG will compete on the global stage of martial arts, and ahead of the thrilling kickboxing encounter, co-founder Tsang and his athlete are plotting to shock the world.
“We have some cool stuff lined up for him,” Tsang explains.
“We are going to go in with a specific strategy, but of course, we are going to be open-minded because [Zhang’s team] are probably thinking the same.
“The advantage that we have is all the footage that you can find of Sambo is traditional Kun Khmer fights. They have no idea how fast Sambo can be and the pace he can pick up. It’s just something you don’t really see in the fights he has had on TV.”
Kingdom Fight Gym is trying a new blend of Kun Khmer
Coming from a diverse background himself, Tsang draws inspiration from his motley group of local and foreign trainers who all contribute to the broad palette that both professional competitors and visitors can enjoy at KFG.
Tsang and his peers at KFG are envisioning a new era of Cambodian martial arts, but that does not mean they are leaving the past behind. They still plan to incorporate the ancient ways.
“We’re trying to merge different influences and see what works for our fighters,” he says.
“Of course, each fighter has their individual style, but for all, we want a faster pace combined with Kun Khmer techniques.”
Having seen the development of local martial arts in places like Thailand, the KFG leader is determined to pay his respects to the Kun Khmer elders.
But also, he sees room for improvement.
“Khmer fighters are so skilled already. It’s in their blood, so we just have to get their potential out,” he continues.
“The people I’ve been in touch with — like Chan Rothana, Chan Reach from CTT, Keo Rumchong, and Prodal — they all have a similar vision. Not only are they ambitious, but they are also proud of being part of the Cambodian fight game.
“Right now, it’s not about competition, because we all need each other to grow and take it to the next level.”
In February, KFG will have the opportunity to keep their moment going by taking home an important victory.
However, it will not only be for themselves, but also for “The Kingdom Of Wonder.”
“People underestimate Cambodia. It’s such a beautiful country and has so much to offer,” he states.
“If you look at the fight game, it would be amazing if all of us and the gyms collaborated and exchanged both knowledge and experiences. It would be great for all of us, and for the country.”