PASIR MAS: Though Thai kickboxing was banned for many years in PAS-controlled Kelantan, it was still practised “unofficially” and numerous makeshift rings were constructed in villages, especially those near the Thai border, where informal bouts were held regularly.
The sport has a long and rich tradition in Kelantan and it was also the main form of entertainment for local folk, especially those with Siamese roots.
It is said that in some parts of Kelantan, kickboxing (more popularly known as muay or tomoi) attracts more fans than even Manchester United.
With such a huge following, it was only a question of time before the Kelantan state government began to review its restrictive policies on the sport.
The sport had been banned because of its violent nature and the chanting (part of a fighter’s ritual and bragging rights) which were considered unsuitable for an Islamic audience.
Earlier this year, state sports committee chairman Abdul Patah Mahmood announced that the state had decided to lift the ban on holding muay tournaments but with some conditions imposed.
Any tournament sanctioned by the Kelantan Boksing Association (KBA) can be held throughout the state, Patah said.
He said muay could become an avenue for wayward teenagers to release “steam” instead of resorting to becoming mat rempit and terrorising road users with their dangerous racing.
Muay is particularly popular in districts bordering southern Thailand such as Pasir Mas and Tumpat.
KBA president Ramli Awang, 53, said the popularity of muay rose after 1995.
A coach named Wan Abd Aziz Wan Awang had trained two fighters from the age of nine and they put up a fantastic performance during a working visit to Kampung Guang here by then deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
The audience were captivated by the martial arts display. More people picked up the sport, but it hit a hurdle when then state sports committee chairman Nik Mustaffa Nik Lodin restricted the sport owing to concerns about violence and the unsportsman-like behaviour of some fighters.
However, the sport continued to thrive as a community tournament in villages although the organisers were not allowed by the state government to advertise or promote it.
Now, all that is in the past as the sport, which is also popular among Kelantanese women, is being regulated professionally by the association, said Ramli.
Ramli said Kelantan’s kickboxing reputation has attracted exponents from Russia and South Africa.
Kickboxing teaches exponents how to fight with fists, elbows and legs. Many of Malaysia’s top conventional boxers such as Adnan Jusoh (a SEA Games medallist) began their boxing careers as muay fighters, he said.
Many police commandos also undergo the rigorous training, Ramli said, adding that a weekly fight in any village in Kelantan will see an audience numbering in the hundreds.
With fighting names such as Mat Nan, Mat Ali Terbaru and Tuki Farah, professional fighters engage in weekly bouts with a prize money of RM500 while losers earn RM300 in each tournament.
The regulations are simple, Ramli said. Each fighter must engage a manager who must produce a daily logbook of the fighter’s training regimen and observing of rules.
Instead of chanting, fighters must now recite Quranic prayers before entering the ring and no betting is allowed.
Doctors together with a five-member jury and judges must always be around and the winner is adjudged by a technical knockout (TKO) points system.
When a fighter goes down, his opponent earns points or a bout can easily be won with a TKO, Ramli said.
The objective of each muay boxer is to knock down his opponent as many times as possible in five rounds and many bouts end with a TKO.
All fighters and managers must be association members and the annual fee is RM10. They must also undergo a medical test before each bout to ascertain their health status, Ramli said.
There is no age limit. There are some boxers aged 50 and above who are still active, including a southern Thai champion called Hussein Apollo, aged 50, Ramli said, adding that aspiring fighters are encouraged to begin training from the age of nine.
The sport is progressive as each district has a club whose trainers can coach aspiring fighters or simply those who take up the sport for fitness reasons.
Any organiser wanting to hold the event must seek sanction from the association and get approval permits from the police and local authorities, Ramli said.
Most of the boxers are fulltime fighters, including those from a religious school background and university graduates, drawn to kickboxing by its artistic movements.
The first official tournament to be organised after the lifting of the ban will be held at Kok Lanas from Nov 3 till 5 showcasing the best kickboxers in Kelantan and southern Thailand.
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