By Marie Starr

After driving to the far northern outskirts of the city, past the bus station, as the roads get smaller turning into dirt tracks and the population sparser, Phoe Thaw stops the car and switches off the engine.


“We are here!” his training partner, pro fighter Kyal Zin Pyo yelps and jumps out of the car.
We have arrived at the gym called Aphyu Yaung Thway Thit. I look around the car and see nothing but green rice paddies and small buildings scattered sparsely. The gym, it turns out, consists of some tires lying on the road, a pole wrapped in rubber mats and other equipment along the road. This is the gym where pro (Mixed Martial Arts) MMA fighter Phoe Thaw started out his fighting career. Though usually training at the modern, well-equipped City Gym on Kabaye Pagoda Road, he returns here occasionally for training, to coach the youths who live there and to share his skills and knowledge about MMA.


“I have to make my opponent afraid of me. I do it with my face. In my mind I think ‘OK, you give me one strike and I’ll give you ten’.”

Phoe Thaw is preparing to fight his third major MMA fight. ONE Championship will take place on October 7th at Thuwunnna Indoor Stadium, Yangon. The championship is set to be a high-profile event with MMA fighters from across the globe coming to Yangon to compete. Myanmar’s famed Aung La Nsang AKA Burmese Python will return to his home country from the States for this highly publicized championship.


Phoe Thaw has won both of his fights in the previous ONE Championships. But he doesn’t take this as reason to relax.
“Before my first fight, I felt no pressure. I already felt like a champ – it didn’t matter whether I won or lost. For my second fight I had become more famous. There was more pressure and I was afraid of losing. But I won. For this third fight there is a lot of pressure to win. The press is interested in me and I have many gyms which support me and are expecting me to do well.”


So what does it take to be a pro MMA fighter? Discipline, rigorous training and a lot of heart.

Phoe Thaw’s day starts out with two or three hours in the gym in the morning and the same amount of time at a training club in the evening. He trains in Myanmar’s traditional lethwei, Brazilian jujitsu, aikido and taekwondo to name but a few, taking skills from each for use against his opponent in the MMA cage. That five to six hour regime is repeated every day, seven days a week.


“For breakfast I have protein drinks, 5 to 10 egg whites, milk, loaves of bread, juice and weekly I eat 5 to 7kg of beef.”

His three other meals are more typical- a few plates of rice with vegetables and meat, fruit and chocolate. He claims he eats until he is ready to throw up yet soon afterwards feels hungry again.


When asked about his feelings before a big fight Phoe Thaw replies,
“Of course I feel scared – scared of getting injuries, scared of bets that could be lost, but it’s normal. I transfer this fear to strength.
“I have to make my opponent afraid of me. I do it with my face. In my mind I think ‘OK, you give me one strike and I’ll give you ten’.”


Despite a lack of support from some friends for his unconventional profession, Phoe Thaw maintains a steely psychological strength that drives him on and gives him a seemingly endless well of energy.


“My friends sometimes say, ‘You are gonna die! Are you crazy?’ so I say ‘You wanna bet?’”
For Phoe Thaw a win would be a major step on his path to success. He aims to become Myanmar’s first MMA Champion fighter. Further into the future he aims to establish his own gym where he will train teenagers, give self-defence classes and produce pro fighters.


Phoe Thaw will face fighter Kat Pali in the featherweight semi-final tournament at the ONE Championship. The 22-year-old opponent, a pro lethwei fighter hailing from Karen State, will be making his debut in the MMA cage. The last man standing will go on to prove himself in the featherweight final on the same night.


Catch the action:

ONE Championship, STATE OF WARRIORS 7 October, Thuwunna Indoor Stadium, Yangon

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