Lethwei a.k.a. Burmese bareknuckle boxing hails from Myanmar and at first glance is often confused with Muay Thai.
Just like Kickboxoing isn’t Muay Thai, Muay Thai isn’t Lethwei. The sport of Lethwei is not for the feint of heart. It is one of the most brutal martial arts in the world. The only way to win a fight is by knockout.
Fighters are only allowed to wear tape and gauze on their hands and feet. If a fighter gets knocked out they are allowed one time out so his tam can to try and revive him. Oh, and they also allow head butts.
For those not familiar with Lethwei, one foreigner currently sits a top of the sport of Lethwei. Canadian fighter Dave Leduc became the open weight champion last year in December of 2016 by defeating Tun Tun Min. For Muay Thai fans out there that is like beating a fighter such as Buakaw or Yodsanklai. With that win Dave made history by becoming the first non-Burmese Lethwei champion.
He will put his title on the line at Lethwei in Japan 4 on June 16 against Nilmungkorn SudsakornMuaythaiGym.
We had a chance to talk to Dave about his upcoming fight and his Lethwei career and he has his sights set on not only being the best Lethwei fighter but pushing the sport to gain a larger following.
MTA: How long have you been training Lethwei and how did you get started?
Dave Leduc: As far I can remember, when I started training martial arts, my Sifu and I were training headbutts combinations and always adding some bareknuckle bag sessions in our trainings. I started studying Sanshou/Sanda under Sifu Patrick Marcil in Gatineau, Canada at the age of seventeen. I didn’t know at the time, but the incorporation of spinning attacks, all the throws and the principle of Jeet Kune Do into my style, would equip me with unpredictable tools and strategies that many fighters don’t really train. Then, the many trips to Thailand helped me perfect my clinching game. Unknowingly, I was setting my self up for my true calling, Lethwei, and the biggest fights of my life to come. After a successful year in the Phuket circuit, I got a call from a old friend, Prison Fight promoter, whom I fought for in 2014 inside Klong Pai Maximum security prison. He asked me if I wanted to make my debut Lethwei fight against Too Too, the undefeated 75kg Champion. I dont know what happened, because it was my first fight in those rules, but I completely dominated the fight, which marked the beginning of The New Era.
MTA: Why chose Lethwei over Muay Thai, what prompted you to make the switch?
Dave Leduc: Like I said the switch was natural, I wanted more from my fighting career, I didn’t like the slower pace of Thai boxing and the big gloves. So when I was asked to fight bareknuckle I instantly said yes. The purse they offered me made my decision even more pleasant!
MTA: What is your main training camp?
Dave Leduc: Tiger Muaythai, In Phuket and Sifu Patrick Marcil, in Canada.
MTA: For everyone not familiar with Lethwei, can you tell us who are some of the fighters that everyone needs to look up?
Dave Leduc: They are some young exciting fighters from Myanmar that leave everything in the ring, such as my little brothers Phyan Thwe and Thar A Thai Ta Pwint we fought on the same card on 4 occasions in Myanmar and Tokyo. Also I would advise keep a close eye on Kyar Ba Hein.
MTA: You were originally set to fight Cyrus Washington and he pulled out of the fight. Now from what your manager has stated it doesn’t seem like you guys feel that he had enough justification to pull out of the fight. Essentially he said it was a hand injury, but it wasn’t broken. What are your thoughts on Cyrus pulling out?
Dave Leduc: At first, I was really pissed, we were told it was only a non broken hand injury. Which was insulting to me, I just fought my last fight with one hand because of a dislocated finger. Then I read that he had more health problems than the injured hand. I respect Cyrus, I’m sure he had good reasons. I still hope the fight happens in the future.
MTA: You defeated famed Lethwei fighter Tun Tun Min to become the first open weight world champion that wasn’t Burmese. How big was that win for your career and what was the feeling after having beaten him?
Dave Leduc: It was a lifelong achievement that I realized. I always wanted to be a world champion. Not only in any sport but the most aggressive sport in the world. Very proud of this and of the opportunity to represent a whole country at such an important time in their history. The feeling of happiness was overwhelming, you have to understand, that back in Canada I was watching Tun Tun Min and Too Too on Youtube with Sifu Pat, and now here I was fighting and becoming champion. Basically shows that if you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. Not matter how crazy it seems, you can do it. It sure seemed crazy to go into an unknown country and fight with 9 limbs against their champion, but I knew I was born for this.
MTA: What are you thoughts on your new opponent, Nilmungkorn SudsakornMuaythaiGym?
Dave Leduc: I watched some of his fights, I think he a skilled kicker and showman. I respect his acheivements, he won SuperMuaythai, I don’t take anyone lightly. For the kicks, since there is not scoring system, I think it is useless. I don’t think his kicks are as powerful as those of Tun Tun Min, which didn’t affect me. I have way better hands than Nilmungkorn, if he’s not careful we will see blood early in the fight. Lethwei has nothing to do with the huge ”Kard chuek” ropes gloves of Thai Fight. We are going to fight bareknuckle. Its cuts fast. One well placed jab and the fun starts. Last thing, the little cute knees Thai’s do in the clinch for the judges, have not importance. He better to watch for my head instead.
MTA: When training for Lethwei fights as opposed to Muay Thai, what changes?
Dave Leduc: The fundamentals remain the same, training the cardio and all the strikes. With an emphasis on elbows, knees, punches. Hitting the pads with MMM gloves to get as close as possible as bareknuckle. Its fun, we are reinventing the whole game. We came up with headbutt combos and simulating them while hitting the pads and clinching. Basically, you put your hand in the other guys head and then you headbutt your own hand. Doesn’t hurt and it programs you to throw your headbutts in the fight. You can only fight how you train.
MTA: Who would like to fight in the future?
Dave Leduc: I would like more clash of Lethwei vs. Muaythai. I want to fight in full traditional Lethwei rules. No judges, or scoring system against any Muaythai Champion willing to step in the ring with me.
MTA: Do you think Lethwei might be able to become a more popular combat sport like Muay Thai has become?
Dave Leduc: Yes. After years of being closed to the world, Myanmar has a growing economy and tourism industry. We will see one of the fastest rise from a country in the next decade. Thailand paved the way for tourism in South East Asia. Now, I believe Myanmar is a hidden jewel. With gorgeous untouched beaches, great culture and an exciting sport in Lethwei. The Lethwei promotions are able to pay good money to attract foreign fighters. We are talking about the most brutal striking sport in the world, the guys need to be well compensated, which they are. As of right now, at Tiger, almost everyday I’m getting asked to find a fight for my friends, MMA or Muaythai fighters. For the the next Myanmar Lethwei World Championship in August in Myanmar, I booked a match for my Argentinian teammate Martin “Escopeta'” Gil. The more intense or the craziest like me, are stepping forward to fight in Lethwei. Its the real deal. I love it. The sport has never been so present in the news. I think the success of Lethwei is not dependent on how many countries hold Lethwei events on their territories, but how many practitioners train in the martial art worldwide. Then visit Myanmar to perfect their skills, and possibly fight in Myanmar, Japan, New Zealand or any country that holds traditional Lethwei events.
With the wordwide attention Lethwei is getting at the moment and the all themessages that I receive everyday by people that want to come train with Lethwei with us, I think its fair to say, that we are living the rise of striking sports.
You can watch Dave’s victory over Tun Tun Min here below.