If someone asked you what the most brutal sport was, what would you reply?
Mixed Martial Arts, Boxing, Muay Thai are all some sports that might come to mind. Despite these sports violent nature, there is one that is less recognized but more brutal than any of those previously mentioned. This sport is Lethwei, also known as Burmese Boxing.
Lethwei originates from Myanmar (formerly Burma). People often relate it to Muay Thai because it is to Myanmar what Muay Thai is to Thailand. What is the difference between the two aside from location? For starters, in Lethwei a fighter must win by knockout if he can’t knock out his opponent then the fight is declared a draw.
Having to win by knockout is just the tip of the iceberg. Lethwei also has fewer rules for the fighters to follow. Muay Thai is known as the Art of 8 Limbs, but Lethwei is known as the Art of 9 Limbs. That extra limb is your head because in Lethwei headbutts are perfectly legal. There are also no gloves, fighters only have their hands wrapped in gauze. This why it is also known as Burmese Bareknuckle Boxing.
You must win by knockout, headbutts are allowed, and hands are only wrapped in gauze. What else can be added to make this the most brutal sport in the world? The injury timeout. In a fight, if a fighter gets knocked out by his opponent his team can call for a two-minute timeout to try and revive him so that he can continue fighting. A fighter can literally be knocked out cold, and then be revived and be allowed to continue fighting.
Lethwei dates back to the 2nd Century BCE. Back then fights were held in sand pits and there were no draws. The fighters would battle until one was no longer standing. As the time passed a few rules were put in place. Bouts now feature five rounds with a two-minute rest in between each round. If a fighter is knocked down three times in one round then the fight is stopped, if they are knocked down four times in an entire fight then it is stopped. If a fighter needs to take an injury timeout it counts as one knockdown, but the injury timeout can’t be used in the fifth and final round. After five rounds have been fought if both men are still standing then it is ruled a draw.
Dave Leduc is currently ranked #1.
The Burmese dominated the sport for the longest time, but recently it has attracted foreigners to compete in the sport and they have had success. One of the most popular Lethwei fighters is currently Dave Leduc from Canada. He rose to prominence by taking on two of Lethwei’s best fighters, Tun Tun Min and Too Too. Leduc fought to draws with both and began to gain recognition. Those fighters are to Lethwei what Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant are to basketball. Leduc then cemented himself in Lethwei by defeating Tun Tun Min in a rematch to win the Lethwei Golden Belt – Open Weight World Championship. He won by third round (T)KO.
With Leduc now standing a top of the Lethwei mountain, he has dedicated all his time to help the sport grow. He has always been one to pave the way, he was one of the first foreigners to compete in Thai Prison Fights. If you aren’t familiar with Thai Prison Fights, they are Muay Thai or Boxing fights that take place between inmates and professional fighters. The inmates can earn reduced sentences or freedom from fighting. The controversial topic has been covered in documentaries by Vice and Showtime.
Lethwei is not for the faint of heart. It takes a special type of person to get in that ring. Quitting is never an option. The injury timeout is optional, but at the same time isn’t. If you get knocked out and come to then you are expected to finish the fight. It takes hard men to step into the Lethwei ring, and for many, it is their way out of poverty. Like with many sports, it helps people earn a living, with the only difference is that to earn a living in Lethwei you need to be willing to take and dish out serious punishment. Next time someone starts talking about the most brutal sport, just pull up a Lethwei fight online and explain the rules to them.
In the first video below, you can see a Lethwei fight in which the injury timeout is used. In the second video, you can see Dave Leduc using headbutts during a fight.