The ‘King of Lethwei’ returns to the biggest stage in Myanmar’s national sport this Sunday at the Myanmar Lethwei World Championship 2018.
Also known as Burmese bareknuckle boxing, Canadian Dave Leduc will defend the coveted Myanmar Lethwei World Championship Openweight Belt, the highest prize in the sport, against Thailand’s Diesellek, in a fight that’s being billed as Lethwei versus Muay Thai.
The Thai fighter is a former Rajadamnern Stadium Champion and multiple time world title holder, famed for his knees, and boasts far more experience in Muay Thai than Leduc. However, this will mark his first-ever Lethwei fight, and in the opposition territory of the ‘King of Lethwei’. Whatever happens on Sunday, sparks are sure to fly.
So how did a young Canadian man become the king of Myanmar’s national sport? Dave Leduc was born in French speaking Quebec in Canada in 1991 and gradually became interested in various martial arts. Like many before him, his travels led him to Thailand, the home of Muay Thai, and earned him the nickname ‘The Nomad’. He soon amassed a long series of wins fighting Muay Thai on the island of Phuket, one of the world’s top destinations for combats sports training and tourism.
In 2014 he was one of the few foreigners to win a bout in the infamous Prison Fight, Thailand program, where convicted criminals in Thailand’s penal system fight foreign guests to reduce their sentences.
And in 2016 he won a coveted place on Tiger Muay Thai gym in Phuket’s sponsored fighter program, which pushes would-be fighters to their limits to pick out the very best to join the largest destination gym in the world. It was around this time that Leduc had his first Lethwei fight.
Muay Thai may be famous around the world, but the techniques in the ‘Art of Eight Limbs’ aren’t exclusive to Thailand. In fact, its roots go back to ancient combat techniques developed in warring Southeast Asian kingdoms. Today, in neighbouring Laos they call their version Muay Lao, and in Cambodia, Kun Khmer. Myanmar, previously known as Burma, has its own version, they call Lethwei.
However, for those that don’t know, Lethwei has its own distinct rule set. For a start, it’s known as the ‘Art of Nine Limbs’, the ninth limb referring the head. Yes, headbutts are legal in Lethwei. Furthermore, fighters do not use boxing gloves or any hand protection other than tape. Fighters are allowed 2-minute injury timeouts to recover and fight on. And Lethwei fights do not have any judges, so if the fight goes the distance the fight will be declared a draw, meaning fighters must finish their opponent to win. All of these rules combined mean that Lethwei is certainly one of, if not the most, bloody, brutal and intense combat sport in the world.
This promise of being tested in the ultimate standing combat sport has attracted a few foreigners to fight Lethwei before Dave Leduc came along just two years, but none have had his impact. In his first fight, few expected anything from the little known Canadian, as he faced unbeaten Burmese superstar Too Too. Leduc not only survived, but dominated the fight. It ended in a draw but lead to national acclaim for Leduc. His second fight against the other current superstar of the sport Tun Tun Min, ended the same way. In his third fight Leduc would beat Tun Tun Min, winning the Myanmar Lethwei World Championship Openweight Belt, also known as the Golden Belt.
Since then Leduc has yet to be defeated in Lethwei, and has earned the moniker ‘King of Lethwei’. Too Too and Tun Tun Min refuse to fight due to their friendship, and both signed for new rival organization World Lethwei Championship, which has stopped the injury breaks and brought in judges, toning down some of the more extreme measures of the sport for international audiences. Leduc has spoken of his disapproval of their new ruleset and refused to fight under them, promising to upkeep the traditions of Lethwei.
Leduc is now a superstar and household name in his adopted home of Myanmar. His traditional Burmese style wedding to Russian writer, actress and model Irina Terehova was apparently watched by 30 million people in Myanmar. He has been honoured by the Myanmar government, helped open Lethwei gyms and now promotes the national sport of the emerging nation to the world.
The Myanmar Lethwei World Championship 2018 starts at 2pm, Myanmar time, Sunday, August 19th.