With more than 600 entrants, thousands of onlookers and scrutiny from Olympic Committee President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and everyday citizens, the nation’s 11-day national boxing team selection tournament is perhaps Cambodia’s most popular sporting event.
The competition, which began Sept 16 and concluded in a finale at Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, gathered 619 fighters from boxing clubs across the country.
Boxing enthusiasts stayed riveted to the television coverage or joined the spectators who packed into the arenas to cheer on—and in some cases wager on—their favorite fighters.
“Every year, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports organizes the event to find the best sportsmen in the country,” Tem Moeun, vice president of the Cambodian Amateur Boxing Federation, said Sunday. “Everyone in the country participates in the event. Poor people and rich people enjoy it. Khmer boxing is part of our heritage—it is our duty to preserve it for the younger generation.”
For the fighters, 459 kickboxers and 160 Western-style boxers, the event is a chance to fight their way to a position on the national team and compete in international events.
Boxing officials said that the first-place winners also received $50 from Prince Ranariddh, $75 from the Ministry of Education and a television set courtesy of TV5. The prince, who personally donated $5,500 worth of prize money, presided over the event’s final day. For enthusiasts like 34-year-old Chea Sakhon who claims she is the biggest kickboxing fan “in the world,” the tournament is an opportunity to cheer for fighters they have seen rise through the national ranks.
“Kickboxing is true Cambodian culture,” Chea Sakhon said.