Cambodia’s Sor Sey returns to action at ONE: QUEST FOR GOLD on 23 February looking to pick up where he left off two years ago.
Sor Sey had a successful debut outing in the ONE Championship cage, defeating fellow countryman Chim Chetra via second-round TKO, but hasn’t returned since.
Now he’s all set to make his comeback, and will take on local hero and lethwei star Phoe “Bushido” Thaw at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium in Phoe Thaw’s home town of Yangon, Myanmar.
“Lethwei competitors can take a hit, and I can take a hit,” said the Cambodian.
“It is very hard to nearly impossible for us both to get knocked out, so I think it will come down to who has the better cardio, and who has the bigger heart. I come from nothing, and I am trying to build something, so my heart will be all in.”
Sor Sey is making waves as one of Cambodia’s foremost martial arts talents, but as a youngster he struggled to stand out, and spent much of his childhood working on his parents’ farm. When he wasn’t working, his short stature saw him teased by the other children in his village in Kaldal.
“Growing up, I was a very short and weak compared to other kids, so they would pick on me a lot and not let me join in on any sports activities,” he said.
“That gave me a lot of free time, and in that free time my parents would make me gather all the buffaloes and feed them.
“This was no easy task for a boy my age, because I would have to pull and push, and wrestle the buffaloes to get them to move. But as the years went by, this type of work strengthened my body and mind, and it became a lot easier.
“I guess this was my father’s way of teaching me hard work and building strength.”
Sor Sey’s first experience of martial arts came when he started out practicing traditional Khmer wrestling.
“My village is known for wrestling, as it is a tradition here,” he explained.
“During festivals, there are wrestling matches and buffalo races. I decided to enter the wrestling competition that year without any training in wrestling, and I won. All those years of wrestling with my buffaloes really helped me.”
When he was older, he discovered Kun Khmer on TV and thought he could help support his struggling family by taking up the sport and becoming successful. But he had a less than auspicious start to his career.
“I had my first match. I was expecting to win with my wrestling and strength. But I lost, badly,” he said.
“The gym trainers said to me that I would not have a future in Kun Khmer. This made me lose hope, so I would just go to watch the matches and mimic the moves they would do in the ring.
“I did that until my first trainer, the legendary Eh Phouthong, saw me, and asked me why am I doing this. I told him that no gym would take me in because they said I am too short. He said they were right, I am short, but it does not mean you cannot train and compete.”
Phouthong took Sor Sey under his wing, training him and equipping him with the skills he needed to be competitive in Kun Khmer competition. But despite improving his technique, he still struggled to find opponents.
All that changed when Cambodian Top Team’s head coach Kru Chan Reach visited Phouthong’s training camp and spotted Sor Sey in action.
“Kru Chan Reach was looking for athletes to transition into the cage,” explained Sor Sey.
“I saw this as an opportunity to restart my career in the cage in hopes to support my family.”
Sor Sey threw himself into training and, after losing his professional debut inside the cage, he rebounded with back-to-back wins, and was offered the chance to compete inside the ONE cage.
He picked up a stoppage win against Chetra on his debut, leaving Sor Sey ecstatic. Not just because of the victory itself, but also because he could financially help his family.
“It was amazing. It was the best feeling in the world, because I got to show what I can do on the global stage,” he explained.
“Also, the prize money is what paid for my wife’s medical bills at the time. So ONE actually saved my family.”
Sor Sey spent the last two years in Japan developing his skills and training Khmer martial arts. Now, he’s back home in Cambodia, and ready to make an impact on his return to the ONE Championship cage.
Once again, he’ll be the shorter man in the cage, but despite standing 15cm shorter than Phoe Thaw, Sor Sey says his experience will overcome any size disadvantage on the night.
“He is very tall compared to me, and he has a wild and unorthodox style,” he said.
“This will be a big challenge for me, but I have faced taller and better strikers than him, and beat them. I think my experience will help give me a mental edge.”