Bangkok - The rise of mixed martial arts is not a threat to Thailand's traditional Muay Thai kickboxing, Asia's largest cage-fighting organiser said Monday, as the kingdom prepares to host its first major bout.
"It's like saying Italian food would be a threat to Thai food," Kamol Sukosol Clapp, ONE Championship president Thailand, told AFP at a gym in Bangkok.
"People are afraid of new things but I don't see it like that at all. I see it as complementing each other," he added.
In recent decades MMA has gone from a niche sideshow to a multi-billion dollar industry and one of the world's fastest growing sports, with Asia no exception.
But while many top fighters have long trained in Thailand, drawn to the country's famously aggressive kickboxing style, traditional Muay Thai practioners and government officials remain wary of MMA with some arguing it should be banned entirely to protect Thai culture.
Next month Thailand is set to host its MMA debut when the ONE Championship, Asia's largest organiser, puts on an event at a 10,000-seat arena in Bangkok.
But the move has ruffled feathers.
Last month Sakol Wannapong, governor of the Sports Authority of Thailand, hit out at the event saying it should not be allowed.
"To have such a sport event staged in the country should be declared illegal," he told local media. "It is not a sport. It is so cruel." The May 27 fight is expected to go ahead, having secured the support of the Sports Ministry.
Sukie said sceptical views of the fighting style have slowly begun to change among many Muay Thai masters and local fans alike.
"If we were to try this four years ago it just wouldn't have worked," he said. "But the timing is right now."
One of the two title fights in Bangkok will see a highly decorated Muay Thai veteran, who switched to MMA in 2014, defend his strawweight champion belt.
Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, a diminuitive 37-year-old fighter known for his speed and stamina, fought more than 300 Muay Thai bouts before making the switch to MMA where he has a 6-0 record.
He faces Japan's Yoshitaka Naito, 32, a Shooto trained fighter who is also undefeated with 10 victories to his name.