‘I’m Thai!’ Boxing superstar Buakaw declares amid latest Thai-Khmer spat

Photo: Buakaw Banchamek
Photo: Buakaw Banchamek

A Muay Thai fighter has stood up to declare he is indeed Thai amid a widening spat between Thai and Cambodian fans over the sport’s origins.

Sombat Banchamek, aka Buakaw, announced publicly this week that, even though he belongs to an indigenous ethnic group called the Kuy, he is of Thai nationality and not Cambodian as some have claimed.

“Be proud of Thailand that we have Muay Thai … It is the wisdom invented by Thai ancestors,” Buakaw wrote on social media last night alongside a few very welcome shirtless photos. 

“Do not forget that it’s our national sport that’s accepted by people around the world. Let’s help conserve it.”

Why this sudden need to stress the “Thai” in Muay Thai? 

Khmer and Thai sport authorities are currently battling over the sport’s identity. Cambodia has said that when it hosts the SEA Games in May, they will ditch the name “Muay Thai” for the combat sport and instead call it “Kun Khmer,” after what they say is the martial art’s true origins.

It will be the first time Cambodia has hosted the biannual multi-sport event since it was founded in 1959.

Infuriated Thai officials responded by saying they will boycott the so-called Kun Khmer sport. In tat for tit, Cambodia said it will retaliate by not sending any boxers to Thailand when it hosts the SEA Games in 2025.

The ongoing quarrel quickly spread online, where sports fans discussed whether the 40-year-old fighter and national prize Buakaw was actually Thai or Cambodian. 

Photo: Buakaw Banchamek

Other fighters have jumped in as well, particularly after a slick video of two Thai fighters sparring was described in Khmer as Cambodian practitioners of Bokator, an ancient Cambodian martial art.

The Kuy are an ethnic group concentrated around the Thai, Laos and Cambodian borders. Their lands range from the southern Khorat Plateau in northeast Thailand east to the banks of the Mekong River in southern Laos and south to north central Cambodia.

Other recent cross-border dustups have been waged over whether traditional Khon dance was Thai or Khmer, and ownership of a border temple which actually ended in gunfire with dozens of soldiers on both sides killed in 2011.

Photo: Buakaw Banchamek
Photo: Buakaw Banchamek


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