It seems that the long awaited Muay Thai / kickboxing bout between ’90s movie star Jean Claude Van Damme and Olympic gold medal winning boxer Somluck Khamsing might be heading to Thailand.
The two originally signed a contract in December 2009 with the bout expected to take place in Las Vegas but it has been repeatedly delayed with many fight fans skeptical that the contest would ever materialize.
Van Damme is best known for his role in action movies such as Bloodsport, Hard Target and Kickboxer, which was famously set in Thailand. Khamsing became the first Thai ever to win a gold medal at the Olympics, courtesy of a clean sweep in the featherweight category in 1996. Although he is primarily a boxer he has had a number of Muay Thai bouts, fighting at the King’s Cup on at least two occasions.
In this photo provided by Universal City Studios, international martial arts expert Jean-Claude Van Damme, left, stars as a soldier out to avenge the death of his brother in this scene from the film, "Lionheart", 1990. Pic: AP.
A world renowned actor, Van Damme did enjoy some success as a Karate fighter and kickboxer but has not competed at any level since 1981. He was also widely reported to have suffered a minor heart attack last October although his representatives strenuously denied this story.
Various venues had been suggested with Russia the most recent but it now appears that the bout could take place at the National Stadium in Bangkok in November 2011. If the fight does go ahead, which given all the previous postponements is far from guaranteed, it will be interesting to see whether the Thai public are sufficiently interested to fill what is one of the biggest stadiums in the country.
Aged 38, Khamsing has a considerable advantage in both age and experience. Van Damme might have held a world title in karate and fared well in a couple of kickboxing competitions but the standard in these disciplines is nowhere near as high as that in amateur boxing, the sport in which Khamsing once excelled. The biggest challenge for the Olympic gold medallist will be presented by his opponent’s superior size, Van Damme could conceivably be 20kg heavier when they step inside the ring.
It seems that Phillip Wong, who owns the world famous Fairtex chain of Muay Thai gyms, is now the main sponsor for the fight which might explain why the venue has been switched to Thailand. There is also the issue of sanctioning as the Nevada State Athletic Commission, who have jurisdiction over Las Vegas where the fight was initially supposed to take place, might be reluctant to allow a 50 year old who has suffered from mental health problems in the past (Van Damme was once diagnosed with a bi polar disorder) to take part in any sort of a licensed professional fight.
Van Damme will presumably spend time training for the fight at one of the Fairtex gyms which will provide some valuable publicity for Wong in return for his sponsorship. It will be interesting to see how much interest there is in Thailand. Khamsing has appeared in movies himself and is well known but Van Damme is probably not as much of an attraction here as he would be in the West. It may be arguably the freakshow fight of the century but from a sporting point of view there is little to recommend this contest and filling a venue as vast as the national stadium in Bangkok will be no easy task.
The fight will take place under modified Muay Thai rules and elbows will be banned, presumably in order to minimalize the risk of Van Damme getting cut. It would be easy to write it off as a publicity stunt but it appears to be something that Van Damme genuinely wants to do. He appears to have become more contemplative and introspective in his work in recent years and his career has taken a dramatically different turn. The all action movies of the ’80s and ’90s have been replaced by some more serious, less slapstick efforts such as Until Death, in which he plays a cop addicted to heroin, and JCVD, in which he plays a semi fictionalized version of himself. Perhaps doing a professional fight is all a part of his quest to be taken a little more seriously by people.
If the fight does go ahead there will be widespread media attention and it could be a major boost for the burgeoning Muay Thai tourism industry in Thailand. Although they will not please the purists match ups such as this, where a difference in size potentially compensates for a disparity in experience, can actually be quite exciting. If Khamsing and Van Damme do eventually step inside of the ring it should make for an extremely entertaining evening.