Bobo “The Panther” Sacko is one of ONE Championship’s hottest new signings of 2019, and he cannot wait to test himself against the best.
His journey begins this Friday, 6 September at ONE: IMMORTAL TRIUMPH when he collides with Thai star “Left Meteorite” Kulabdam Sor. Jor. Piek Uthai in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in a ONE Super Series bantamweight match-up.
This contest will be the latest part of a Muay Thai journey that took him out of a turbulent youth on the streets of Paris to international stardom in the ring.
Ahead of his debut on the global stage for martial arts, the 31-year-old reveals how he turned away from trouble to build towards a career as a World Champion athlete.
Sacko was born in an area of the French capital that many visitors to “The City Of Light” will never see.
He says it was “like the ghetto,” and he spent a lot of time getting into trouble on the streets, where he had to show a strong character to get respect.
“I had a lot of friends who were just like me – turbulent!” he explains with a laugh.
“I never let anyone walk over me. That’s how I was raised. Yes, I was a turbulent child, always fighting because I like combat movies with Bruce Lee and others, and I was always thinking to myself, ‘I want to be able to do the things I saw on the screen.’”
“The Panther” admits he did not enjoy school, and he did not focus on his studies, which would have disappointed his parents.
However, he has since seen the error of his ways, and now his family is his main priority.
“As we are a big family, we did not have much, and also I made some wrong choices that hurt my parents a lot,” he admits.
“Still, we are very close. My parents did the best for me, my brothers, and sisters – I am one of 10 children – and they raised us according to the principles of humility, respect, and sharing.
“Two of my siblings are deaf and dumb, so I fight for them too. All I do is for my family – to give back to my parents for all their sacrifices, which enabled us to grow up safely.”
A New Direction
Sacko wanted to emulate his martial arts heroes from films. Inspired by one of his brothers, he headed to the gym, where he quickly unlocked his competitive instinct and turned his attention away from trouble.
“I started training in Muay Thai at the age of 11,” he says.
“My older brother did it, so that motivated me to try it. It helped me to channel my energy towards a concrete goal. Also, I liked to prove to my friends that I was better than them, so we all started training together in Muay Thai.
“We started training even before we were registered, and [when we sparred], it was more like a street fight than Muay Thai. Still, my coach [Nicolas Subileau] saw I had something, so he took me under his wing to show me what I was capable of, and we have stuck together since this time.”
As Sacko was molded into a true martial artist instead of a brawler, he left his indiscretions behind.
With the lessons from his mother and father in the back of his mind, he started to make the most of his athletic gifts as “the art of eight limbs” gave him the direction he needed.
“Muay Thai helped me channel myself – to know where I wanted to go,” he says.
“All the troubles I’ve had to face made me what I am. We are all the result of our life’s experience, and from all bad things, there is a good lesson to learn. My parents always said, ‘Behind all trouble is something good.’ It’s a value they raised us on.
“Not having much meant we learned the value of sharing, of being modest and thankful for what we’ve got. It also taught me something I’m convinced of, that we can all become what we want to be, no matter the difficulties or the barriers. The only thing is to give ourselves the means to succeed, and make the effort.”
Going For Gold
It is 20 years since “The Panther” walked into Teambilos Muaythai Gym, and he made sure to put in the work to reach the heights he expected for himself.
Now he is a WPMF World Champion with an astonishing 72-5-1 record, and although that belt is undoubtedly his biggest accomplishment, the first of his four national titles means more to him than any other.
“My proudest moment in sport was when I won my first professional trophy [in 2008], and I handed to my mother the championship of France,” he says.
However, no matter how much silverware Sacko collects for his mantle, he will not rest on his martial arts journey.
His ultimate goal is to inspire young people – whether that is through his success in the ring, or with his conduct under the spotlight.
“I don’t consider myself successful yet. The only thing that makes me feel successful is if in some way I can be an inspiration for the youth,” he explains.
“I have to maintain this positive example, not fail, and not make mistakes.”
Facing The Best
The Frenchman is delighted to be part of ONE and face such a tough opponent in his first bout.
As a two-time Lumpinee Stadium Muay Thai World Champion, Kulabdam is one of the world’s greatest martial artists, and there is no better way for “The Panther” to prove his elite credentials than by beating “Left Meteorite.”
“Since I started Muay Thai, I knew I wanted to succeed and to show the best of myself against the best,” he says.
“That’s why I really like ONE. It’s the best athletes against the best, and that can only be a good thing.”
That is not the only thing that appeals to the charismatic Parisian.
The values that drive the world’s largest martial arts organization speak to him, and he vows to demonstrate them when he enters the ring in Ho Chi Minh City, and puts on the best performance he is capable of.
“The way ONE presents its athletes is great – to show how each fight is the result of a life of experience, with all its sacrifices and tough moments,” he adds.
“I could use the best words and the best sentences too, but I think nothing could be more effective than demonstrating on the ONE stage, that in martial arts the most important value is respect – for your opponent, your coach, the referee, and the fans.
“If you don’t give the best of yourself, that doesn’t show respect, so that’s my word – I will always give my best, provide respect and always put on a good show.”