Phoe “Bushido” Thaw was written off by many before he had even started his martial arts career, but he has proved everyone who doubted him wrong by becoming one of Myanmar’s biggest stars.
He was 30 when he started to work toward his debut in his country’s national sport of lethwei. He says people described him as “crazy” and his dream of a career in the ring was “impossible” – he should just give up.
However, Phoe Thaw had a dream that he was determined to achieve.
He tried to get his foot in the door through a New Generation Lethwei match – set up for young or novice competitors – but he had little success.
“All of the matches that were arranged for me were canceled. It was my age that denied me,” he says.
“I was too big physically to compete in the New Generation Lethwei matches. I couldn’t get the respect of the organizers at that time.”
“Bushido” was demoralized, but he never lost hope thanks to the support of his mentor – the coach of White New Blood Club where he trained.
“It is my head coach U Aung Pwe Maung who allowed me to stand here today. He trusted me totally,” he adds.
“He saw my eagerness for success and supported me. Just then, there was no one who supported me, except U Aung Pwe Maung. He told me that where there is will, there is a way.
“His teaching made today’s Phoe Thaw.”
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Inspired by that encouragement, Phoe Thaw was willing to abandon his plans of getting a New Generation match and go to any lengths to compete.
For his a debut in January 2015, he was matched with a German called Saw Nico (his Myanmar name) who was a much bigger man.
His coach tried to stop the match from taking place because of the size disadvantage, but “Bushido” stood firm and convinced the promoters to give him a chance. After four rounds, he emerged with a draw and proved he had what it takes to go one-on-one in the ring.
His displays of courage and skill set him up for opportunities on the global stage, but when he was offered his first mixed martial arts bout at ONE’s first show in Myanmar in July 2015, it came as a surprise.
“I asked [my coach] whether he can arrange a match or give me some contacts for a match because I was out of the ring for a long time,” says the 34-year-old.
“Just then, he told me that I had a fight, but I didn’t know that I was going to fight at ONE Championship.”
By the time he entered the Circle at ONE: KINGDOM OF WARRIORS, Phoe Thaw was more than ready, and he thrilled the fans at the Thuwunna Indoor Stadium with a first-round TKO of Kyal Sin Htoo.
That was the first of eight wins in The Home Of Martial Arts – all but one of which came by stoppage – to establish him as one of the featherweight division’s most exciting athletes.
All of his knockouts and his capture of the ONE Myanmar Featherweight Tournament 2016 Championship stopped the hate, and the fans now chant his name as a national hero and mixed martial arts pioneer in Myanmar.
Though he will compete away from home at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan at ONE: CENTURY, he knows he can count on the support of some of his compatriots in attendance, and thousands more back home to encourage him to score a victory at the biggest martial arts event in history.
“Myanmar fans offer a lot of support to me online and offline. Their voice is a really special motivation for me,” he says.
ONE: CENTURY is the biggest World Championship martial arts event in history with 28 World Champions featured across various martial arts. No organization has ever promoted two full-scale World Championship events on the same day.
The Home Of Martial Arts will break new ground as it brings multiple World Title bouts, a trio of World Grand Prix Championship Finals, and several World Champion versus World Champion matches to the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, Japan on 13 October.