Phoe “Bushido” Thaw’s mission in ONE Championship goes far beyond his own personal glory – he wants to spread Myanmar’s martial arts culture across the globe.
The 34-year-old featherweight contender – who returns to the ring this Saturday, 15 June at ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST to face Victorio “Indra” Senduk – wants to show that athletes from his nation can be a match for anyone in the world.
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Phoe Thaw seems to have been destined for a career in mixed martial arts thanks to his varied background in aikido, Kyokushin karate, and perhaps most significantly, his country’s native discipline of lethwei.
The sport’s roots go back nearly 1500 years, and it is nicknamed “the art of nine limbs” – one more than Muay Thai’s eight because of its allowance for headbutts.
Because of the extreme conditioning and match-ending techniques it requires, lethwei prepared “Bushido” for some of the toughest challenges he could face in mixed martial arts matches. It also helped to propel him to a 7-1 record in the ONE Circle so far.
Now, the man from Yangon wants to use his platform on the global stage to promote lethwei and educate the rest of the world about its benefits – particularly its application in the ONE Circle.
“Myanmar lethwei has a certain place in the international martial arts world,” he says.
“For our traditional martial art, it is really important to interest international fans who love martial arts.”
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Phoe Thaw‘s goal was given a big boost when he reached a new global audience away from ONE when he was featured in Fightworld – the Netflix documentary series hosted by Avengers: Endgame star Frank Grillo.
The series put the spotlight on martial arts from around the world, and Phoe Thaw was approached to be the main subject of the Myanmar episode. He was happy to be followed and filmed so he could shine a light on a range of the country’s athletes, their values, and way of life.
“Bushido” was even happier when it captured the imagination of people across the planet.
“World Lethwei Championship was asked to make a documentary film about traditional Myanmar lethwei by Netflix and requested that I get involved in the film,” he explains.
“I’m really glad to help as much as I could to get international fans interested in Myanmar lethwei, and there was a spike in interest from around the world.
“When I went to America, some people told me that they had seen me on the Netflix show – the viewership of Netflix is so high, even foreigners are getting interesting about traditional Myanmar lethwei.”
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Beyond the documentary, Phoe Thaw is getting even more personally involved with spreading awareness about his country and lethwei by teaching the sport in seminars and classes outside Myanmar – as he has done in America ahead of his match with Senduk.
There is arguably no better way of showing off its effectiveness than with this hands-on approach.
“I wish that traditional Myanmar lethwei can be recognized as a good martial art among international fans. To do so, I try my best as much as possible [to promote it], including by arranging the seminars,” he adds.
As Phoe Thaw continues his own climb up the featherweight division in The Home Of Martial Arts, he will only draw more attention to his native country and the sport.
Through direct communication from fans, he has already noticed how far he has reached.
“I had dreamed about this since I had the chance to compete in ONE Championship,” says “Bushido.”
“For a fighter who is competing in the world’s largest martial arts organization, I have so many opportunities to be well known on the international stage in front of the world’s sports fans. I often receive messages from the fans via social media – from places like Brazil, Argentina, and Germany.”
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Phoe Thaw‘s next mission is to help his Team PT training partners reach the same level of success and notoriety.
If there is one thing that will help him and his teammates become known beyond Myanmar’s borders, it is by wrapping a World Title around their waist.
“Moreover, I want Team PT to be successful, as they are always supporting me all the time,” he adds.
“There were no [world-class] mixed martial arts gyms in Myanmar, but now Team PT has opened the first mixed martial arts course.”