For me, one of the reasons to move to Thailand was an interest in the local martial arts. Like Karate in the 60s, and Kung Fu in the 70s, Thai boxing – or Muay Thai as it is known in Thailand – has experienced a phenomenal growth in popularity over the last 20+ years. It seems Muay Thai has spread to almost every town and city in the world, and virtually every country has a range of Muay Thai associations, leagues, and federations. But living in Thailand, and plugging into the local cable TV on a regular basis, I became aware of a parallel (and equally meteoric) rise in the popularity of another martial arts genre – Mixed Martial Arts.
Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, started in its modern form in 1993 with the launch of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) in the USA. UFC brought fighters with different combat styles to the same arena – an “Octagon” – an octagonal cage where full contact fights took place under the scrutiny of a referee, a doctor, and under a comprehensive set of rules. These were no blood fests or street fights; these were professional, organized events with global TV coverage.
The spectacle of watching Muay Thai fighters, Judo, Jujitsu and Karate exponents, pugilists and wrestlers test each other’s skills had immediate appeal, and as with Muay Thai, MMA went global. It produced a number of stars – Royce Gracie, whose particular brand of Brazilian Jujitsu dominated the early years of the sport, and since then the likes of Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz have become household names in the West (the latter appearing in movies, and curiously, Donald Trump’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice’).
Given the strong element of Muay Thai in MMA, a question on many people’s lips was “Why hasn’t MMA come to Thailand?” The kingdom has for a number of years had a variety of Mixed Martial Arts clubs, but it has never had a full-fledged MMA tournament to boast of… Not until now anyway.
June 25, 2011 sees the launch of DARE 1/11, Thailand’s first MMA championship under adapted UFC rules and with experienced MMA referees. Initial fights take place at Club Insomnia on Sukhumvit 12 with winners of this event moving on to the quarter finals of the DARE championship. The prospects of this event taking off are good, so we caught up with organizer Jussi Saloranta to ask more. Here’s what he had to say.
KSR: Jussi – thanks for meeting up with us like this. First, let’s get some personal details – where are you from and how long have you been in Thailand?
Jussi: OK – well, I am from Finland, and I have been living in Thailand for about 4 years now. I first came here in 2004 for a holiday and just fell in love with the Kingdom and its amazing people. I decided that this was the place where I wished to live. My involvement in the DARE Championship is handling the foreign fighters and public relations, and I also assist our Thai owners with international promotion. Our team includes both Thais and foreigners, each with years of business experience in Thailand and in Scandinavia.
KSR: How did DARE Championship get started?
Jussi: Ever since I came to Thailand I’ve wanted to create something for local sports – something that would feature local MMA talents alongside international competitors. There are a limited number of professional MMA fighters in Thailand and there’s been very few fight possibilities in the country, so I thought I’d contribute in that direction. Right now the timing seems right, so led by our President Mr. Thitidonpipat, we decided to launch the DARE Championship with the goal of becoming the number one pro-MMA event in Thailand and the region. We believe that like everywhere else in the world, MMA will catch on in Thailand sooner or later, but making it a reality has involved a lot of people doing a lot of hard work – our organizers, promoters, trainers, camps, gyms, fighters, other dedicated individuals… They have all done tremendous work.
KSR: Are you are martial artist yourself?
Jussi: Yes – I have been involved in the martial arts since I was 10 years of age. I have also been a huge fan of MMA since the end of the 90’s when MMA / NHB first came to Finland and we saw the first UFC fights on VHS. Ask any of the members of our team and they will probably tell you the same thing.
KSR: Tell us a bit more about the tournament. How many people are involved and what’s the format?
Jussi: The DARE Championship starts with opening preliminary fights and the winners of these in each weight class move on to the quarter-finals. After that winners go on to the semi-finals and ultimately the finals. In the first event, DARE 1/11, we will have a total of 6 fights with 12 fighters from 8 different countries. Initially it will be an “open tournament” and later it will transform into something more similar to the UFC structure where you have a champion and guys fighting to move up the ladders and become the number one contender in each weight category.
KSR: So when can we expect the follow up events?
Jussi: We are looking to have the next event – DARE 2/11 – three months after the first one. This way, we would be looking to see the next part of the championship around September 2011.
KSR: And where will the finals be held and when?
Jussi: All of the weight classes are moving forward at their own speed. We will probably see the first DARE Champions crowned early 2012. We are very happy to be working with Club Insomnia Bangkok on Sukhumvit Soi 12 – this is where the first events will be held. The venues for the championship events have not been decided yet.
KSR: So, the fighters – are they locals or international? Are there any names involved?
Jussi: DARE 1/11 feature fighters from Thailand, Brazil, France, Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and the USA. These fighters include a black belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion from Brazil, a Judo black belt and Olympic competitor from France, a South African Muay Thai champion, a local Thai MMA fighter with over 150 Thai Boxing fights – who’s now fighting MMA – and a number of other interesting fighters. We have two fighters from Thailand competing in DARE 1/11 – Ngoo Ditty, probably Thailand’s best known Thai MMA competitor (read more about him here) and Detchoot Detsuriyan, the Thai Amateur MMA Champion (read more about him here).
KSR: Is there likely to be much coverage; TV, etc.
Jussi: All the fights will be recorded in HD and released for public viewing after the event via a range of selected broadcasting channels. The footage might also be shown on Thai TV after the event. Future DARE events will have an online mobile application in place which will allow us to stream the fights globally. In this way the DARE Championship will be available globally, coming live from Bangkok, the fight capital of Southeast Asia. (Follow updates here)
KSR: On your website it says that the event will be under “adapted UFC rules”. How will the Thailand event differ from a standard UFC event?
Jussi: We are using the “Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts” followed by all major MMA promotions in America – UFC, Strikeforce, etc. These are the same rules that have been approved by the various State Athletic Commissions in the USA. These rules are in place because they protect our fighters’ safety. DARE events will though only be a fraction of the size of the UFC events and are also designed to be more exclusive in their set up. We only have 300 tickets available for each of the first events and we advise all those interested of coming to book a ticket in advance as we might sell out quickly. You can book a ticket at our website or pick tickets up at any of our sales points in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket or Hua Hin. The information is on our website.
KSR: So what goes and what doesn’t go – what are the rules?
Jussi: The rules are designed to protect the fighters. Basically, all techniques that seriously injure an opponent are prohibited. For example, techniques like hitting the back of an opponent’s head or his spine are not allowed. Kicking the head of an opponent who is on the ground or trying to attack the groin, eyes, and fingers of an opponent are also strictly against the rules. It is also important to remember that all of the fighters in DARE are professionals. They have all been training for years and each of them has fight experience. Most of them have been operating as a professional fighter for several years and understand the risks involved. Importantly, they also know how to respect their opponents. DARE will only promote professional Mixed Martial Arts where the fighters are trained, prepared and experienced, and therefore understand MMA rules.
KSR: So if any KhaoSanRoad.com visitors are interested in going to event, how do they get more information?
KSR: And what about tickets?
The tickets for the first DARE event on 25 June 2011 are priced in two categories: Standard tickets are 1,100 THB in advance and 1,500 THB on the door, while VIP Podium tickets are 2,000 THB in advance and 2,400 THB on the door – these tickets provide a better view and offer some catering. Again, tickets are available from our website or our sales points in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin. Tickets can be booked from our website. Doors open at 4 p.m. and the action starts at around 5 p.m.25 June 2011.
KSR: What are the chances of bringing DARE to Khao San Road?
Jussi: We will have to see about that. If there is a big demand for it, we are always happy to consider it as a possibility…
KSR: Well, good look with the event – it’s going to be very interesting to see how this pans out.
Jussi: Thank you very much and best regards to all KhaoSanRoad.com visitors. Your support is very much appreciated. See you all at DARE 1/11.