DARE 1/11 – Thailand’s First Mixed Martial Arts Championship


Jussi Saloranta Interviewed DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
Jussi Saloranta
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand

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?

Jussi: You will find more information from our website and our Facebook page.

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.

Hanoi by Foot

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
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hanoi_vietnam_4
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Further north than Bangkok, Hanoi is refreshingly cool and is a perfect blend of colonial French and Asia at its exotic best. I’d heard horror stories about this ancient city but couldn’t find an awful lot wrong with it. My only complaint was that I’d not bothered to visit sooner.

The taxi from the airport to Hanoi centre took about 45 mins and cost US$10. The fare each way is pretty much standard so ignore any driver trying for a higher price. I checked into the Old Darling Hotel in the Old Quarter. I’d found the place on the internet and it sounded reasonable at US$15 a night for a room with en-suite, fan and air-con and a TV.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is something along the lines of a local Khao San Road, but bigger. It’s a network of narrow streets with guest houses, hotels, food outlets, cafes, art galleries and travel and tour companies. The French influence is strong. Caf? culture is alive and kicking, art galleries are two a penny and I saw at least half a dozen old Vietnamese decked out in waistcoats and berets.

The traffic is something else. There are traffic lights and directions painted on the roads but it’s not immediately clear why as no one seems to pay any attention to them. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roads. Young Vietnamese girls glide through the streets on Vespas and their latest Japanese equivalent with a truly Parisian grace.

At intersections traffic moves in from all angles simultaneously. It seems impossible but it works. A friend who studied engineering once told me about some daft theory whereby if all the molecules of two solid objects were facing the same direction the objects could pass through one another. This is exactly as it seems to happen on the streets of Hanoi.

The best way to cross the road is slowly. Just position yourself on the pavement pointing in the direction you want to move and then slowly advance. Traffic will somehow move around you. It’s scary but it works. I’m convinced you could close your eyes and get across unscathed; but never did pluck up enough courage to test the theory. Try it back in Bangkok and you’ll get flattened.

The best place to observe Hanoi’s vehicular chaos from is the excellent Papa Joe’s caf?/restaurant on Cau Go, overlooking a ridiculously busy intersection and the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. From the balcony you can watch Hanoi bustle by whilst sipping on a fresh juice or coffee.

Daytime the streets are alive and teeming with people. Street markets provide the familiar aromas so common with many Asian cities. Street vendors weave their way between pedestrians, carrying baskets of goods slung from poles across their shoulders. Everywhere you look someone is selling something and calling for your attention.

The streets were alive at night with foreigners and locals alike. Restaurants were generally busy and early in the evening gangs of people gathered for a gossip and some beer at street stalls selling the famous Bia Hoi.

Apparently the Czechs taught their knowledge of brewing to the Vietnamese and now there are micro-breweries everywhere. This un-preserved draft beer is available all over Hanoi. It’s dirt cheap at something like 13 baht a glass (half litre) and is so smooth you’ll want to keep them coming all night. 100 baht will get you almost 8 beers! These street-side beer stops are a very multi-cultural affair with locals mixing happily with backpackers and tourists.

By nine at night the streets had changed. Office workers and the night’s early shift had dined, supped and moved on home, leaving party goers and less desirable types to come out to play. The only annoyance I encountered was the continual attention from motorbike taxi guys who are everywhere and seem to think that every foreigner is in need of a lift somewhere. Oh, and a street hooker and her pimp tried coercing me into a quick sex session which, I felt, would have left me severely out of pocket one way or another.

Out by six the next morning in time to watch the sun rising. Traders were getting into their stride, cafes and restaurants preparing for the early morning trade and motorbike taxis still hawking for business. On the wide path at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake ladies were practicing Tai Chi with red fans. It’s therapeutic just watching.

Apart from art galleries and cafes the Vietnamese also inherited a love of fresh bread from their old colonial masters. Every few yards there were women with baskets of freshly baked crusty baguettes for sale. The smell is very inviting and hard to resist.

East of the Old Quarter on Pho Bien Dien Phu is the Army Museum. It’s worth a look. It’s basically a celebration of the most recent Vietnamese victories over first the French, then the US and finally China. There is a collection of captured and shot-down US and French hardware including a helicopter, rocket launchers, and numerous pieces of aircraft shot down and piled together as a piece of art. There are also weapons used by the Vietnamese in their military victories.

As expected the picture painted of the noble Vietnamese soldier is nothing short of saintly whilst the opposition are always evil, cloven hoofed and horned monsters hell bent on torture and destruction. One thing for sure, the Vietnamese are clearly a force to be reckoned with whatever they are armed with.
 
 
A long walk south from the Temple of Literature is Lenin Park. This is a huge recreational area set around Bay Mau Lake. This is where locals come to exercise, dance, eat, listen to live music, watch traditional dancing and generally chill. The entrance is lined with stalls selling local produce, ready to eat food, and gifts.
 
On a large stage by the top of the lake local girls were demonstrating traditional dance, similar to Thai dancing. Another stage had a modern singer belting out local favourites at deafening volume. Many people are simply using the park for exercise, a past-time that seems to be taken quite seriously here.
 
Back up to Hoan Kiem Lake and it seemed that the Vietnamese who weren’t exercising in Lenin Park were here. Hundreds of locals were marching anti-clockwise around the lake in a grand display of communal fitness. Early evening has a very Chinese feel to it with families coming together for exercise and general interaction.
 
On the last morning I head out on foot again, after an excellent breakfast at the Paris Deli, for the Vietnam Revolutionary Museum and the Vietnam History Museum. Both are interesting and well worth the hike, despite the formers somewhat one-sided view of things.
 
This was my first visit to Vietnam and will certainly not be the last. The people are surprisingly welcoming and at the same time don’t smother you with attention (with the exception of book sellers and motorbike taxis).
 
The level of English is lower than Thailand but there is more chance of a stranger trying to strike a conversation even if they can’t speak a word of English. On several occasions I was invited to join people on the street for tea and a chat. No catch, no con and no payment, they just wanted buy me a tea, chat and try to learn a few words of English.
 
Hanoi can be a cheap destination. There are cheaper places than the hotel I stayed in and to be honest, it wasn’t really worth the money. Food is very affordable and even the classier restaurants aren’t prohibitively priced. As for beer, I doubt anywhere in this region can compete on that front.
 
With Air Asia offering return flights for around 5,000 THB all in it is no more expensive to get to than Singapore, Vientiane or KL.
 
There are many things to see in Hanoi alone even before venturing up country and I only touched on what the city has to offer. The leading tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. As much as I wanted to see it the queue was too much just to see another jaundiced communist leader stiff as a board in a glass case so Uncle Ho will have to wait until next time.