An American-born Cambodian fighter will be making his return to the ring tonight, eager to shine a spotlight on the martial arts of his ancestral homeland.
Sophanarith “Soap” Am, 31, returns to the ring after a nearly three-year absence.
The Kun Khmer practitioner has a professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) record of 3-0 and amateur record of 5-1 and is an instructor at the Redline Fight Sports in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also a member of their professional fight team.
Soap took some time away from the discipline to complete his education and embark on a career in biotechnology. But he is back in action and will face Geoffrey Then at Foxwoods Resort and Casino tonight at Lion Fight 37, North America’s most active promoter of Muay Thai events and its largest stand-up combat sports organisation.
The son of Cambodian refugees who escaped the Khmer Rouge and civil war, he first learned martial arts as a child in the housing projects of Chelsea, Massachusetts, and found it allowed him to express himself and his Cambodian heritage.
“Growing up, it was hard to get by, but training in martial arts made me disciplined and focused and I learned how to avoid trouble,” he told Khmer Times.
“I am proud of my Khmer heritage,” he added. “It gives me a greater purpose. I want to show people what Cambodian martial arts is all about. I’m not just fighting for myself, but representing the people of Cambodia.”
He has joined forces with Joe Conway, a Boston native who visited the kingdom in 2012 and was immediately hooked on its ancient fighting methods.
Conway formed Fight for Cambodia, an official charitable corporation, and obtained tax-exempt status in July 2015, launching the non-profit officially one month later. The US charity arm of the organisation helps with fundraising efforts and spreads awareness as well as updates on the progress of the fighters to their benefactors.
Now in its third year, FFC is supporting athletes and coaches with training equipment, workout clothes and team uniforms.
It has, since its early days, struck up a special relationship with Chan Rothana’s Phnom Penh fight gym Selapak.
Soap is working with Fight for Cambodia to preserve Cambodian culture and help the next generation have careers as professional Kun Khmer and MMA fighters.
He plans to visit his parents’ homeland in the coming months on behalf of Fight for Cambodia to help train young Cambodian fighters in martial arts and MMA.
“When I first met Soap I had no idea there were any Cambodian fighters or trainers in Boston,” said Conway.
“It’s no coincidence that we met. He really puts his heart and soul into every class, I think in part because that’s how he expresses himself and his heritage.
“We have two completely different backgrounds, but share a passion for martial arts, Cambodian culture and food too.”
Conway intends to come to Cambodia later this year to deliver training equipment, which many fight schools in Cambodia severely lack.
“We raised money for equipment that I’m bringing with me to Cambodia on August 30,” said Conway.
“Soap and I plan to make some training videos which he will do in Khmer so the team can work on MMA techniques. Cambodia has good Kun Khmer skills, but MMA ground work not so much.
“He is an amazing person who shares his positive energy and good attitude with everyone he meets or trains with. We want to empower people to win in the ring, in the cage and win in life by working with FFC and Selapak in Cambodia.”
But before all of that, Soap must return to the ring for his long-anticipated bout.
“I feel good for this fight,” he said. “I always think positive. I’ve been sharpening my skills and training hard.
“This is my first fight back after a three-year hiatus. I want to start competing more often.
“I’m fighting for the Khmer people who are forgotten, who haven’t improved their situations yet or just need someone to look up to who represents them.”