Headbutts allowed: Introducing Lethwei – the world’s most brutal combat sport

This brutal sport is thought to be over 1000 years old, but it is only recently that Myanmar’s national form of kickboxing, Lethwei, has gained an international audience.

South East Asia is renowned for Muay Thai, but Myanmar’s equivalent is seen as more confronting and violent.

Fighters do not wear gloves and instead have their hands wrapped, while head-butts and other jarring blows are permitted in this unforgiving contest.

Each round last three minutes, with the aim to knock your opponent out. If both combatants are still standing after round five, the bout is adjudged as a draw.

Ancient carvings on the temples of Bagan suggest that this combat sport has been taking place for over a millennium, while it is commonplace for boys as young as 10 years old to participate in Lethwei.

Myanmar’s recent political past had the nation under a veil, but its new form of quasi-democracy has opened the country to a world of tourism.

Lethwei’s popularity has grown with foreign fighters as a result, with battle-hardened men from Japan, the United States, the Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica taking to the ring in recent years.

The current open-weight champion is the homegrown Tun Tun Min, who has proven himself as an unrelenting force – even when faced with fighters from overseas.

The Myanmar fighter recently took on American Cyrus ‘Black Dynamite’ Washington in a championship bout in Yangon, taking just 71 seconds to knock his opponent out with a thunderous blow.

It was the third time Tun Tun Min had faced the Thailand-based Washington, with the Myanmarese claiming his second victory.

He confirms the growing international appeal of Lethwei by recalling recent competitors he has faced.

“I fought nine fights in this year and no opponents were from Myanmar – all are from other countries,” Tun Tun Min stated at the end of 2015.

Saw Gaw Mu Doe is Tun Tun Min’s next opponent, with the pair to meet at the Theinphyu Indoor Stadium in Yangon later this month.

Washington has expressed on his Instagram page that he is now considering stepping away from Lethwei after defeat.

However, with the sheer brutality of the sport and mass tourism on the rise, the influx of foreigners eager to prove themselves in Myanmar shows no sign of slowing up.

Videos:

This one starts a bit slowly but the second half of it has a lot of brutal action and the quality is good:

This is also relatively good quality:

Here are other options with some hard-hitting coverage:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yz0MTp9ggEY

This is one of children (!)