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Saturday: Muay Thai “Battle at the Wat”

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California’s amateur cruiserweight, super-middleweight and super-lightweight Muay Thai champions will be crowned Saturday at the "Battle of the Wat". Sponsored by Andy Kensamphaph, founder of Sacramento’s Muay Thai Lao Kickboxing Academy, the "battle" is an International Kickboxing Federation sanctioned fight.

It takes place at Wat Lao Saoputh Buddhist Temple, 8741 Gerber Road in south Sacramento, starting at 7:30 a.m. with a "Young Warriors" youth tournament. Eighteen matches with adult fighters begin at 1 p.m. and conclude at 5 p.m.

Nine of the kick boxers are locals who trained at Kensamphahph’s gym. Others competitors will travel from as far as Oregon.

The prize is a 26-inch trophy designed by Kensamphaph (pictured above). Each winner will receive a large trophy that "features the art of the Lao [Buddhist] temple, from the art of the Muay Boran," Kensamphaph said. "Basically, Muay Thai and Muay Lao [both] originally came from the [Buddhist] temple."

Muay Boran, which means "ancient boxing," focuses on speed, strength, technique and posture. It was popularized in the martial arts movie "Ong Bak," starring Tony Jaa.

All competitors receive a trophy, "but they also will gain recognition for how they perform; the public will know how they fight," Kensamphaph added.

Kensamphaph came to the United States from Laos in 1982. He taught Muay Thai for 16 years before fighting in and training others for Mix Martial Arts (MMA) cage battles.

He trained champion MMA fighter Urijah Faber, "the California Kid," in Muay Thai and Muay Lao. Muay Lao uses more points of contact than Muay Thai — most important, fists, Kensamphaph said.

After Faber won the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight championship, Kensamphaph stopped training him and opened the kickboxing academy about nine months ago.

The Muay Thai Lao Kickboxing Academy is in a 3,500-square-foot gym at 1510 Howe Ave., and has 260 male and female students. All the students learn to treat and respect each other as if they were family members, Kensamphaph said.

"I want people to remember how Muay Thai fighting represents [a person’s] own art," he said. "I mix Muay Thai and Muay Lao, and I want to see how other people use it. Two is better than one. [By] mixing them up, it becomes a combination; it’s more technical."

Battle of the Wat will be held outside, similar to traditional Sunday fights at temples in Thailand or Laos, said Muay Thai Lao instructor Jeff Baca. Thai and Lao food will be available for purchase.

General admission is $15, ringside is $25 and VIP tickets, which include a covered tent and a table, are $35. Tickets can be purchased at the door all the way up to the final fight, and all proceeds go to the Wat Lao Saoputh Buddhist Temple.

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