ONE Championship athlete Chan Rothana has built a reputation for defying the odds, both as a professional mixed martial artist and a man growing up in a challenging environment.
Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Rothana and his family returned to Cambodia once the civil war ended. His parents bought land in Banteay Meanchey, and together, they started a new chapter.
Lok Kru Chan Bunthoeun, his father, was a grandmaster in the ancient Khmer martial art of Yutakhun Khom, and although Rothana cannot pinpoint exactly when his martial arts journey officially began, he felt it was only a matter of time before he would participate in the family tradition.
After his father opened up a gym, the young Cambodian took a massive leap of faith by dropping out of school to help his family make ends meet.
“My family was very impoverished, so my dad asked me to stop studying and help him out at the gym. As I learned more, I started teaching other students. I began learning and teaching at the same time,” he reveals.
“We had so many challenges in the beginning. First of all, we didn’t have a proper training club, so we had to go around and ask people to train on their property. Secondly, we didn’t have any equipment, so we had to find a way to create our own. It was miserable!”
Soon, the club started getting some recognition. More and more students came through to learn Yutakhun Khom, which enabled the family to pull themselves out of poverty and support themselves.
Rothana has come quite far since then.
Now, in 2018, he is a world-class athlete competing in the world’s largest martial arts organization, he represents his own gym, Selapak, and he trains the next generation of martial arts superstars.
“I never thought I would end up being a martial artist. I only trained because I wanted to play with my father’s students,” Rothana explains.
“My dad kept persuading me to learn more about Khmer boxing because I didn’t have an education.
“This sport has helped me a lot. It doesn’t give me everything, but I have enough to eat. Many people now know and respect me, so I don’t regret that my father pushed me to go down this path.”
Rothana has continued to expand the family tradition by implementing mixed martial arts to his Yutakhun Khom and Kun Khmer background.
At age 32, he looks to a brighter future for himself, his family, and, the sport.
ONE Championship has played a critical role in his development — not only as a professional competitor, but also as an international representative for Cambodia.
“I have benefited a lot since joining ONE Championship because it is a worldwide organization, and we can share Kun Khmer and our martial arts with the world,” he says.
“But for me, the most important thing is to ask myself, ’Are we good enough to compete there?’ When you’re in ONE, you have to show the world that you belong.”
On Friday, 7 December, he aims to prove that he belongs in the top of the promotion’s flyweight division.
He will face undefeated Indonesian Abro Fernandes at ONE: DESTINY OF CHAMPIONS in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
It has been nearly eight months since Rothana last competed, but he is eager to showcase how much he has learned during that time and pick up a victory for his friends, his family, and his country.
“I can’t wait,” he says with a smile.