Having become a regular on the One Championship mixed martial arts circuit, Chan Rothana discusses making a career in sports and the personal branding opportunities that come with it
Why did you start kickboxing?
When I was a kid, I would go with my father to watch him train boxers. I was not interested in it, but when my family had money problems my father asked me to stop going to school and start training [at the age of 16]. When I started training, I did not have a goal of becoming a great boxer.
How much money are you making these days?
It depends on the number of students that come to train at my gym [Selapak in Phnom Penh], but usually about $500 a month from that. For one fight against another Khmer boxer, the winner makes about $100. Fighting against a Thai boxer, you can make $300 or $400 per match. For One Championship, I can make from $1,000 to $1,500 per fight, plus $500 for the winner.
Would you recommend boxing as a career?
I always try to get young people involved in the sport and to train them. But even though my students seem to like it, once they get in the ring they quit. The most important thing is that if you know it’s what you want, you can make enough money. If I didn’t train for this kind of sport I would not be who I am today. My fame comes from sports.
Along with football star Chan Vathanaka and Taekwondo champ Sorn Seavmey, you are one of the few athletes in Cambodia who have commercial sponsors. Do you think companies are starting to see sports as a marketing vehicle?
I hope that companies will become more interested in sponsoring athletes, but my friend has had to go out to try to find sponsors for me. If athletes do not have help finding sponsors it will be difficult – for me, if I didn’t have help I don’t think I would have any. We are not like Vathanaka and [pop singer] Preap Sovath. The companies will go to find them.
A few Cambodian kickboxers have tested the waters of international mixed martial arts with One Championship. Do you think professional fighting is becoming a more attractive career?
I think fighting in Cambodia is gaining and developing more, and we can say it’s better. But I have also seen some things that need to be improved. In Thailand, they send boxers to fight in China, Korea, Japan and Europe. Cambodia only sends some boxers to fight in Thailand. The [Cambodian Boxing] Federation needs to work on this issue.
What advice would you offer to a young fighter who wants to be where you are?
To be successful in fighting, we need to learn about our role; we have to be respectful to those all around us and not be arrogant. You have to have a schedule and train at least three times a day. We have to be part of a team for support and training and technique. For me, I have one team for mixed martial arts and one for kickboxing.