Dave Leduc – King of Lethwei
Dave Leduc left his native Canada with a dream of fighting in the world’s most brutal striking sport. Now at the top of his game, he is the Lethwei World Champion and is the face of Burmese Boxing. He has helped bring the attention of the world to a sport that was until very recently, little known outside of Myanmar, and even then, to a select few enthusiasts. Tom Billinge catches up with Dave Leduc, aka “The Nomad” to find out more.
You first started as a Muay Thai fighter. How did you learn about Lethwei and what came about to bring you into the sport?
I actually started training Sanshou in Canada with Sifu Patrick Marcil at the age of 17. He showed me everything I know about Martial arts and introduced me to JKD principles. One day I saw some videos of Burmese bareknuckle boxing and loved it, I thought it was so cool. I told him that I wanted to do it one day and he supported me, but said that we would need to train hard. We started incorporated headbutts and bareknuckle drills very early in my training with the hopes of one day going to Myanmar to fight. What’s actually crazy is I was watching videos of Too Too, Tun Tun Min and Phoe Kay, three guys that I eventually faced and beat.
I first went to Thailand, because it was easier to train and get ring experience at the time. Myanmar was not as popular as it is now. I was constantly told that I wasn’t “Thai” enough, but since, I was winning, I kept my style, which eventually gave me an edge in Lethwei. Everybody fights the same way, if you want different results, you have to be different! Then I went to fight on Prison Fight in 2014. That same promoter that gave me a call in 2016 to make my Lethwei debut in Yangon against Too Too. It was an easy transition, and my dream come true.
What are your proudest moments in Lethwei? What are your best achievements?
I have many moments that are memorable. I can’t name just one. My debut against Too Too where I bloodied him up and didn’t get touched, when I won the golden belt against Tun Tun Min, my first fight in Japan winning by spinning elbow against Phoe Kay, who once defeated Tway Ma Shaung, and winning my third world title against Nilmungkorn Sudsakorngym in Tokyo are all great achievements for me.
Being a foreign champion, do you feel there is a bigger target on your back? Are the Burmese fighters are extra motivated when they face you, because they want to bring the title back into native hands?
Actually, as of right now, I was told by promoters there no Burmese willing to challenge me. Also, since I moved to Myanmar, I fight under the Myanmar flag and have adopted the Lethwei lifestyle. I have been told that Myanmar fans don’t see the title being in foreign hands. I have beat all the 75kg+ open weight division and there are no Burmese fighters challenging me right now. Plus I prefer fighting foreign champions to show the effectiveness and power of Lethwei.
What are your personal aims for your career? Where does Dave Leduc go from here?
In 2017, I defended my throne 5 times and I want to defend it a few more times before I retire. The door has been open since the beginning for challengers, but it’s not easy to find fighters that are willing to step in the Lethwei ring. Fighting looks brutal to normal people, but Lethwei looks brutal to fighters!
Right now my main focus, and the reason I moved to Myanmar, is to open Nomad Lethwei, MMA & Fitness in Yangon, the first international training center in Myanmar. This is crucial for the expansion of Lethwei across the world. We will be able to host and train people from all over the world in the art of Lethwei and MMA, on Burmese soil. I also wish to start my own Lethwei promotion.
What do you see for the future of the sport? What do you hope will happen?
The art of Lethwei has completely caught fire. More people know about Lethwei than ever before. I’d like to think I have had a role in this. I have a vision for the sport and the country. For me, the next move is to open the training center as soon as possible.
Do you think that Lethwei will become more regulated?
There are weight classes and weigh-ins, blood testing on the big promotions (Lethwei in Japan, Lethwei World Championship). It’s not regulations that are missing in Lethwei, but greater visibility. I made it my mission to preserve the beauty and rawness of Lethwei for as long as I live. It will stay brutal: bareknuckle, time-out after a KO or injury, no scoring system (KO only to win, if no KO-its a draw) and headbutts allowed. If people think it’s too brutal they can fight Muay Thai. I have to preserve this legacy. Lethwei is the king of striking sports.
Several Burmese fighters have started to train in Thailand as well as Myanmar, do you think this is a good thing for the sport?
I think it’s just a lack of good, clean, sparring partners. The few Burmese guys that have been to Bangkok to train, go because they have accepted Muay Thai fights. It’s not a common thing to go train in Thailand, and to answer your question, it’s not a good idea for them and useless for the sport. Historically, most Muay Thai fighters that came and fought in Myanmar Lethwei have been stopped with headbutts and by the brutality of Lethwei fighters. So why go train there? Myanmar Lethwei gives you the edge, the hunger to win at all cost. You don’t start fighting at the 2nd or 3rd like in Muay Thai, you go for the kill from the get go. Since you fight bareknuckle with headbutts, the longer you fight, the greater your chance of getting cut or badly injured. In Lethwei, you look to inflict as much damage as possible, while receiving the least possible, and, unlike Muay Thai, you don’t care how ”beautiful” it looks.
Do you see Lethwei taking off in the West as a promoted sport?
Will the fact that it is bareknuckle cause problems in this regard? Of course it will. Its the most brutal sport in the world, what do you guys expect! Even UFC had to make some changes to be approved by the world. Not Lethwei. When hardcore fight fans want to see the real deal, they can watch Lethwei. No gloves. Headbutts. No scoring system. KO only to win. You just don’t get to put a street fight on TV like that. Lethwei is the closest you can get to a street fight without going to jail. Like I have been saying, there are Lethwei gyms in Russia and France, events have taken place in Japan, Slovakia, Russia and soon New Zealand. I don’t expect it to be accepted in the west, as even in my birth country Canada, in some places MMA and Muay Thai are still illegal, so I don’t expect Lethwei to be received there with open arms! The important thing though is that we need a place in Myanmar and more cities around the world to have Lethwei gyms. As long as it’s practiced, the sport will grow. And if practitioners want to test their skills, they can go where fights are being held.
How much can a fighter expect to be paid for a Lethwei fight?
That’s another thing that will help attracting more foreigners in Lethwei is the fight purses. In general, Lethwei pays more than Muay Thai by far. My friends in Thailand for regular stadium fights get around 6000 to 8000 Thai baht (US$250), but for small events Lethwei fighters can get as much as 666,000 to 1,300,000 Kyat (US$500-1000), if the fighter has been fighting in recognised promotions (Thai Fight, Max Muay Thai, Kunlun Fight etc.) they could get up to to US$1500.
I booked a fight for a friend in a show that wasn’t even televised, he fought the champion to a draw and was able to get US$4000USD for his debut in Myanmar, while he only received around US$1200 when he fought on Thai Fight in Thailand. If they become a champion, this skyrockets. I am not able to disclose my contract, but they take good care of me. The promoter even paid for my wedding after I won the Golden belt in 2016 against Tun Tun Min.