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It’s less than an hour’s drive from the heart of the commercial capital, but the landscape is rural; rice fields and sugar palms stretch into the distance. Each year, during the hot and dry season, they line the road holding their hands out for donations of drinking water.
A grizzled, straight-talking man in his late thirties, Daung Thel Ni comes from a family of Lethwei fighters.
Both his father and brother, Thet Oo, also a trainer at the gym, were fighters, and he is teaching his son. Because of this unfairness there are only a few fighters [here] now.” His trainees – all boys, between 11 and 20 years old – pay a portion of their earnings in return for coaching, food, and in some cases, free lodging.
Trailing behind him is fellow fighter Sel Eain Zu, or “10th House Gangster.” He’s 12. “As soon as I get into the ring, all the fear goes away and I fight,” he says. Despite its incredible violence, bouts between children as young as ten, who can earn anything from $30 to $100, are common, especially in rural areas.
With the minimum monthly wage in Myanmar hovering around $68, it’s quite a sought-after purse.
Bloodied competitors mill around in between bouts in the hallway beside Tin Oo, a bald, boisterous man who works for the Lethwei Association, the sport’s governing body.