By Naw Noreen for DVB
Lethwei legend Shwe Duwun, 52, died on March 4 in an accident on the Yangon-Mandalay Highway. With his square shaped face, muscular frame, Duwun took over the Lethwei ring from the years 1996 to 2000. He competed in the Welterweight division at the World Lethwei Championship. Soe Lin Oo, a former Lethwei Golden Belt 60 kg Champion, said Duwun was his role model. “I knew him from our industry. People knew him when he was competing with Lethwei fighter Wan Chai,” Soe Lin Oo told DVB.
Wan Chai, a retired Lethwei fighter said he fought against Shwe Duwun 12 times. The first fight was in Mandalay in 1995. “I beat him three times. The rest were draws. He was very resilient, strong and unbeatable,” said Wan Chai. After retiring, Shwe Duwun still attended Lethwei competitions and gave moral support to the new class of Lethwei fighters, Wan Chai added.
Lethwei is a traditional sport developed in Burma. Fighters use their fist, elbow, leg, knee and head without using any protective equipment, except for bandages wrapped around their fists during competitions. Lethwei is similar to many other Southeast Asian boxing styles: Thailand’s Muay Thai, Laos’s Muay Lao, Cambodia’s Kun Khmer and Malaysia’s Tomoi.
Many Lethwei legends said that Shwe Duwun combined traditional techniques of the sport with new styles that attracted a newer, younger audience. Duwun not only took chances in the Lethwei ring, he tried his hand at music and TV, first releasing an album called “Mayar Shin Nat Thami [Guileful Goddess]” in 2003, then appearing in movies and TV commercials. “We performed on the stage and showed to the kids that we are Shwe Duwun and Wan Chai. He showed his medals and gave them all to me. It was unforgettable. I’m sad for what happened to him. And I feel losing him is losing our traditional Lethwei game,” Wan Chai told DVB.
Burma’s Lethwei legends include Shwe Duwun, Shwe Wah Tun, Thaman Kyar, Wan Chai, Tharsi Maung Maung Gyi, Lone Chaw, Mya Kyi San. These are the names that give fond memories of the Lethwei ring.