“I’m not deep [in the sport], I am lethwei.” That quote from my interview with Dave Leduc, the King of Lethwei, that rung with me all weekend as I digested our almost-30 minute talk. Leduc takes on Cyrus Washington in a rematch on the upcoming Spartan Wyoming 4 on November 4th. Leduc is the champion in the world’s most brutal sport. For the uninitiated, lethwei is the art of nine limbs: two hands, two feet, two knees, two elbows, and the headbutt. All fights are with no gloves. It takes what people love about bare knuckle boxing and takes it to an entire new level.
Check out the full video interview with Dave Leduc on YouTube and in podcast form below!
Leduc is the king, as mentioned earlier. Myanmar’s national sport was quite localized to it’s respective region for hundreds of years. Leduc stepped over from the west and took the sport to an entire new level. With WLC, his home promotion, now on UFC Fight Pass, the entire world has their eyes on lethwei.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, grinding WLC to a halt and thus making Dave Leduc’s title reign difficult to defend. Leduc managed to get things rolling in his camp once again by facilitating a fight in Wyoming, where he felt that lethwei had a good chance to become legal.
“It’s a bunch of coincidences happening. Basically, I’m signed with the WLC in Myanmar and World Lethwei Championship. I was supposed to defend the belt earlier than [this fight]. It’s been a year now. Then, this whole pandemic happened, and because they’re not able to fly me to Myanmar, I’m stuck in Canada right now. They’re not able to fly my opponents as well. As per contract, I’m legally allowed to fight anywhere that I want because of travel restrictions. But now, where do fight lethwei? It’s not legal everywhere. My team got in touch with Wyoming because they legalized bare knuckle boxing a couple years ago. They might be able to play it out, and in fact, they fucking did. They allowed lethwei rules, headbutts allowed, KO to win, traditional lethwei rules. They made it happen.”
In Leduc’s WLC contract, there’s an “Act of God” clause that allows him to fight outside of the WLC should something insane and unforeseen, like a global pandemic, take place. He goes into more detail saying, “It basically says if both parties are not able to present me a fight, technically we’re able to legally be excused of the contract for the time being. I’m still with [WLC], it’s not a cancellation. I’m still fighting for WLC. Just right now, they’re not able to propose to me my minimum one fight a year.”
Dave Leduc vs. Cyrus Washington: The Rematch
The reason Leduc is so excited about this specific fight is a culmination of several reasons. It is the first lethwei fight on American soil, the chance to settle unfinished business, and more. But what has Dave Leduc so excited about his rematch with Washington is legacy. While Leduc is already a legendary name in the sport of lethwei, he
“I fought Cyrus in 2017, and if you look at the fight, I dominated the rounds. I lacerated his forehead early in the first round. After this first round he was avoiding engagement to not receive too much damage. I was still a new champion at the time. I had only 22 fights and he had over 100. I was still able to dominate. I take a lot of pride in being able to adapt in a short amount of time. I am very critical of myself. I was not cutting the ring and as he was moving away I was not able to control him and finish the fight. Even though I dominated, I’ve been extremely pissed at myself ever since that fight. If you look on Wikipedia, it says a draw. If you look at the fight, in any promotion, that would have been a clear 10-8 domination fight. But because it’s traditional rules, which I love and respect, it was a draw. Now, I’m telling you. Mark my fucking words. This, it’ s going to be a clear and decisive win. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. I just want to let my body freely move with headbutts and elbows, I don’t care. I just want to finish the guy. He’s been campaigning since the fight. He wanted a rematch. He said he wasn’t at his best. He said he wants the rematch. I’m like, fuck, you campaign, I’ve been pissed since the time. I’ve grown up massively since that fight. I fought Tun Tun Min again. It’s for my legacy. As for the only foreigner that knocked out Tun Tun Min was Cyrus Washington. We’re the only two guys that have stopped him. He’s a legend. For me, I’m battling to solidify who is the best non Buramese lethwei fighter.”
Another first at Sparta Wyoming 4 is the first ever lethwei fight in a cage. With Sparta having a myriad of types of fights, they save time by having all their fights in one arena. In the past, the promotion has held MMA, boxing, grappling, and bare knuckle events all in the same night. Leduc believes that this fundamentally changes the lethwei bout with Washington and plays into the style he likes to fight. In WLC, Leduc’s opponents have ropes to escape through. In Sparta, it’s an unforgiving cage.
“I love the inside game, cage or not. For me, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the elbows flow. That’s where the headbutts flow. I’m not a big proponent of doing headbutts from far away because you can get cut with an up-elbow on the way in. I like to headbutt when I’m connected. I think it’s going to be easier with the cage for both guys so I have to be aware of that as well. It’s going to be a fucking banger, this fight.”
The Leduc Legacy and the Culture of Myanmar
Dave Leduc has given his life to the sport of lethwei and Myanmar. With the sport growing, having Lethwei in Japan, WLC, and now debuting in the United States with Sparta, the sport is growing to new, international levels. When asked if he was excited to see lethwei grow being so involved and so deep in the sport, he delivered the quote from the beginning of the interview.
“I’m just not [deep in lethwei], I am lethwei. I don’t want to be cocky, I just want to be realistic,” Leduc said. He continues on how he helped the sport grow saying, “I had a big part to bring lethwei to UFC Fight Pass. I know there’s no main event in the United States without me. I really want to give back to Myanmar what they gave to me. To be honest, they changed my life. The sports and the country changed my life, the life of my wife, my family. They opened up my eyes. There are 55 million people there, extremely humble, extremely kind, extremely polite, like borderline shy. Even the lethwei fighters are extremely kind. I relate to the lethwei fighters so much.” Leduc continues, “I’m extremely happy to see this growth and we’re just starting. I really think the more lethwei grows, the more it is going to help [Myanmar]. Tourism, economic growth, restaurants, I want to give them the best life possible.”
One of the big lethwei traditions is the htoe kwin (pronounced “toe kwin), the tattoos on a lethwei fighter’s legs. The tattoo is a special tradition on Burmese boxers time in battle. Only the strongest of lethwei fighters get the htoe kwin. Leduc, being as dedicated as he is to the culture of Myanmar, did the tattoo session in it’s painful original way.
“It was a painful time. It is a right of passage. You do those symbols on your body to show your ring or your combat experience. It’s intimidation to your opponents. If you have no tats on your leg, you’re fairly new to lethwei. But if you have a lot of battles, you deserve your tats. While you’re doing it, you can’t show it hurts. You have to stay straight faced. You’re talking about 24 hours total of it. Maybe two or three sessions. I have my back done with bamboo but I have my legs dune with the painful machine.”
The rivalry between Thai boxers and Burmese boxers go back centuries. Both have their traditions and where their respective sports came from. The rivalry is deep and full of history. Dave’s specific tattoo artist compares the Thai beliefs and lore behind tattoos to what he believes about the ink.
“The way the [tattoo artist] told me, he said, ‘Dave, in Thailand, they believe tattoos can stop a bullet. We don’t believe that bullshit. It’s obviously not true, it’s fucking stupid. Who believes that bullshit? I just think that if you’re strong enough to resist this and the inner thighs and on your knee cap for a long time and you don’t show pain and you deserve it because you’ve had a lot of fights, then you’re a fucking man. I don’t believe in this black magic bullshit that’s obviously not true.’ I really like him for saying that because it’s very easily to get confused in all those folklore stories.”
Announced a couple weeks ago, Dave Leduc is working with a good friend of mine, Tom Taylor of BJPenn.com, on a book about his journey through lethwei. Taylor is a talented writer and is the perfect author for a book on the story of Leduc. Leduc spoke briefly about it and gave My MMA News a little insider scoop on the upcoming book, including a possible title, release timeframe and more.
“Tom, he was living in Ottawa, Canada. He did an article on BJ Penn and we clicked, and I like how he verbalizes his work. I have been receiving a lot of offers to publish a story or book because people want to know a lot about prison fight and the rise of lethwei, which is probably going to be the title of the book, by the way: ‘The Rise of Lethwei.’ We signed the contract and it’s official. We’ve already started doing interviews on the phone and it’s me vomiting my story and he’s going to verbalize it very well. I don’t know when it’s going to be ready but we’re not stressed. We’re going to add this fight to the story as well. If it’s not ready next year, we’re going to add other fights. It’s exciting.”
Why Watch Sparta Wyoming 4?
Dave Leduc is excited to finally be fighting again. His last fight was at WLC 9 where he captured the belt. This rematch is special for The King of Lethwei and he gives all the readers and listeners reason to tune in. He says this fight will not only be fun, it will not only have high stakes, it will also be one of the most historic lethwei fight of all time.
“I’m not afraid to say Cyrus is a veteran and he is very crafty and knows what he’s doing. He’s been in lethwei since 2014. He fought Tun Tun Min and I can give it to him, it was a very impressive of Tun Tun Min who had never been knocked out before. I was watching his fight before going into lethwei. We quickly met buying fruits in Phucket. At the time we didn’t know we were going to fight each other. That was 2016-2017. We shook hands quickly and we didn’t know and we ended up fighting. I had a great fight but I was very disappointed I didn’t finish the fight and very disappointed in my performance. I want to make this a clear, decisive matter. There’s a lot of stake at this. I know it’s going to be me, but whoever solidifies this title is going to be in the history books as the best foreign fighter.”
Dave Leduc takes on Cyrus Washington in their long-needed rematch on November 4th on Sparta Wyoming 4. You can buy that pay per view here to catch the fight live. Follow Leduc on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to follow his journey through the sport of lethwei. Thanks for reading.
Your friendly neighborhood fight fan. I watch way too many fights and my wife lets me know it. Also, Cowboy Cerrone is the GOAT.