Mixed martial arts transforms dreams of first generation of South Sudanese fighters

The first generation of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in South Sudan is yielding hopes and results for the next generation of aspiring young fighters in the youngest nation.
South Sudanese mixed martial arts fighters are seen on Monday June 17, 2024 with international mixed martial arts promoter Soslanbek Izrailov (6th-Right Front) in Juba.

By Denis Ejulu

The first generation of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in South Sudan is yielding hopes and results for the next generation of aspiring young fighters in the youngest nation.

The recent success of current African continental Muay Thai boxing champion, James Majok Gau,35, who started out in the streets as a fighter is inspiring many other fighters to try their chance at becoming professional fighters in a country where wrestling is a popular and well-grounded game.

Majok and three of his colleagues are now planning to travel to Russia to attend the international friendship tournament from 16 to 19 September 2024.

“Since I was young I used to fight in the streets, but when I joined kickboxing I stopped engaging in street fights, martial arts is a good sport that transformed my life, I stopped drinking soft drinks and also ended reckless sexual behavior,” Majok told The Dawn on Monday in Juba, during the visit by international MMA promoter Soslanbek Izrailov.

In December 2023, Majok defeated Malaysian champion Jian Kai Chee during the World Muay Thai international title fight held in Juba. He has also defeated Ugandan champion Golola Moses in the South Sudan capital.

“Longtime ago, I said I want to be the best in the world, now I am the best in Africa and I hope I will soon be the best in the world when I get to Russia,”  Majok disclosed.

Majok and many other aspiring mixed martial arts fighters are hoping for international exposure at the upcoming Russian tournament.

Abednego Thon, a 24-year-old mixed martial arts fighter who will also travel to Russia, said in his teens he started out in kickboxing before turning to Muay Thai boxing in 2014 when he met Puro Okello Obob, the current coach of the South Sudan Kickboxing Federation.

 Muay Thai is a quick-paced fight that blends boxing and kicking into a spinning tangle.

Thon said that taking part in the upcoming Russian friendship tournament will put South Sudan on the international scene for the first time.

“It’s a door opening for the current generation of South Sudanese kick boxers to see that there are some guys doing it at the international level and I think others will join the sport,” he said.

“In our country people consider martial arts as a violent sport, but in reality martial arts represents peace, respect, self-control, and so for us who have been in it we actually understand martial arts as a very good sport. I am very glad that we have an opportunity to represent our country at the international level,” Thon said.

Thon will be among several fighters under coach Okello’s watch who will be competing for the national title belt at the South Sudan national championship tournament on July 6, 2024.

Stephen Okuny alias Sky, 24, said they have picked up enough experience at the regional and continental fights, adding that they are hoping to use the tournament in Russia to improve further on their skills.

“I have 20 amateur fights under my belt, and I have participated in the East African challenge fight in Juba. As fighters in South Sudan we are facing a lot of challenges such as shortage of modern training kits and equipment but we remain determined to make it on the regional and international stage,” Okuny said.

Puro Okello Obob, coach at the South Sudan National Kickboxing Federation, said that developing the sport in South Sudan has been quite challenging over the years since 2008 when he arrived from Canada.

“I came back from Canada to give back to the young people and the community, and to help young people to overcome some social problems they have been going through and also for them to have role models in kick boxing or karate,” Okello said.

He noted that Majok’s success has opened the path for other aspiring young talents to grow.

“International promoters coming all the way from Europe to South Sudan, I think it is going to transform professional careers of our kick boxers in the country,” Okello said.

“When they go to Russia they will be the first South Sudanese kick boxers to fight there,” he added.

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