Thai Box Champs Face Off In Town

KeystoneThe third annual Battle of Champions will feature multiple styles of martial arts, including Muay Thai boxing, also known as "the art of the eight limbs."
The fists -- as well as the shins, elbows, knees, hands and feet -- will be flying on Friday night, and not just outside your local Podmoskovye wedding or disco.

The third annual Battle of Champions this weekend at the Malaya Sportivnaya Arena Luzhniki, will feature 10 bouts of different martial arts disciplines, with a pair of feature fights for world championship belts in Thai boxing and kickboxing.

Although kickboxing is more widely known, Thai boxing -- also known as Muay Thai -- promises to be the showstopper as American Shawn Heinz takes on Russian Artur Gasanov.

"Muay Thai is the most effective and spectacular of the martial arts," said Roman Kim, a trainer at a Moscow Muay Thai gym.

Effective seems to be the word for it.

In Thai boxing circles, the sport is also known as the "the art of the eight limbs" because fighters are allowed to use both fists and feet, as well as the shins, elbows and knees.

The number of contact points do not seem to add up, but then again, no one ever said Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme was good at addition -- just at landing punches.

He's also skilled in kicks, a telling sign of his skill in Muay Thai, in which more emphasis is placed on leg attacks than on those using fists. The elbow plays a significant role as well and is in fact such a lethal weapon in the sport that its use has been outlawed in Europe, said Kim.

The sport is brutal in general, making it unsurprising to Kim that the original American fighter billed for the event, James Cook, had to pull out because of injury.

"Since any part of the body is a target for attacks, [Muay Thai fighters] are extremely tough and fight in a realistic manner," Kim said.

This turns "a fighter into an 'iron man' capable of withstanding painful blows all over his body," he said.

The world championship fight will pit the older, more experienced American against the younger and taller Russian.

Heinz is the underdog against reigning champion Gasanov.

"The spirit of competition -- this is the path to perfection," said the union's spokeswoman Alexandra Tereshonok. "And the fights on Friday night will try to answer the question: What style of martial arts is the strongest?"

Other fights on the card see different martial arts face off against each other, including a match between a Kung Fu fighter and another fighting style.

Battle of Champions takes place Dec. 5 at 7 p.m., at Malaya Sportivnaya Arena Luzhniki, 1 Luzhnetskaya Naberezhnaya. M. Sportivnaya. 264-7129.