Mixing one’s love of Muay Thai and reggae quite possibly could be the secret to success. At least that’s the story for Australia’s leading promoter, Sy Nadji.
Back in 2011 there wasn’t much of a Muay Thai scene in Melbourne, it was what Sy described as a predominately kickboxing city. At the time, Sy was housing three Thai trainers at his gym and wanted them to see their sport adequately represented on an international level. He wittingly named the event Muay Thai Rebellion, as it was soon to be an uprising of the art of eight limbs in the Victorian State. Later changing it to Rebellion Muay Thai to better appeal to new fans of the sport.
Since his first show in 2011, Sy has promoted a total of 32 Muay Thai events. He’s brought over Thais from powerhouse gyms Fairtex, Sitsongpeenong, and Sitmonchai. He’s also taken full advantage of his proximity to Thailand and has tapped in on the wealth of foreign talent training in the motherland. Fan favourites Willy Whipple and Samuel Bark have both made the trek down under to fight for Sy.
His main promotion Rebellion Muay Thai matches high-level professionals under full Muay Thai rules. Battling it out over five rounds, the promotion favours traditional scoring. They encourage the wai kru, and play traditional ram muay music during the fights. It’s here that the Thais get to show their craft in a foreign country, and are given a fair chance to win.
Often when fighting abroad Thais must fight at a significant weight disadvantage, while at the same time trying to navigate their way through a foreign country. It might not seem like much, but just a simple task like finding (and affording) a restaurant abroad can be a daunting task for a non-native speaker. Sy however cuts no corners, and makes sure the Thais get whatever they need upon arrival, right up until departure.
Going the extra mile he personally makes sure the Thais feel comfortable, and welcomed— both key factors in overall performance. One crucial way he does this is by always paying in cash directly after the fights. Unfortunately, many fighters, especially Thais, have been significantly burned by international promoters and are left with little recourse once they leave the country.
Despite a few slight hiccups regarding the visas, Sy regards working with Thais and their formative gyms as nothing short of a pleasure.
Now Sy is promoting two shows in one day. He debuted his rather unique Rastafarian themed promotion Roots alongside Rebellion 13. The promotion is aimed at providing opportunities for entry level pros while at the same time combining Sy’s two loves: Muay Thai and Rasta.
A DJ plays Reggae music for the entirety of the event, and the fighters are given Rasta coloured Fairtex shorts to fight in. Each show is also named after a Bob Marley song. His next promotion, Roots 7, is called ‘One Love’ and will be taking place ahead of Rebellion 19 on 12 May in Melbourne.
Back in 2015, Sy reached out to Timo Ruge, curator of the famed MuayTies Youtube channel, with an offer to collaborate.
“His motto “Home of Real Muay Thai” really appealed to me. It’s what I aspire to be.”
That tentative Facebook message has now blossomed into a successful business partnership and a lifelong friendship. Since Rebellion 10, Ruge has been traveling out to Australia for each of Sy’s events. They have started a streaming service, with the promotion’s most successful bouts being later uploaded to MuayTies, and its over 60,000 followers.
Ruge, who has worked as a videographer all over the world, sees Rebellion as a leading force in pure international Muay Thai. As he explains,
“Rebellion feels like a family run show, but is run like a full blown professional event. Sy’s attention to detail and his absolute love for the sport is key. He’s never in it for a quick buck, but to deliver to the audience the best possible show.”
Ruge also credits Sy’s exceptional talent as a matchmaker for bringing the promotion to an international standard. His commitment to supporting local talent, while at the same bringing over top Thai fighters makes his promotion both exciting and sustainable.
This however is just the beginning for Sy and his dedicated team. Currently promoting four shows a year on average, Sy hopes to increase the frequency of his promotion and take it nation wide before eventually expanding internationally.
Sy’s next dual promotion is set for 12 May at the St Kilda Town Hall in Melbourne, Australia. In the main-event, Thai powerhouse Yodkhunpon will make his Australian debut against up-and-coming champion George Mann from Perth. Personally matched by the man himself, expect nothing short of fireworks.
“I am essentially a fan with matchmaking powers.”
All photos by William Luu.