Thai police punch, kick and wrestle each other in brutal martial arts tournament to boost their image

Thai police participate in 'Cops Combat'
Thai police participate in 'Cops Combat' at Rajadamnern Muay Thai Stadium in Bangkok on Tuesday in a bid to reassure the public of their integrity - Anadolu

Dozens of Thailand’s most elite police officers punched, kicked and wrestled each other in a no-holds-barred martial arts contest aimed at proving there were still “good” honest cops out there.

The first-ever “Cops Combat” mixed martial arts tournament on Tuesday featured 96 contenders and came after opinion polls showed that only 10 per cent of the public had confidence in the Royal Thai Police.

The competition, organised by the kingdom’s Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), was intended to bolster the police’s public image and reinvigorate the force. It involved a succession of three-minute fights between contestants using full-contract fighting styles, as if they were defending themselves against an assailant.

Winners were awarded a cash prize of 5,000 baht (£107) and the honour of subduing “the suspect” – their opponent.

The brutal bouts began with the contenders giving each other a polite bow before unleashing a barrage of punches and kicks as if they were up against a real criminal.

In one bout, the fighters, dressed in red and blue respectively, approached each other cautiously at first. The fighter in red was able to land the first punch, but his opponent fought back with a sweeping kick.

After a split second of hesitation, the pair became locked in a boxing hug or “clinch”, desperately trying to strike each other,

Eventually, the fighter in red was able to overpower his opponent, toppling him to the floor and pinning him down in a hold.

Thailand is known for its traditional martial art, Muay Thai, where fighters use all parts of the body – from fists and elbows to shins and knees – in an effort to overcome their opponents.

Ratchanat Hongtawee, a police officer who was defeated in an 85-kilogramme match, said the experience reminded him of his day-to-day work where he is confronted by suspected criminals.

“I am the first contact (with the suspect) in my line of work … and sometimes they resist arrest,” he told AFP.

Despite losing, Mr Hongtawee declared the competition was “definitely a good experience”.

‘There are still good cops out there’

Aek-Amorn Preeda-akkarakul, a spectator who came to watch his colleague, felt that the public’s faith in Thailand’s police force should be restored.

“I want to reassure you that there are still good cops out there,” he said.

Thai police are battling a longstanding reputation for corruption and brutality.

Nearly one in two Thais said they had paid a bribe to the police in the past 12 months, according to a Transparency International study published at the end of 2020.

This reputation was enhanced by the 2022 case of an officer – known as “Joe Ferrari” thanks to his taste in fast cars – who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a suspect by torture while trying to extort $60,000.

Jirabhop Bhuridej, the CIB commissioner, said in a video opening the event the competition would encourage Thai cops to stay fit and “to serve the people”.