A large and vocal crowd was on hand to witness the Victory 8 boxing show held at Nguyen Du stadium HCMC on Saturday November 3.
Saigon promoter VSP Boxing have declared ambitions to put Vietnam boxing on the map, and say that by hosting quality international match ups, they will prove to the people of Vietnam just how good their fighters really are. And good is an understatement!
Before a local audience of around 2000 people, and beamed by HTV to a potential audience of 20 million people – the Vietnamese fighters were outstanding winning five of the eight closely contested 4 round bouts against classy opposition from Australia.
Pham Duc Doan opened the scoring for the Vietnam team with a strong showing against Jayden ” the bullet” Buan.
The more experienced Vietnam fighter proved too strong in the second half of the fight to steal the win. Buan, who attracted a lot of female attention whilst in Vietnam, is only 16 years of age and has his sights on the 2020 Olympics. He dominated the early stanza with his boxing skills and footwork.
Buan weathered heavy shots late in the fight and refused to panic. We will no doubt see a formidable fighter back in Nam in 2019.
Jye Lane Taylor can consider himself unlucky against versatile local Nguyen Van Hai. Locked in an extremely tight battle for its duration, Lane Taylor showed the composure and accuracy that will hold him in good stead in the pro ranks very soon. He has the making of a very good boxer.
Huge accolades must go to Nguyen Van Hai however. He brought the heat to every exchange, and made life very uncomfortable for the Australian. The Vietnam fighter is vastly experienced in both orthodox and kick boxing disciplines, and the crowd definitely enjoyed his style of fighting. This obviously resonated well with the judges also.
If any of us need to be reminded of why we love the sport of boxing, and why we so deeply admire its protagonists – the fight between Vu Thanh Dat and Tommy Mercuri jr provided HCMC with an exhilirating celebration of both. Tommy Mercuri jr is only 17 and came to Vietnam with a repuation as a smart and physically imposing fighter.
It was clear that he wanted to make a statement against the older and heavily experienced Vu Than Dat, who clearly had other ideas. This fight was an absolute cracker! Mercuri jr got taken apart early, lacking accuracy by punching too long and overloading power, and the Vietnamese capitalised at every opportunity. Undeterred, Mercuri jr maintained good balance, and combined with a super punch rate, was able to overwhelm his opponent in the final two rounds.
This fight was anybody’s, and it was an amazing effort for young Mercuri to steady the ship after such an unfortunate start. Ringside observers commented that he has ice in his veins, and no doubt Mercuri jr will be a crowd please in Vietnam if he chooses to return.
Mickey Pengue is an Australian pro, and it showed in his one sided, but spirited battle. Pengue showed superb defence, distance and shot selection in his performance, and he now goes back to Australia for a professional assignment in two weeks. The crowd responded well to Pengue’s Mayweather like skills, and no doubt will love to have him back at a later date against a superior opponent.
Gretchen Abaniel matched up with national champion Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi in what can only be described as an ugly but entertaining contest. A lot of physicality was shown by both girls in this brawling affair. In a fight where clean shots were sparse, it appeared that Abaniel may have edged what was an extremely hard to score bout, but the local champion was given the verdict, resulting in a 400 million dong bonus prize ($20,000usd) to the victor.
The prize offered by VSP Boxing is the biggest prize paid in the brief history of the sport in Vietnam. It must be stated that the local crowd loved this fight, and it is inevitable that female boxing will attract a big following in Vietnam. Gretchen Abaniel said “I so much enjoyed coming here to fight in this exhibition match. Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi is a multiple national champion for one reason – she is very good!” Whilst surprised by her narrow points loss, Abaniel said the win by her opponent was great for women’s boxing in Vietnam.
“Full credit to my opponent – but I am happy to come back to here one day and show Miss Nhi what I can really do!” she said with a smile.
The Australian coaches had labelled Nguyen Van Duong perhaps the hottest fighter in Vietnam , and based on his classy win, few would argue. At a recent event at Dong Nai, he finished a Korean professional fighter within 30 seconds of the opening bell. Nguyen Van Duong has speed, power and potential unlimited.
This was a great fight. Kamil Syed, comparatively a way less experienced fighter, is a tall and talented boxer based in Sydney. He had won 7 of his 10 prior amateur bouts, but it was forecast that the Vietnam fighter would be well above his pay grade, and that an early KO would be on offer. Nguyen’s shot selection and accuracy were fantastic, and it was pretty obvious from the opening bell that he is something special. Syed was taken into unchartered territory, as his defences were heavily tested, and he absorbed some heavy blows.
In what looked destined to end in a stoppage, Syed then achieved something not short of miraculous. He dissected the formidable task in front of him, changed up his position and timing, and then started landing quality shots on a clearly surprised Vietnamese star!! This Syed showed huge poise – and left no one in doubt that at certain stages of the battle – he owned Nguyen Van Duong! This was an epic bout steeped in courage and character. Whilst proving once more that Nguyen Van Duong is upper echelon for Vietnam, Syed showed in glimpses that he is a serious talent with massive improvement in store.
Local female star Nguyen Thi Tam scored a convincing yet unspectacular win. It was expected that she would yield an early stoppage against her less experienced Australian opponent.
A recent bronze medallist at Asiad, and gold winner at Budapest, she stepped into the ring with a decided size and form advantage. Linn Sandstrom, who has only been boxing two years, performed to instructions and basically defused her Vietnamese opponent.
Whilst it is fair to say that Sandstrom fought defensively throughout, this seemed smart tactics given the big class disparity, and she did a superb job to survive the four rounds. Nguyen Thi Tam is top notch – she will be a force in boxing for a long time to come.
Linn Sandstrom was over matched, but based on her work in Australia, has a lot more in her arsenal than what she was able to show in this match. It will be interesting to see exactly what she can bring to the ring if she returns to Vietnam next year against a more suitable opponent.
The main event unveiled unbeaten Aussie super middleweight star Mateo Tapia and the King of Vietnam boxing – SEA Games winner Truong Dinh Hoang. This fight had already created huge interest within Vietnam, with the weigh in /face off alone attracting more than 100,000 views online.
This is the first time that TDH had been matched with a top class professional boxer, and any doubts that he could not only overcome that hurdle, but his long lay off from the sport, were resoundingly answered. TDH is top class! Tapia showed ethereal boxing skills and an inpenetrable defence. He lived up to all the hype, and then some. But let there be no doubt that TDH has the boxing skills and power to destroy most professional super middleweights.
He showed superb ring craft to constantly cut the ring off on Tapia, who boxed with maturity beyond his years and scored accurately off precious little opportunity. Tapia has been shredding seasoned pros in Australia and yet TDH, in his first fight back from layoff, made him work overtime for a narrow points victory. The win to Mateo Tapia was hotly disputed by both TDH and his team.
The Viet warrior had been superbly prepared by Saigon Sports Club, and to lose out on the 40 million dong bonus in such narrow and controversial manner, was very unfortunate. This was boxing of the highest calibre, and a rematch would surely draw a massive crowd in Vietnam.
Fight caller and ex-world rated super middleweight Ben ‘ the juicer’ McCulloch’s summary echoed the sentiments of many that attended the VSP Boxing Victory 8 event. “From the outset, this show pulled the crowd into a new world of combat, culture, and camaraderie.
It was an honour to contribute to an event of this magnitude. Watching and calling a clash between some of the most talented fighters from Vietnam and Australia is something I will remember forever.
Prior to this experience, I am ashamed to admit, I didn’t know anything about boxing in Vietnam.” This prompted the dire warning from McCulloch ” As an ex-elite boxer, I feel well qualified to offer the following advice. If you are looking for an easy fight here, DO NOT come to Vietnam!! These guys are extremely proud, and clearly fight for country and family.
They are great athletes, super strong and resilient, and have got no quit in them. And they will only get better!”