Philippines’ most celebrated amateur star Charly Suarez has pledged to plunder the professional fight form in 2020, and he opened his account for the year in spectacular style in Ilocos Norte last night.
The popular boxer, known as the King’s Warrior, had an illustrious run in the amateurs that included medals in the Asian and SEA Games, winning his most recent gold in December. He was a controversial elimination in the Rio 2016 Olympics final rounds against the outstanding Brit Joe Cordina, who has since gone on to be an unbeaten pro at 11 and 0.
The festival in Ilocos Norte in Luzon, Philippines is celebrated for two weeks from January 27 to February 9, and is renowned for hosting many arts and cultural events. What was significant about last night’s offering was that it was the first time the festival has celebrated boxing, and Ms Cucuy Elorde and her team did an amazing job to bring the excitement of the sport to the northern province.
The fight card was strong, with many closely contested yet highly combative contests, some resulting in explosive knockouts. The Elorde gym unveiled two stable stars – Ben Ligas and Argie Toquero – both scoring exceptional wins that did not require any help from the judges.
Charly Suarez fought the main event against a bigger Dave Barlas, who came into the the contest with 5 wins from 6 prior fights. Suarez was right on the super featherweight limit of 130lb, whilst the rugged Barlas recorded 133lb, but this was to be of no consequence. Barlas was tight and competitive in round one, which appeared to be a spirited stanza for both fighters, each showing good movement and skills. Round 2 started in a similar vein, but Suarez started to go to work, creating opportunities with some great angles, and sent Barlas to the canvas with a machete like left to the body.
Dave Barlas at only 21 years of age, showed great character to resume his stance and survive the round, but the end was near. Round 3 began with Barlas attempting to recoup lost points and kudos, but Suarez was exemplary in his shot selection, and gave his talented young opponent no chance to balance and find his groove. Dave Barlas attempted to land some good shots of his own, but largely, these were met with brutal counters. The very willing Barlas hit the canvas two times before referee Jerrold Tomeldan called an end to the punishment in round three.
The talented and lethal Suarez advances to an ominous 4 wins without loss – all by way of knockout. It was very obvious that Dave Barlas is a very promising young fighter, but the boxing IQ of Suarez continued to put him in high probability ring positions, and his blazing hands and power did the rest.
Charly Suarez is on a mission to break into the world top 10 as quickly as possible, and based on last night’s blistering performance, where he made a top prospect in Barlas look second rate, few would argue. There is no doubt that even with only 4 wins as a pro, Suarez shapes as potentially one of, if not the, best prospect in Philippines boxing.
Vietnam is a small country of more than 100 million people but up until recently , the sport of boxing was largely unheard of. The patriotic nation has progressed rapidly in the last few years, noteworthy being an overwhelming presence of both an emerging middle class, and a more vocal and demanding youth culture. Interestingly, still common to all Vietnam folk is a deep rooted love of sports, and even more so, big outdoor events. It seems based on the early success that it has enjoyed so far in this country, the sport of boxing is the perfect fit!
Local company VSP Boxing saw the niche that existed in Vietnam, and decided to host a modest event in the province of Dong Nai in July 2018. The theme of this show was intended as “ a cultural and sports event to extend good will ” – where five professional Korean boxers would showcase their talents to some low ranking Vietnamese amateur opponents. It would provide these Vietnamese with a taste of what it would like to be in the ring with professional fighters, and give them the inspiration needed to improve and perhaps one day achieve such lofty heights. In what was a shock to all, the Vietnam amateurs performed out of their skins to win 4 of the 5 fights – 3 by way of knockout!
The success of that very first show served as encouragement to do more, and Vietnam has made outstanding progress toward professional boxing in the past year. VSP Boxing have conducted three big events since (under the brand Victory 8) where foreign stars were invited to compete with local Vietnamese in an exhibition format, but under professional rules. These have whet the appetite of fans – crazy for more sport and more events.
VSP Boxing had worked with the Vietnam Sports Administration (VSA) and the Vietnam Boxing Federation (VBF) to launch their initial two Victory 8 indoor shows in HCMC. The events were a big success, where crowds of around 2000 attended to cheer their stars at the smaller scale Nguyen Du stadium.
Emboldened by such a positive response from both the boxers and the fans, the VSA then granted approvals for Victory 8 to stage a mega event in the city streets of Hanoi last October. The thinking was aimed toward where can boxing be staged so that as many people as possible can view it, knowing that for most, this would be their first chance ever to see a live fight event. The selected location was iconic – right in the middle of the oldest part of Hanoi, and next to the mystical Hoan Kiem lake.
This was the first time the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Tourism had ever permitted this, and it resulted in an historic sports event that was the greatest ever seen in the capital city. VSA had been quoted as saying they wanted the Victory 8 boxing to be accessible to all sports and live entertainment fans, and their vision was repaid with more than 20,000 people attending the Legends of Hoan Kiem show. The night also heralded the advent of professional boxing in Vietnam, where local hero Truong Dinh Hoang won the WBA Asia Super Middleweight title.
The rapid trajectory of professional boxing in Vietnam is due to the fanatical efforts of VSP Boxing and the Victory 8 events.
Vietnam Sports Platform (VSP) Boxing are large stakeholders in the Vietnam market, owning the world class VSP Boxing gym in HCMC, and have conducted three massively successful ‘Victory 8’ events in November 2018, March and October 2019.
‘Victory 8’ is rapidly consolidating as the leading brand in Sports Entertainment in Vietnam. They possess significant points of difference to the traditional market perception of what boxing is about. Their strategies are designed to appeal to first time audiences, to youth, and to female fans.
Over 65% of Vietnam’s population is below 35 years old. Victory 8 focuses on young boxers who possess elite skill levels, and who have potential growth. They build the profiles of their competitors so that they can cultivate a knowledgeable and passionate fan base. This has proven to enhance the social aspect for spectators.
“We only work with young athletes that represent themselves, and their respective countries to the highest level. We are conscious of the ongoing value of marketable athletes.” said Robert Hill, matchmaker for Victory 8.
Victory 8 bouts are generally of shorter duration (usually 4 rounds) They intentionally restrict the rounds to keep the entertainment factor at full throttle, knowing that tired and slow fights don’t engage fans. They also recognize that more injuries occur in fatigued athletes. The shorter bouts also allow exposure for more boxers, and the aim is to make every match up a cracker.
Almost half of Vietnam’s boxers are female, and Victory 8 are working to develop future world class women champions. Vietnam possesses lots high echelon women boxers in the amateurs.
Most importantly, what defines a Victory 8 boxing match, is that competitors are evenly matched, and all efforts are made to ensure exhilarating 50/50 fights designed for the fans. Vietnam embodies perhaps the most unique mindset to be encountered in sports. Their boxers prefer to be tested against the very best opponents available, rather than have an easy contest against somebody that they can beat easily.
Vietnamese LOVE a challenge, and this makes for exciting match ups. The ongoing concept is to match top level local athletes with great fighters from around the world. The concept is simple even for first time viewers – Vietnam versus The World!
The Victory 8 formula has seen them record unprecedented numbers, with the first three shows yielding over 12 million television views. These shows, and their associated stories, have achieved a further 10 million views on YouTube and social media channels. This was a sport in obscurity in 2018, yet incredibly, when taken to the masses in 2019, received over 20 million views in its debutant year. Numbers don’t lie – this sport is here to stay!
Plans are already underway for a huge outdoor event in HCMC on April 11. The Victory 8 extravaganza is expected to be conducted in Nguyen Hue – an iconic walking boulevard in the centre of District 1. The area will form another iconic location to celebrate the emergence of Vietnam boxing, and it is expected that the show will generate a crowd of more than 20,000 people. It is rumoured that two professional titles will be hosted on the night, with some of Asia’s elite likely to be taking part. Fighters from Australia, England, Sweden and the Philippines have also been secured to make it a truly international event. VSP Boxing will release more information regarding Victory 8 Nguyen Hue in the coming weeks.