Seàn Nolan, Hà Nguyễn & Quỳnh Anh
Eight-time Muay Thai world champion Nguyễn Trần Duy Nhất, who took gold at the SEA Games 31 in Vĩnh Phúc Province last month, secured a second-round submission to start his professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) career 1-0 at the Hà Nội regional qualifiers of the inaugural Việt Nam Lion Championship 2022 tournament on Saturday.
While he fights out of No 1 Muay Thai gym in HCMC, he was competing in the Hà Nội qualifiers as he is flying out to Alabama next month to compete in the World Games.
As well as Muay Thai and SEA Games accolades, Nhất has also competed in the prestigious ONE Championship.
However, his opponent for his debut 60kg MMA bout was no slouch either; Trần Quang Khải (Vietnam MMA Training Centre) was a bronze medallist at Asian Youth Boxing in 2016.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nhất put his Muay Thai skills to good use in the first round, mauling the left leg of Khải with low kicks. The damage was obvious as Khải began to hobble, his lower thigh visibly red and swollen.
In the second, Khải shot for and secured a single-leg takedown. While not in his own established repertoire of skills as a boxer, he was forced to try and find a chink in the armour of Nhất’s Muay Thai dominant skillset — standing toe-to-toe with him was not working.
However, in preparation for his MMA debut, Nhất has also been training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and it clearly paid off.
At first, it looked like he had a guillotine locked in tight, but to Khải’s credit he wriggled out.
Undeterred, Nhất postured up and launched a brief ground-and-pound from the top before isolating Khải’s left arm into a kimura.
Khải bravely fought the inevitable but tapped before it went too far, handing Nhất his first MMA victory via submission.
Showing his class, Nhất immediately helped Khải back up to his feet, putting an arm around him to help him out of the octagon before returning for a lap of honour, lapping up the cheers of the raucous crowd.
Speaking to Việt Nam News after leaving the octagon, Nhất said: “Việt Nam is a country with very developed martial arts. In the likes of the SEA Games, martial arts won a lot of gold medals. I think that in the future Vietnamese martial arts will be very developed and we can promote our Vietnamese martial arts more and more in MMA.”
As well as heralding the start of Nhất’s professional MMA career, the event also marked the beginning of the professional MMA era in Việt Nam. Việt Nam Lion Championship 2022 is the first-ever licensed MMA competition to be held in the country.
Võ Thành Trung, Chairman of Viet Nam Mixed Martial Arts Joint Stock Company, said: “The scale of this year’s tournament is nationwide, with three regions, North, Central and South, to find the best fighters.
“We also have a roadmap for the next five years with the most professional competition systems like UFC or like One Championship.”
The other fight of the main event was a 65kg match-up between Trịnh Xuân Anh and Nguyễn Văn Thật.
Anh, a jiu-jitsu specialist, entered the ring full of confidence, waving to the crowd and shadowboxing the camera during his ring walk.
While Thật came out swinging, when the fight hit the mat the Vietnam Top Team fighter worked hard to secure a threatening triangle from the bottom.
Showing impressive strength, Thật picked Anh up high and slammed him back down to the mat. However, it only served to allow Anh to sink his triangle choke deeper, winning via submission in the very first round.
Dương Đức Tùng of Vietnam Fight Club faced off against Phan Lê Hoàng Linh of Vietnam Top Team in a 77kg contest. Tùng took the middle of the octagon in the first round, landing heavy blows on Linh.
Sensing blood, Tùng switched from patiently picking off Linh from afar to closing the distance and turning the fight into a brawl, beating his chest and sticking out his tongue in defiance before knocking Linh out early in the second.
An 84kg match-up, the heaviest of the night, between Trần Quốc Toản of Vietnam Fight Club and Lương Minh Cảnh of CLB MMA-Kickfitness VN Thanh Hóa was another fight-in-a-phonebooth from the opening bell, with neither fighter taking a step back.
After a back-and-forth, Toản sensed a slight advantage, landing heavy strikes on Cảnh and forcing him to cover up. The fight nearly didn’t make it out of the first round, and Toản thought he had won it, only for the bell to save Cảnh.
To Cảnh’s credit he came out swinging in the second round, though the damage had already been done, and he went down in the second.
In a women’s 52kg bout, Bernard Tiffany, a seasoned 39-year-old stand-up specialist from France, took on Nguyễn Vũ Quỳnh Hoa, a 19-year-old boxer from Thái Nguyên. Entering the ring first, Hoa looked confident, despite her comparative lack of experience.
The opening round was lopsided towards the younger fighter, and after knocking Tiffany down Hoa quickly sunk in a deep armbar.
A 70kg bout between Nguyễn Cát Tùng and Nguyễn Bá Nhì ended controversially. Although Nhì was trapped in the same triangle lock that he spent most of the round and eating hammerfists, the referee called a stop to the contest and declared Tùng the winner, despite the fact Nhì was still conscious and competing.
After the referee waved it off, Tùng looked bemused while Nhì was crestfallen, questioning the referee in the ring before ruefully shaking Tùng’s hand.
The Cầu Giấy Gymnasium has an official capacity of 1,200, though many fans who couldn’t get a seat crowded the steps and walkways around the famed-octagon arena.
After the fights were over, they milled around the arena, trying to get a photo or signature from their favourite fighters.
Việt, 20, was lucky enough to get his boxing gloves signed by Nhất, ending a great night on a high.
“I feel the scale of this event is spectacular,” he said. “This is the first time there is a professional tournament in Việt Nam, so the fans are very boisterous.
“I believe that after this Việt Nam’s martial arts scene will become an explosive movement with many potential fighters.”
Given that this was only the start of the Việt Nam Lion Championship 2022, the future is certainly looking bright for Vietnamese MMA.
Up next in the tournament is the Central and Central Highlands regional qualifiers at the Tiên Sơn Sports Complex in Đà Nẵng City on June 17-19, followed by HCMC on July 8-10 at the Rạch Miễu Gymnasium for fighters in the South.
The quarter-finals will be organised on September 9-11, while the semi-finals will be on October 22-23, with venues being confirmed later.
The finals will be held on Phú Quốc Island in January 2023. VNS