Outdoor boxing has returned to Ho Chi Minh City for the first time in 20 years, having debuted at the National Sports Festival last week.
An excited crowd of thousands packed the open arena at the Phu Tho Sports Center in District 11 (with a capacity for only 800) on Friday, surrounding the boxing ring hours before the competition started at 7:00 pm.
Admission was free, and those who came late had to stand, filling in the empty spaces around the ring. Others climbed over the entrance gate and sat on the wall of the sports yard.
Dragon and lion dances were performed before the matches, adding to the charged atmosphere.
The crowds thunderously applauded after each boxer’s name was announced before the matches.
Fans clapped and shouted during the matches to support the boxers, especially when a boxer in a disadvantaged position counterattacked.
“I’ve watched many boxing matches, but it’s quite extraordinary to watch those organized outside like this,” said one audience member, Nguyen Van Lam. “The fans are in the mood to support and cheer.”
Outdoor rings of the past
Last week’s outdoor matches were reminiscent of matches nearly 20 years ago, during the heyday of Vietnamese boxing.
Huynh Huu Chi, a senior spectator, said, “I saw the last outdoor boxing match 19 – 20 years ago. Boxers fought fiercely back then. Life was difficult but fans packed the arenas despite entrance tickets costing VND5,000 – 10,000 [less than 50 U.S. cents now].”
He added, “Fans are more ‘tame’ than in the past. Back then, fans clearly knew the background of each boxer and counted down to the fights for months, eagerly awaiting the matches.”
Phan Van Muoi, a former boxer who was nicknamed “The Decapitator” by fans in the 1980s, recalled, “In the past, there were no seats for the fans. However, they rarely sat on the ground because they were jumping up and down and cheering wildly.”
Muoi remembers that the boxing ring was not as good as it is now, as the platform was made up of hard wooden planks. Boxers thus hit the platform hard when they fell.
The ring was dimly lit, and sometimes a match had to be suddenly suspended when the light posts were accidentally knocked down by the boxers.
Muoi added that few boxers could earn their living by boxing because “a winner earned a mere VND30,000 and a loser might get nothing. Boxers were dependent on the owners of boxing schools.”
“There used to be many famous boxing schools in Ho Chi Minh City, such as Kim Ke in District 5, Mai The Hoa in District 4, Nguyen Huu Tiet in District 1, and Minh Thanh in District 8. But now I don’t know of any boxing school in the city,” he said.
Trinh Viet Ha, chief of the Phu Tho Sports Center, said he wants to revive fans’ love for boxing by organizing outdoor matches to allow the fans to be closer to the boxers.
He added that in the future, organizers will sell tickets to watch boxing matches.
“Organizers can earn profits from selling tickets and advertisements thanks to the love of fans for the sport,” he said confidently.