Vietnamese kickboxers had a strong start to the 31st Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games 31) at Bac Ninh Gymnasium on May 8.
Nguyen Thi Hang Nga started the defence of her title with a 3-0 victory over Teo Vireen of Malaysia in the quarter-finals of the women’s 48kg full contact category.
At SEA Games 30 in the Philippines in 2019, Nga beat Dacquel D.Renalyn of the hosts to take the title. This was also the only female kickboxing gold for Vietnam at the Games.
Nga's path to martial arts was almost accidental - when she was in secondary school, she loved volleyball. However, because her school did not organise volleyball classes, she had to choose a martial art. Since then, she has made a name for herself at domestic and international kickboxing events.
Bui Hai Linh also bested Nao Srey Pov of Cambodia 2-1 in the women’s 52kg low kick, while Nguyen The Huong defeated Nehyeban Carlos Alvarez of the Philippines 3-0 in the men’s 67kg full contact.
However, in the quarter-finals of the men’s 57kg full contact category, SEA Games defending champion Nguyen Xuan Phuong suffered a surprise loss to Arunno Sivapan of Thailand.
As reigning SEA Games champion, Phuong was more fancied than his opponent before the quarter-finals began. However, the Thai boxer was an unknown force at the tournament and is a boxers led coached by the legendary "Saint Muay" of Thailand, Buakaw Banchamek.
Sivapan surprised Phuong with his aggression from the opening bell and took the first round.
Phuong bounced back strongly in the second though. He regained the initiative and continuously attacked Sivapan. His style caused Sivapan to take some damage, leading to a count from the referee for the stunned Sivapan.
Phuong’s victory in the second round left the bout in the balance going into the third. Both boxers smelt blood but, unfortunately for the Vietnamese boxer, a kick from the Thai proved decisive and he lost on points.
The kickboxing event at the Games 31 has nearly 90 boxers from eight countries; Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Singapore. Athletes compete in a knockout format to decide the winners.
Male athletes take part in seven weight classes (51kg, 54kg, 57kg, 60kg, 63.5kg, 67kg and 71kg) while there are five classes (48kg, 52kg, 56kg, 60kg and 65kg). Each athlete can only register for one category.
Kickboxing matches are conducted according to the regulations of the Asian Kickboxing Federation.
This year's SEA Games is the second consecutive event that kickboxing has been included in the competition programme. At SEA Games 30 in 2019, the Vietnamese team won four gold medals, surpassing the host Philippines to lead the team rankings.
The kickboxing event will finish on May 13.