Winning the first-ever World Boxing Organization (WBO) championship for Vietnam, boxer Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi turned to the broadcaster's camera and shouted, "I'm from Vietnam," as a way to express her pride in her nationality and an introduction of Vietnamese boxing to the world.
Nhi made history for Vietnamese boxing after defeating her Japanese opponent , Etsuko Tada, who was the reigning WBO champion, to claim the WBO women's mini-flyweight belt in Ansan, South Korea on October 23.
The new title succeeded Nhi's achievement of the WBO Asia-Pacific belt one year prior.
To prepare for the WBO world championship, she had traveled to Uzbekistan for intensive training.
Struggling childhood and early life
It is evident that the WBO world belt is a worthy reward for all the blood, sweat, and tears that Nhi shed during her pursuit of the sport.
Born in 1996 in the Mekong Delta province of An Giang, Nhi grew up in a poor family before moving to Ho Chi Minh City with her grandmother.
She sold lottery tickets and worked at local diners to earn a living.
Her relationship with boxing started unexpectedly when teenager Nhi merely registered for a martial arts class at her school to get extra grades in physical education.
"It's lucky that my teacher taught me both traditional martial arts and boxing," Nhi told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper from South Korea right after her triumph at the WBO world championship.
"After I had practiced traditional martial arts for a while, he discovered that I'm gifted at boxing and vocationally trained me for the sport.
"This can be considered the turning point of my life."
Contrary to her lucky start, the pursuit of boxing was no walk in the park for Nhi as the young girl bore both the pressure of livelihood and training pains at the same time.
"I was paid no salary when I first started training as I was not a member of any team," Nhi said.
"The scariest thing at that time was that being in training almost all day long left me with no time to do any other things.
"I used to have thoughts of giving up [boxing] to [do other jobs to] make a living.
"But I realized that my passion for boxing was aroused from those hard training days."
A stepping stone
Nhi made her official debut in the ring in 2015 at a semi-professional boxing competition, which is the first of kind in Vietnam, organized by Kim Sang Bum, a South Korean manager of the Cocky Buffalo boxing club in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
The Vietnamese boxer then rocked the international boxing world with her victory over the world famous boxer from the Philippines, Gretchen Abaniel, at the Victory 8 boxing tournament in 2018.
"Immediately after that victory, Kim invited me to join the Cocky Buffalo club to receive training and develop a professional career," Nhi said.
The club's strong investments, including inviting Park Yong Kyun, a South Korean former world champion certified by the World Boxing Association (WBA), to directly coach Nhi, significantly improved her combat skills.
Nhi's persistence, tenacious will, passion, and hard work during her time at the club fully prepared her for professional competitions.
No cross, no crown
Before the WBO world championship bout, Nhi won all four of her professional fights, including one by knockout.
To prepare for the battle against Japanese WBO champion Tada, Nhi traveled with her teammates at the Cocky Buffalo club to Uzbekistan for intensive training.
In Uzbekistan, they spent time at the Yangiabad mountain training ground, where the Uzbek athletes that just attended the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and strong boxers from Cuba, the UK, Kazakhstan, and Hungary also practiced.
"This trip trained me in physical strength, speed, and accuracy when striking," Nhi recounted.
The Vietnamese boxer shared that she faced a great deal of difficulty from her loss of appetite during her first days in Uzbekistan.
"I lost four kilograms and had low blood sugar in the first three days.
"At that time, I told myself to work hard for my dreams, so I tried to eat to stay healthy.
"After that, I got used to the local food and managed to make a successful adaptation to the environment like everyone else."
Nhi's willpower to overcome hardship was well rewarded.
Even though Tada's powerful attacks caused her eyelids to bleed, she still resolutely responded and prevailed with precise and powerful strikes.
After 10 rounds, the referee declared a 96-94 victory for Nhi, making her the first Vietnamese boxer to win the world championship.
'I will keep going'
"Boxing has completely changed my life in a positive way," Nhi said one day after the triumph, adding that the sport helped her temperament become calmer and earned her decent income to take care of her family.
"In addition, I am happy to be known by many people.
"When I go outside, people often recognize me as a boxing champion.
While commenting that the match against Tada was the hardest for her so far, Nhi said that she expects to defend the WBO world championship against many other strong fighters in the future.
"I will also consider moving up to a higher weight class to challenge myself," the Vietnamese boxer added.
"I will keep going, not stopping here as I still have a lot of boxing dreams to fulfill."
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