|Nguyễn Ngọc Hải (right) is returning to professional boxing and will be fighting for his first international belt on March 25 in HCM City. Photo of LEAD|
HÀ NỘI — Nguyễn Ngọc Hải never imagined that what began as a way to stay fit at 19 years old would lead to him competing for an international boxing title.
Yet, that dream is now a reality as the 30-year-old prepares to face off against Campee Phayom of Thailand over ten rounds for the vacant World Boxing Association (WBA) Asia South super lightweight belt in HCM City today.
If he wins, he will be the fifth Vietnamese boxer to win an international belt, further establishing Việt Nam as a recognised international boxing hub of the world.
This will be Hải's first time in the ring as a professional in five years, having hung up his gloves in 2018 to provide for his young family.
Hải only started boxing when he was 19 at the suggestion of his brother.
"I went to the gym two or three times a week, just to be fit," Hải told Việt Nam News. "A year and a half later, I joined a tournament in HCM City in 2013, which was my first competition ever."
|Nguyễn Ngọc Hải (right) training ahead of his WBA Asia South super lightweight title fight on March 25 in HCM City. — Photo of LEAD|
Although Hải didn't take win anything at the tournament, his raw talent was noticed by a coach from the HCM City Boxing Federation. Later that year, he invited him to represent the city at the national championships.
Hải rewarded that faith with success, winning silver at the championships.
"I was happy when I received the invitation to fight for HCM City," said Hải, who said it was a watershed moment in his life. "To me, having a chance to box was a big gift. A silver made me feel extremely excited."
Five years later, Hải established himself as a top contender, winning one gold, four silvers and two bronzes at local competitions.
He had also made the leap to professional boxing with an undefeated record of four wins (three knockouts) and three draws.
However, despite his career flying high, Hải had started a family and struggled to make ends meet through boxing.
In 2018, he stepped away from boxing to provide for his family, though he still helped train others at the gym.
Four years later, with his family finances more stable, he is returning to the ring once again.
"I come back because I still love boxing a lot," said 30-year-old Hải. "It is a beautiful sport in all terms of technique, the form of competing and even the clothes."
"Although I did not box anymore, I kept working as a boxing trainer. With my strong fitness and experience, I met with no difficulties when I stepped back into the ring myself."
Hải secured a bronze at the National Boxing Clubs Cup just weeks after his return.
His career achievement was enough for him to receive an opportunity to vie for the WBA Asia South belt.
Challenge but confidence
However, Campee Phayom won't be a walk in the park - he is strong and has more experienced than Hải.
The Thai is 25 years old and has boxed professionally for more than seven years. He has a professional record of 22 wins (14 KOs), two draws and five losses (4 KOs).
|Nguyễn Ngọc Hải is confident of a win, despite the strength and experience of his Thai rival Campee Phayom. — Photo of LEAD|
For a long time, Phayom was seen as a boxing prodigy in Thailand.
At 19, he won a local professional title in the super lightweight class.
He had three title fights, the 2020 WBA Asia super featherweight title, the 2020 WBA Asia South super featherweight title and the 2019 WBA Asia South super featherweight, winning the final two.
He is 2-1 in his last three fights, but Hải is unfazed.
"My coaching board and I have watched his videos," said Hải. "Yes, he is really strong. He has competed much more than me. On my side, it is my first belt match, but I have had 12 years of boxing experience, and I know how to punch when the time comes."
"I have trained well with coaches for a long time in preparation for this match. I am confident in my defence ability and will show off my best in the ring.
"Another advantage for me in this match is home supporters, my family and friends. Their cheering will strengthen my power.
"Definitely, I will fight well and win," said unbeaten Hải, who will have to compete in 10 rounds.
Hải's match is one of three belt fights of the LEAD: Born to Lead pro boxing event held by Shadow Entertainment at the Sài Gòn Sports Club in District 7, HCM City. VNS