MMA’s First Year as a Legal Sport in Vietnam Shows Promise for the Future of the Sport There

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The Saigon Sports Club recently hosted Bài Danh Chiến 4 (BDC4), an impressive night of combat sports that included amateur and professional boxing, kickboxing, muay thai, and mixed martial arts matches. It was one of a growing number of events to feature professional MMA in Vietnam since the national government legalized the sport in February of 2020 and formed the Vietnam Mixed Martial Arts Federation as its official sanctioning body.

Despite MMA’s relatively new legal status in Vietnam, combat sports like boxing, muay thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu have enjoyed a long-standing and ever-growing popularity in the country. In September of 2019, One Championship, one of the largest martial arts organizations globally and the largest MMA promotion in Asia, made its debut in Vietnam with One: Immortal Triumph. The main event was a bantamweight muay thai championship bout between Thai muay thai superstar Nong-O Gaiyanghadao and French former S1 champion Brice Delval. 

Immortal Triumph’s success and the legalization of MMA are fanning the latent interest in MMA that has been brewing in Vietnam for years. “Vietnam has always had a reasonably big underground MMA scene with guys competing in gyms or smaller shows,” Dan Vinni, a BJJ and MMA fighter and coach with Dragon MMA in Ho Chi Minh City, told Aces Jiu-Jitsu. 

The government was well aware of the underground MMA scene, which was one reason they decided to legalize and organize the sport. 

“In Vietnam, MMA lovers and practitioners have been involved in the sport for a long time, but it was unorganized. It is really the right time to integrate with the world,” Hoang Quoc Vinh, head of Vietnam Sports Administration’s Elite Sport Department, stated when the government first announced the sport had been legalized. “Moreover, we can see MMA has brought huge benefits for the organizing country. If we can manage MMA well, it will be a big financial resource for Vietnamese sports.”

While its MMA community may have been underground and “unorganized” in the past, Vietnam nevertheless produced or hosted several international MMA fighters over the years, including Martin Nguyen, Ben Nguyen, Thành Lê, and Trần Quang Lộc. Most notable among MMA fighters with Vietnamese roots is perhaps Cung Le, who immigrated from Vietnam to the U.S. when he was a child and eventually took up MMA. 

After a stint with Strikeforce, where he defeated the likes of perennial contender Scott Smith and an aging but still formidable Frank Shamrock, Le signed on with the UFC. He suffered a defeat to Wanderlei Silva in his UFC debut before scoring impressive wins over Patrick Côté and Rich Franklin, the latter earning him Knockout of the year for 2012. Le’s stardom peaked in 2013 when the Ultimate Fighting Championship chose him to serve as the lead coach on The Ultimate Fighter: China. Still, his career ended in 2014 after a TKO loss to Michael Bisping and ongoing disputes with UFC management.

There are definitely signs that MMA is a growing sport in Vietnam. BDC4 took place before a sellout crowd of over 1,000 spectators, a considerable feat for a local promotion, and MMA and BJJ gyms such as Saigon Sports Club, Jiboia, and Dragon MMA are flourishing in Ho Chi Minh City. According to a Vietnam Express report from June of 2020, “there are around 5,000 [MMA] practitioners and over 50 clubs across the country.” 

BDC 4 boasted an enviable 18-bought fight card that culminated in three amateur and one professional MMA bouts showcasing a range of talent throughout the night. 

The first amateur MMA fight was an intense, if at times sloppy, brawl between Đinh Văn Hương and Bùi Trường Sinh. Đinh landed a head kick and a couple of double-leg takedowns against Bùi in the 3rd Round and gained a side mount, from which he threw a few elbows but seemed uncertain of what else to do in that position, before being named the winner by decision. 

Phan Thành Nhân and Phạm Ngọc Cảnh showed more well-rounded skills that combined a good mix of striking and grappling in the second MMA match, with Phan getting a TKO win in the second round after landing several good punches. 

The final amateur match up, between Phạm Văn Quyên and Nguyễn Minh Phúc, was another solid performance. Nguyễn took down Phạm towards the end of the second round, but Phạm was able to roll Nguyễn off and mount him for a quick ground and pound that prompted the referee to call the fight for Phạm just as the bell ended the second round. 

The night’s main event started with Đinh Văn Cân and Trần Ngọc Lượng delivering flurries of strikes to each other before Trần moved in for a takedown, transitioned into a high mount, and began raining down punches to secure a victory by TKO stoppage. It was an exciting finish to a long night of intense fighting.

BDC5 is already scheduled for March, and several other MMA events are in the works in Ho Chi Minh City and across Vietnam. 

“I just love martial arts and believe that it deserves high-quality promotion in Vietnam,” Nguyễn Hoài Nam, one of the organizers with Bài Danh Chiến, explained to Aces Jiu-Jitsu. “I want to spread the greatness of martial arts to every corner of VN through a great promotional platform.” 

Nguyễn hopes that the BDC series and other events like it will help to “bring a better life to fighters and coaches, inspire people to open new gyms,” and encourage more people “to train and watch and enjoy martial arts.”

He is not the only one fighting to make that happen in Ho Chi Minh City and the rest of Vietnam.

“I’m glad to say that there has been an increase in the professional types involving themselves behind the scenes, funding shows and gyms, which will benefit the sport in the long term and will lead to more people training to fight,” explained Vinni, who will be competing in an MMA match at the E1 Tournament in Ho Chi Minh City on January 14th. 

“I’ve been coaching all over the world for the last 10-plus years, and I really love Vietnam,” Vinni added. “Having coached all over the country here, I honestly believe that in a few years, Vietnam will be one of the best places in Asia for producing fighters in MMA as well as BJJ.”  

Nguyễn couldn’t agree more. As he put it, “MMA should have a very bright future in Vietnam, and I intend to work my ass off for that goal.”


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