from extreme poverty to the title of world champion in boxing

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Ho Chi Minh City (AFP) – After childhood on the streets, Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi fought against poverty and gender bias to become the first Vietnamese boxing world champion.

In October, the 25-year-old suffered a surprise defeat to defending champion Etsuko Tada of Japan to claim the WBO world strawweight belt.

This is a remarkable achievement for a female athlete with a low start in a conservative society where women’s participation in sport, especially combat, is often underestimated.

Having difficulty in school, Nhi turned to boxing at the age of 13 and was spotted by a coach from the Ho Chi Minh City (south) team.

The teenager lives in a small house and devotes himself to training to lift his family out of poverty.

“My motivation was to make money, so I trained harder,” he told AFP.

“I don’t have time to go out and have fun. I practice almost every day of the week.”

The rest of the time, he tried to earn a few cents on odd jobs.

“I used to make money selling lottery tickets on the street, serving noodles in restaurants. I did whatever I could to earn money to help my family,” Nhi said after a session at the center. National Training Center in Ho Chi Minh City.

One title was won after only 5 pro fights

His world title, he won by points in his fifth professional match only, against his Japanese opponent, taller and more experienced than him. A big surprise.

Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi, world boxing champion, on April 22, 2022 in his training room in Ho Chi Minh City Nhac NGUYEN AFP

“I can’t believe I won. I stayed up all night with the championship belt next to my bed,” she said.

In Vietnam, where communism is intertwined with traditional Confucian beliefs, misogynistic attitudes towards women in the sport persisted and Nhi had to endure ridicule as she continued her journey.

“My neighbors keep asking my grandmother why she let me box like men,” Nhi said.

“I have to do everything to show them that the path I have chosen is the right one for me. I live by my passion for boxing. I’m better at them.”

But these challenges only strengthened his determination.

“I’ve always been doing everything I can and pushing my body to its limits since I was little,” he said.

Six months after his success, Nhi’s boxing career is at a crossroads as he seeks to juggle professional fights and amateur events.

In Vietnam, athletes must continue to balance their contracts with professional advocates with their legal obligations to the national sporting authority.

At the end of April, the WBO federation informed him that his world title had been revoked from him because he had not defended his crown within the statutory period of 180 days.

A failure that did not weaken him, even as he withdrew from the Southeast Asian Games to be held in his country in mid -May.

Goal, world championships in Turkey

The boxer is now focused on the upcoming amateur world championship that will simultaneously take place in Turkey.

Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi faces his sparring partner on April 22, 2022 in Ho Chi Minh City
Nguyen Thi Thu Nhi faces his sparring partner on April 22, 2022 in Ho Chi Minh City Nhac NGUYEN AFP

“My goal now is to win a medal in Turkey, to prove to everyone that I can go two ways, novice and professional,” Nhi said.

Whatever the rest of his career, boxing changed the life of a teenager who earns only a few cents a day.

Now the state pays him a fixed salary and he receives income for shows on television programs.

This allows him to lay to afford one day “an apartment or a cottage”.

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