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The man who rewrote Vietnamese boxing history

By Thang Nguyen   March 12, 2020 | 02:00 am PT
The man who rewrote Vietnamese boxing history
At the age of 24, Nguyen Van Duong has achieved the first milestone in his career - an Olympics ticket. Photo by VnExpress.
Small but lethal ‘Little Chicken’ Nguyen Van Duong has become the first ever Vietnamese featherweight boxer to qualify for the Olympics.

When he first started boxing at the age of 13 in 2009, he weighed only 32 kg (70.5 pounds), and his teachers and friends gave him that nickname.

In the professional world, defending well and controlling the tempo of the bout are keys to winning, and top boxers like Floyd Mayweather, Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua are good at that. But on the amateur circuit, attack is the best way to make an impression and bridge any gap in skills.

Duong has always chosen to be attacking and fight from close range since he can hardly defend with his small stature.

A new rule that came in 2019 helped him beat the famous Chutchai Butdee in the Olympic qualifiers in Jordan this week. The rule gives the match to a fighter who knocks his opponent down twice in a round. Duong entered the ring like a hurricane against the Thai boxer and went at him with a flurry of fast and powerful jabs to the face and head and floored him twice right in the first round.

Butdee is a household name in Southeast Asia. He has four SEA Games golds and a continental title he won in 2015. He was voted Thai athlete of the year in 2013.

Three months ago Butdee clashed with Duong for the first time in the SEA Games 30 final and won easily on points. The latter had been injured in both eyes in the semifinals against Myanmar’s Latt Niang which affected his vision, but it is not known if that was a factor in his loss.

Nguyen Van Duong holds the ticket to Olympic Tokyo 2020 after beating Thai boxer Chatchai Butdee on March 9, 2020. Photo by VnExpress.

Nguyen Van Duong has booked a ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by beating Thai boxer Chatchai Butdee in a qualifier on March 9. Photo by VnExpress.

The win in the Olympic qualifier was not Duong's first against a more fancied opponent. At the Victory 8 – Legends of Hoan Kiem international tournament in Hanoi last October, he went up against Filipino boxer Jenel Lausa. Lausa had been unbeaten until then, and dominated Duong with accurate punches. In the final round, Duong was set to lose by points and his only hope of victory lay in knocking out his opponent. He did exactly that with just a few seconds left with his trusty left jab to the chin.

Before the Tokyo Olympic qualifiers in Jordan, Vietnam's qualification hopes were pinned on two women boxers, Nguyen Thi Tam in the 51 kg category and Nguyen Thi Huong in the 75 kg category. But when Tam lost to China’s Chang Yuan, the pressure was suddenly on Duong and he responded in style, duly winning a ticket to the 2020 Olympics.

Duong’s idol is the legendary featherweight Naseem Hamed. His ring craft is what ‘Little Chicken’ hopes to emulate, and, still only 24, he has plenty of time to do that.

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