Sports - May 4, 2021 | 08:56 am GMT+7

Vietnamese boxer prepares for tough IBA World Championship clash

Tran Van Thao has been preparing himself both mentally and physically for his clash with Tanzanian Fadhili Majiha in a world championship bout in HCMC this July.

For the past few months, the "Vietnamese Mayweather" has been training at Trigger Boxing Gym, his home turf in HCMC's Tan Phu District, to prepare for the biggest fight of his professional boxing career, the International Boxing Association (IBA) Bantamweight World Championship.

The 29-year-old fighter said after beating Filipino boxer Aries Buenavidez at the World Boxing Organization (WBO) Asia Pacific bout staged in Cambodia in February 2020, his fighting spirits were dampened as the Covid-19 outbreak robbed him of a chance to vie in local and international events.

"After my 13th win, I was feeling on top and ready to compete in more tournaments. But the global pandemic derailed everything. Just practicing and not getting in the ring was very stressful. Boxers like me really need to be able to go back out to the ring to fight real battles."

Fortunately, Vietnam allowed local sports events to resume after the nation successfully stamped out the third wave of infections earlier this year. As a result, Thao was able to take part in one club tournament and fought with members of the national boxing team to regain his motivation.

To best prepare for the historical event, Thao spent time researching the Tanzanian boxer, his toughest opponent to date, by re-watching old match footage.

While the Vietnamese star has pocketed 13 wins and one loss, his 27-year-old opponent has competed in 44 professional matches with 26 wins, 14 losses and four draws and won the WBA Pan African Bantamweight championship in 2018.

Thao said that while his opponent has more experience and boasts a bigger muscle mass with great stamina, he and his coach Trinh Van Tri (L) came up with a training method that enhances his agility and reaction time, an advantage heading into the championship.

With about three months left until fight day, July 8, Tri said Thao's training regimen is divided into three stages, the current first focusing on building muscle mass. He will then move on to stamina and endurance training in order to withstand attacks over 12 rounds before moving on to the final stage - pushing the fighter's heartbeat to the limit to help shorten recovery time.

Tri said that "One of the key factors that greatly affect the outcome is how well a fighter recovers during the break. A boxer who can regain strength better will have a better performance than the opponent."

Thao said he wakes up every day at 6 a.m., then heads out to a park near his apartment to do some cardio. According to the regimen, after cleaning up and having a light breakfast, he will complete a 12 kilometer run every even day and 5 kilometer speed training on the other, in which he will be timed and expected to complete faster the following week.

Once done, he will change clothes and head to the gym by 9 a.m. to continue training until noon and then take an hour lunch break at the gym. After the break, he will begin training from 2 p.m. to the evening and repeat everything the following day.

Thao has lunch with green salad, mango, boiled corn and sweet potatoes.
"All I have to do is eat, sleep and train," he said, sharing that he does not have to worry about cooking.

"I'm following a lean-muscle diet, consisting of 30 percent meat and 70 percent vegetables and beans. Eating vegetables all day and every day can be boring, but that is the only way to keep your body in its top shape."

His coach allows to him to have anything he wants at night but the amount has to be moderated and the food lightly seasoned.

Besides setting out a training program, Tri also asked Thao to move in and live with him to prepare him mentally for the match.

"As a coach, I need to have a strong connection with Thao, meaning I will have to understand what Thao is thinking and how to untangle any worries by putting myself in his position. For example, when Thao is exhausted after training and failed to block an attack from me, I will be able to catch his emotions and thinking and give him the best advice he needs in that situation," the coach explained.

Thao said since the event would be staged at Trigger Boxing Gym, he holds a home-turf advantage of supporting fans.

"No matter what the end result is, I want to spend more time with my friends and family after the match. I hope all my hard work will bear fruit and I will be able to bring home the world championship belt."

Thao said winning the title is also a way to put Vietnam on the world boxing map and show the world there is a huge local potential for this sport to be further developed.

"When I can no longer compete as a professional boxer, I wish to become a coach one day to nurture future talents for Vietnam," he added.

Thao admitted he is a bit nervous ahead of the July bout, but is more mentally prepared than for his first professional clash in November 2017, when he defeated Indonesia's George Lumoly to become the first Vietnamese boxer to win a World Boxing Council (WBC) Asia title. He could not compete in the 2018 WBC championship after a traffic accident. Since he could not defend his title, organizers decided to strip him of his belt.

Story and video by Dang Khoa

Photos by Huu Khoa