Vietnamese boxer Thao Tran made history this April as the first Vietnamese to receive a WBC Asia award. Thao was named Boxer of the Year for 2017 after an impressive performance last November, where he won WBC November’s Super Flyweight title. Also known as “The Trigger,” Thao one day hopes to compete on the world boxing stage.
Perhaps inspiring the new generation of Vietnamese boxers, this 26-year-old has finally brought his country into the spotlight in the WBC Asia scene. And as of this June, Thao was ranked 41st in the world. This is the highest ranking in history for a Vietnamese boxer.
Known for having knocked out men in under a minute, Thao sounds like a daunting character. So Vietcetera bravely visited Thao at his gym at Saigon Sports Club to discover more about the person behind the punches.
How did you first get involved in boxing?
As a child, I could have never imagined that I would be where I am today.
I was born into a very poor family. We had so little money that I suffered from malnutrition. And at school, I often got into fights. I needed skills to defend myself, so my older brother brought me to a boxing club. This is where I began to find myself—I could feel the real me while sparring.
The Ho Chi Minh Boxing Team saw that I was a talented fighter and offered to sign me onto their team. At the time, all I could think of was the money I would make by becoming a Vietnamese boxer—how I could help my family with the extra earnings—so I signed the contract without hesitation.
I participated in the amateur league with the Vietnamese National Team for five or six years before getting injured. After taking some time off and returning to the sport, my trainer saw that I carried great potential. He led me into my career in the professional league. And he showed me the beauty of international-level boxing techniques.
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What is the difference between amateur and professional boxing?
It is difficult for an amateur boxer to switch to professional boxing because of the transition from short to long rounds. Amateur boxing lasts only three rounds, and referees count your score—not judges. Professional boxing lasts longer, with fights that can reach 12 rounds. You need real stamina. For pro matches, speed is not what counts, but endurance.
Tell us about your very first professional match.
My pro debut as a Vietnamese boxer was against a Korean boxer. He was well-known and unbeatable at the time—his record was 6-0. That means six wins and no losses. I had never fought more than three rounds before, and I didn’t know what to expect.
His trainer said something to me during my weigh-in that I will never forget: “Can you handle him? I think he’ll knock you out in two rounds.”
I was angry about that comment, and I told myself I would show him the real me. In the end, I won all six rounds. That Korean boxer had nothing on me. I was even awarded the bonus prize “Fight of the Night.” And because I had practiced using the boxing style of Floyd Mayweather, people began calling me “Vietnamese Mayweather”.
What goes through your head when you compete?
First I tell myself, “Kill or be killed—but in a smart way.”
Then I remember how I want everyone to know about my motherland—to see what Vietnamese people can accomplish. I made some progress by winning the WBC Asia title, but every fight can bring us closer to world significance. And I do my best as a Vietnamese boxer to keep winning.
How do you train for a fight? And what does the recovery process look like?
I prepare for three months before each fight. During the first month, I focus on strength. Mornings, afternoons, and evenings I practice. Every session lasts for two hours. Then for the next two months, I practice for two sessions each day to preserve my health.
Regarding diet, at Saigon Sports Club we have a healthy restaurant and juice bar. I receive special blends of vitamins and protein shakes. And I have an English dietitian who keeps my eating on track.
After a fight comes the recovery period. My trainer from New Zealand specializes in healing, and he designs programs—from swimming to sauna sessions—which help me regain strength for my next match.
Can you walk us through a typical day in your life?
I wake up at 5:30 AM and train from 6:00 to 8:00. Then I have some free time, and that’s when I take a nap. My next session goes from 2:00 to 4:00. In the morning I practice my strength, the kind of training I like most. In the afternoon I focus more on endurance and technical skills.
I have another break before evening training, but even during my breaks, I watch boxing matches and analyze people’s techniques. And of course, before a match, I watch my opponent. It’s all in preparation. And this is how I became the “40-second KO guy.”
What does your family think about your career as a boxer?
My parents thought fighting would make me aggressive, ill-tempered, and prone to violence. But in reality, my career as a Vietnamese boxer helps me stay healthy, defend myself, and keep calm. Because I love the sport so much, my family now supports me.
I remember one of my first fights where I was boxing against a huge Chinese man. My mother cried as she watched her son get beaten up. She could hardly bring herself to watch. When I called home—bruised all over—and told her I’d won, she cried even more. My mother cares for me so much.
After your boxing days are over, what do you see yourself doing?
I want to contribute to the community in other ways. For example, I could coach someone who wishes to become a professional Vietnamese boxer.
Once I have more resources, I would like to financially support people who wish to enter the sport but cannot afford it. I want to inspire them—give them the opportunity I had. Right now, on my personal Facebook, every time I win a match, I use my money to buy gloves or shirts to give away to other people.
And if I had time, I would like to do a tour from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh to spread information about boxing…but right now I don’t even have enough time to sleep! I still try to connect with people—I answer my Facebook messages.
What do you want to say to young, aspiring Vietnamese boxers?
There are sports facilities all over the country. Start out there—even if you don’t have any experience. Practice the basics of boxing. Participate in small matches. In fact, we have the facilities here at Saigon Sports Club. And who knows when you may be scouted.
I also want them to know that I am just a regular Vietnamese guy, not as special as everyone seems to believe. The only thing I have is hard work. So if I can do it and succeed, then so can every Vietnamese person. It just takes dedication.