A former doctor, a movie star, and a former UFC Middleweight Champion make up the 3 lone Mixed Martial Arts instructors in the country of Vietnam. Long Nguyen (doctor) runs the Vietfighter gym in Hanoi, while Johnny Nguyen (movie star) and Dave-muthafuckin-Menne (ufc veteran) run MMA programs in Ho Chi Minh City. The sport's popularity mostly resides among young males living in urban areas, with the majority of the people training, at least while I was there, being expats, because only a few Vietnamese people have any interest in Mixed Martial Arts training. Vietnamese UFC fighters: Cung Le and Nam Phan are fairly popular among young Vietnamese, and with the UFC's recent dip into the Asian market, the popularity of MMA grows everyday. However, since Vietnam doesn't have a history of combat sports it makes it difficult for Vietnamese people to accept MMA. Boxing for example, only recently became re-legalized by the government, and traditional Vietnamese martial arts are practiced for their cultural significance rather than their real life effectiveness. Though there are signs that awareness is growing, the MMA community in Vietnam is very small and is only beginning to plant its roots in the country.
Like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts is very much a foreign concept. Long and Johnny both learned the sport while living abroad, Long in Australia and Johnny in the United States. The UFC only recently started broadcasting events in Vietnam, and the Cung Le vs Rich Franklin fight was the first event to get a big push in country. Le even visited the Vietnam and gave some seminars to help promote the sport. Most locals don't know much about the sport and few understand how it works. The only advertisement for MMA that I saw was at a foreigner bar in Nah Trang, one of Vietnam's biggest tourists towns.
Though the numbers are small, some Vietnamese people do follow MMA. According to Johnny, "The younger crowd that [is] in touch with the Internet" make up the majority of MMA fans among Vietnamese. In HCMC, Vietnamese locals make up most of Johnny Nguyen's students at the Lien Phong Training Centre. Johnny's celebrity status and notoriety brings in Vietnamese locals that want to learn under the action star. Students at Lien Phong are thrown into MMA off the bat. Students are taught to look for striking opportunities on the ground, and takedowns on the feet. Johnny teaches a pure MMA style. Much like Dave Menne's MMA class at the Saigon Sports Center. On the other hand, Long Nguyen rather develop his students' basic skill sets in both striking and grappling before mixing them together.
The fact that Veitnam doesn't have a long history of martial arts is a tough obstacle to overcome when introducing MMA. There is some interest in the sport, but it's only recently begun to grow. Long Nguyen explains that though people aren't necessarily training in MMA, there is a niche that is drawn to MMA. "There's a big fitness gym... nobody does MMA there, but they have a cage... [it's for] the image." Unfortunately for Long, Vietfighter doesn't have a cage and some potential students are turned off by not getting to live out their idea of MMA training.
The fact that a fitness gym uses the cage as gimmick to attract potential clients can only be good news for the future of MMA in Vietnam. Furthermore, with TUF: China wrapping up its inaugural season, and the UFC doing more and more shows in Asia, MMA in Vietnam can only become more popular; whether or not it will ever be mainstream is another question. "I'd be really happy if it gets really really popular... [but] honestly I just don't know," says Long. The future of the sport lies in the younger generation. Through online media and Johnny Nguyen's action movies, anyone can be introduced to MMA. Potential fans can follow their favorite fighters on twitter, learn about future bouts on MMA news-sites, and watch fight videos. Should these guys and gals feel curious enough to try the sport out, Long Nguyen, Johnny Nguyen, and Dave Menne are there to help them explore this emerging sport. But before anyone gets on the mat to train, interest in the sport has to take root. Hopefully with the UFC's expansion into Asia, Vietnamese folk can learn to appreciate the excitement of MMA as either fans or future fighters.
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