Nguyễn Trần Duy Nhất with the men's 60kg Lion Championship belt. Photo courtesy of Vietnam Mixed Martial Arts Federation

The inaugural Lion Championship came to a thrilling conclusion on Saturday night with seven championship belts on the line at the Corona Resort & Casino Phú Quốc.

Fan-favourite Nguyễn Trần Duy Nhất had to dig-deep against last-minute replacement Nguyễn Tiến Long. The 31 SEA Games and 2022 World Games Muay Thai champion had been billed to face Võ Thành Trung, who withdrew a couple of weeks ago due to a shoulder injury.

Long, who appeared in the 65kg semi-finals in Hà Nội, faced a challenging couple of weeks cutting to 60kg in time for Friday's weigh-ins, but didn't show any signs of fatigue in the octagon.

He took Duy Nhất down several times over the course of the five-round fight, but couldn't inflict any real damage. In a testament to Duy Nhất's improving grappling, he reversed a couple of mounts, though he too struggled to make much headway on the ground.

After five five-minute rounds, the judges scored the contest 48-47 46-49 49-46, crowning Nhất Lion Championship's first 60kg champion by split decision.

Vietnam Top Team

Vietnam Top Team came to the Lion Championship's final round with three fighters in contention for a belt.

In the opening fight of the night, 56kg wrestler Phạm Văn Nam took on Đỗ Huy Hoàng.

Vietnam Top Team's bleach-blonde Nam kept Hoàng on the back foot for most of the fight as he looked for a takedown, though his opponent managed to defend well.

In the final round, Hoàng opened a large cut on Nam's nose from his back, leading to the referee calling a lengthy blood stoppage. However, it wasn't enough to convince the judges, who scored the fight 48-47, 46-49, 45-49 in favour of Nam.

Hoping to follow in his teammate's footsteps, crowd-favourite Trịnh Xuân Anh took on Nghiêm Văn Ý for the 65kg belt.

Jiu Jitsu purple belt Anh, who won all his previous fights on the way to the final via submission, wasn't active enough on his feet as he looked to set up a takedown, giving Ý plenty of time to see the threat coming.

In the second round, Ý was lucky that an illegal soccer kick to the head whistled past Anh without connecting. The referee stopped the fight and gave Ý a warning.

In the end, the fight went the distance, with the judges scoring it 49-46, 49-46, and 49-40 in favour of the CLB Wushu King fighter.

Vietnam Top Team's Vietnamese-Polish fighter Kamil Michael Nguyễn Văn faced Trần Quang Lộc for the 70kg strap. Lộc was Việt Nam's first professional mixed martial artist and the first domestic fighter to win in ONE Championship, Asia's premier fighting organisation.

For Kamil Michael, there was more than just the belt on the line; this was a chance for redemption that had been four years in the making.

The two previously met in the 2018 2018 Mekong Fighting Championship, with the more experienced Lộc winning over three rounds.

After five rounds, the judges scored the contest 50-45, 48-46, 48-47 in favour of Trần Quang Lộc, who handed his belt to Vietnamese-American filmstar and martial artist Johnny Trí Nguyễn in the octagon.

Other results

In the other championship fights of the evening, Russian Aleksei Filonenko weathered an early head kick to beat Lý Văn Huỳnh with a ground-and-pound to take the 77kg belt, and Dương Thị Thanh Bình beat Nguyễn Thị Uyển Nhi with an Americana submission in the 56kg category.

In a generational clash, Nguyễn Thị Thanh Trúc, 32, took on Nguyễn Vũ Quỳnh Hoa, 19, for the 52kg belt.

The 'Queen of Muay Thai' Thanh Trúc, who hails from Đắk Lắk, came out dressed in the traditional clothing of the Central Highlands. Her opponent, the 2021 Vietnam MMA Cup champion, is one of the rising stars of Vietnamese MMA, and she opened the fight on the front foot.

However, Thanh Trúc's experience came to the fore, and she won via rear-naked choke in the second round.

As well as the championship belt, all winners of the Lion Championship received VNĐ200 million, and the right to defend their title next year. Their defeated opponents received VNĐ40 million.

Organisational slip-up

Undermining some of the glitz and glory of the Lion Championship's final round was the farcical state of the octagon.

From the very first bout, fighters struggled to keep their balance on a floor that more resembled an ice rink than a stage for professional mixed martial arts.

Despite stewards drying the floor between rounds with mops and towels, the issue was so bad that referees even called time-outs mid-round to summon the stewards back in a vain attempt to make the surface safer.

The distraction took some of the shine off what has otherwise been a very-well organised first foray into professional mixed martial arts in Việt Nam. VNS