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FEATURE/Young boxing league breathes new life into Taiwan sport scene

03/28/2024 04:52 PM
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Boxer Roger Wong (left) fights Hsieh Yu-an in a CFC exhibition bout in Taipei on March 22, 2024. Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship
Boxer Roger Wong (left) fights Hsieh Yu-an in a CFC exhibition bout in Taipei on March 22, 2024. Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship

By Chao Yen-hsiang, CNA staff writer

When Lin Yu-jun (林榆鈞) won a silver medal in the men's boxing 57-63.5 kilogram weight class at Taiwan's National Games on Dec. 25, 2023, that marked the end of the only domestic tournament available for him to take part in two years.

In the meantime, he faced the twilight of his amateur boxing career at the age of 26, despite nearly defeating Lai Chu-en (賴主恩), the 2023 Hangzhou Asian Games silver medalist, in the final by knocking him down several times in Round 1.

Like many boxers in Taiwan who fail to represent the nation on the international stage, such as the Asian Games and Olympics, if Lin wants to stay in the ring, he has to work as a strength and conditioning coach or teach boxing to earn a living, while earning the right to represent a city or county at the biennial National Games for the bonus paid by local governments.

However, with the establishment of the Carry Fighting Championship (CFC) in November 2023, the first-ever international pro fighting league in Taiwan, which has boxing legend Manny Pacquiao as its honorary president, Lin now envisions his career playing out differently.

"The league has extended my career," he told CNA.

Before CFC

Huang Chiao-wen (in blue) bags a bronze medal in the women's 51-kilogram weight class at the Tokyo Olympics on August 4, 2024. CNA file photo
Huang Chiao-wen (in blue) bags a bronze medal in the women's 51-kilogram weight class at the Tokyo Olympics on August 4, 2024. CNA file photo

According to Akon Su (蘇孝肯), head coach of Kenjon Boxing Training Center, boxing competitions can be divided into amateur and professional, referring to different purposes and formats rather than the strength of the boxers.

Amateur bouts supported by Taiwan's government and held by the Chinese Taipei Boxing Association lead to the Asian Games and Olympics, while professional matches are highly commercial, with the World Boxing Organization (WBO), World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Council (WBC) and International Boxing Federation (IBF) being the major four organizations.

Most boxers in Taiwan start out as high school students, but after graduating from university tend to face a lack of competition if they fail to make it onto the national team or do not turn pro, Su, a boxer-turned coach, told CNA.

"Many gifted boxers are forced to leave the ring for various reasons. which is a great shame in the opinion of grassroots coaches like us," said the 34-year-old Su, who has been a coach for over a decade.

Despite the relatively few numbers of Taiwanese amateur boxers, their successes have still helped advance the domestic boxing industry.

Citing Taiwanese boxers' accolades on the international stage, especially those of female boxers like Huang Hsiao-wen (黃筱雯) who won Olympic bronze in Tokyo, Su noted that in recent years more and more boxing clubs have opened in Taiwan, though he did not cite any numbers.

"People have learned that boxing is not only about violence but is an activity that embeds power in aesthetics. Now we have more female clients joining us in training."

Go pro

A jumbotron introduces boxers Lin Yu-jun (left) and Chiu Yu-kai for a CFC exhibition bout in Taipei on March 22. CNA photo March 22, 2024
A jumbotron introduces boxers Lin Yu-jun (left) and Chiu Yu-kai for a CFC exhibition bout in Taipei on March 22. CNA photo March 22, 2024

In addition to the retired Rocky Lin (林明佳), there are a number of active pro boxers in Taiwan, such as Hung Chia-ching (洪嘉慶), Li Yu-che (利育哲) and Nancy Wu (吳沛儀), but pro boxing events are far from popular in the country.

As of 2023, only 15 pro boxing competitions had ever been held in Taiwan, including 11 since 2018, according to BoxRec, an authoritative website recording boxing events around the globe.

That sluggish development did not disappoint die-hard fighting fan Jerry Yen (顏宥騫); instead, the Carry Fighting Sports Group Corp. CEO sees in it a lucrative market worth investing in.

"People's spending on sports in developed countries is generally 2-3 percent, but that number in Taiwan is only 0.7," Yen said in a podcast he recorded last November, pointing out the large potential for growth.

In an attempt to found a pro boxing league, another of Yen's companies, Carry International, worked with DJ Hauer (謝政豪) to organize a serial complex show titled "The Cage" last July featuring bouts between internet influencers with unresolved disputes, and saw over 10,000 people pack the Taipei Arena, along with pay-per-view worth tens of millions of new Taiwan dollars.

Tapping into Taiwanese boxers winning one gold, two silvers and two bronzes at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September 2023, many boxing clubs have seen an increase in interest and now "have no room for new pupils," Yen said.

That response far exceeded Yen's expectations, prompting Carry International to invest NT$50 million to found the CFC and launch the league a year earlier than planned.

The company has signed over 30 boxers to multiple-year contracts for the CFC League and runs CFC Street for non-contracted boxers to fight for prize money. Its first games were staged on March 22 at Legacy Max in Taipei's Xinyi District.

Contracted boxers receive a basic salary higher the government mandated minimum wage as well as money for their bouts and a bonus with consecutive wins, a deal described by Lin as "too good to be true."

What to expect next?

Manny Pacquiao (left) receives the CFC honorary president certificate from Carry International CEO Jerry Yen at a press conference in Taipei on Jan. 9, 2024. CNA file photo
Manny Pacquiao (left) receives the CFC honorary president certificate from Carry International CEO Jerry Yen at a press conference in Taipei on Jan. 9, 2024. CNA file photo

Yen revealed that the business collaboration between the CFC and Pacquiao was brought about by friends, but the Filipino boxing legend has shown more interest in the Taiwan league, which promises further interactions between the two sides' boxers in the future.

Sticking to the criteria of BoxRec, the CFC offers local pro boxers a platform to accumulate ranking points recognized worldwide, enabling them to challenge rivals overseas after amassing enough points.

Su, whose training center the CFC consults to help control the quality of matches, said the league demonstrates how a boxing league could spark commercial interest without compromising professionalism.

The league's operation has created more opportunities for both Taiwan's boxers and the boxing industry, Su said, emphasizing its "street bouts" can effectively elevate the public interest and participation in the sport.

"The appearance of CFC, I believe, is more than the foundation of a league but part of a culture in the making," Su said, and that change means bringing the sport to the public.

In a similar cultural vein, Yen noted on March 22 that the web traffic of "The Cage" was second only to the recent elections in Taiwan, expressing hope that the complex show could one day be as significant in Taiwan as the Super Bowl in the United States or the Spring Festival Gala of China Media Group.

'Not gonna hold back'

The referee (center) announces boxer Hsueh Shao-chun's (left) victory over Lee Yu-cheng in a 75-kg weight class "CFC Street" bout in Taipei on March 22, 2024. Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship
The referee (center) announces boxer Hsueh Shao-chun's (left) victory over Lee Yu-cheng in a 75-kg weight class "CFC Street" bout in Taipei on March 22, 2024. Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship

After his last practice before debuting on March 22, Lin said, "I'm fully prepared in every single aspect and poised to display what I'm capable of doing."

He lived up to his words, taking down his rival by unanimous decision 3-0 after trading punches for four rounds.

The scene is something Lin could not have dreamed of when he narrowly lost to Lai a few months ago, and the attitude of his family has changed from negative to "somehow supportive" and agreeing to support him for one year.

Seizing a ticket to the Titanic as Leonardo DiCaprio did, the young man has a different plan for his "second life" with the new league.

"Now that I have signed it, I'm not gonna hold back," he said.

Enditem/AW

Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship
Photo courtesy of Carry Fighting Championship
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