Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen has his sights set on history, as he bids to become history’s first-ever three-division world champion in the cage.
2017 was a year to remember, as the Vietnamese-Australian star knocked out Marat Gafurov to capture the ONE Featherweight World Title, then followed it up with an even more stunning knockout of Eduard Folayang to win the ONE Lightweight World Title.
Now he’s looking to add a third world title to his resume, as he prepares to move down to bantamweight to challenge ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes at ONE: IRON WILL in Bangkok, Thailand, on Saturday, 24 March.
As well as the usual game-planning and skill-sharpening that goes into a training camp, Nguyen has also had to add in a strict diet to ensure he gets down to the required weight for the historic bout. He admits it’s made this training camp one of his toughest yet.
“The whole pre-camp since the holiday has been tough,” he explained.
“Everyone is sharing food, and you are sitting there with your salads or whatever your nutritionist sets out for you, so you cannot do much but watch everyone eat. It was more of a mental challenge, and that was the whole Christmas and New Year’s. But now, my weight is on track. Everything is on track.
Nguyen’s diet has seen him take on a dedicated nutritionist, who has helped him through the tricky holiday period to ensure his energy levels stay high, while he continues to gradually drop weight.
“The nutritionist I have, she is the best of the best. Before I used to semi-starve myself to get the weight down, and once I got the weight down, I could eat whatever I wanted. But I found with the start of this camp, throughout that holiday period, it was hard to drop past 70kg,” he said.
“So my nutritionist jumped on board, and Muscle Meals Direct jumped on board, and it has made my life so much easier. I am eating much more, but I am losing so much weight. I eat three to four times a day, including a massive breakfast. I am full out throughout the day. When it comes to dinner time, I am the hungriest, but I have to go to sleep.
“My nutritionist has my body going up and down on a calorie deficit diet, and the kilos have been dropping off the past couple of months. I have dropped from 72kg to 68kg.”
“I am much more shredded, and my speed and cardio has picked up. You have to lose a little bit of strength, though — you’ve got to give and take. But we are working on my strength at the moment so I do not lose too much. But as far as my speed and my timing goes, it is on point, and when I start peaking, everything will fall into place.”
Of course, the weight is only the preliminary challenge. The real test will come when he faces the most dominant champions in ONE Championship history. Fernandes is riding a 13-bout win streak and hasn’t lost since capturing the ONE Bantamweight World Title in 2013. It’s a test Nguyen says he’ll relish.
“He is a legend. How I see it is he is at the top of the mountain. He is at the pinnacle of his career, and is one of the top bantamweight athletes in the world. I only want to test myself against the best,” he said.
“When I was preparing for Gafurov, I was waking up some mornings at 68kg. I was training hard, yes, and I was in peak performance, yes. But in terms of dieting, I was already halfway down in the weight cut. Throughout that camp, we were like, “What is the next weight class down? Bibiano’s?’ So we were already planning ahead. Once I beat Gafurov, we were going to call out Bibiano, because we wanted that second world title.
“Although I faced Eduard and won the second world title, I have to face the best now. I see Bibiano at the top of the mountain, and I am the underdog, like in every match. I am the lone wolf, and it is the lone wolf who is always hungrier, so I want to get to the top of the mountain and take him out.
“He is an all-around martial artist, and he is a tough opponent. Not only do I want this match, but the fans want to see it. He has knockout power, he has slick jiu-jitsu, he has great cardio – he has it all. He is as complete of a martial artist you would want, and I am still learning. I am still young, but this will be the best Martin Nguyen you will ever see.”
Nguyen has left no stone unturned in his preparation for the Fernandes bout, and has enlisted fellow countryman Reece “Lightning” McLaren – a former Fernandes opponent who gave the Brazilian his toughest test to date – to help identify key openings he can exploit in the Brazilian’s game.
“We are getting different types of athletes in to give me different looks,” he said.
“We even had Reece down here for a sparring session, and he has given me some tips on how he thinks Bibiano competes.
“I am 100 percent confident in this win, and it is not a matter of how I am going to do it, but when I am going to do it. At the start of the match, I will have to weather the storm, but I will take him out from there.”
McLaren’s input has been particularly valuable, with many observers believing the Australian should have been awarded the win when he faced Fernandes in their December 2016 title bout. His experience has been a key component of Nguyen’s preparation.
“He is quick, his nickname is “Lightning,” and it is for a good reason,” said Nguyen.
“He is very, very experienced. I personally thought he won the match against Bibiano [in December 2016], but other people saw it different. It is what it is. He has learned from that experience.
“It is always the one who comes back from a loss that is the hungriest, and having Reece — one of the top Aussie talents — to come down and help me during this camp is a blessing.”
Nguyen is well-drilled and confident of victory, and he’ll have added motivation on his side when he steps into the cage, with his family seated at cageside cheering him on.
“The mother-in-law is going to be at home watching [my youngest daughter], but my other two children will be at the show,” he explained.
“I just want them to enjoy themselves at the event. They said they always wanted to come, so what better time to come than to see their dad win a third world title?
“It is not every day we have the kids there on event week or event day, so I want this one to be a special one.”