Two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen is on a mission to make history, and capture a third world title in another weight class. But to achieve that, he knows he has to dethrone one of the very best athletes to ever set foot inside the ONE Championship cage.
“He is a legend,” said Nguyen of ONE Bantamweight Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes.
“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.”
Victory over Fernandes would not only see him claim the biggest scalp of his martial arts career, but also see him become the first three-division world champion in the history of the cage.
It’s a million miles away from Nguyen’s humble beginnings in Liverpool, New South Wales. Initially, Nguyen’s family uprooted from Vietnam in search of a better life, and after brief stops in Malaysia and Indonesia, landed in Australia. Nguyen remembers well the close-knit community he grew up in, which had also made the same journey.
“People of the local suburb and neighbours who had moved all kept close,” he told ONE Championship.
“They stuck together as one big group, and created a community here.
“So basically, the people in the community are not blood uncles, blood aunties, and blood cousins. They are family friends, but I still relate to them as uncles, aunties, and cousins, because they all stuck by each other.
“When they are all together, it is a massive concert. It is like a mini-Vietnam Idol! Man, when they are tipsy and have a microphone, there is no stopping them!”
The young Nguyen initially took up rugby as his chosen sport, but eventually switched to martial arts after a spell on the sidelines through injury.
He walked through the doors of KMA Top Team and never looked back. For a young man who was a self-confessed “wild child” as a youngster, martial arts not only got him into physical shape, it also knocked off the rough edges of his discipline, too, as he explained.
“I started taking up BJJ classes after being a bit overweight, and the discipline through marital arts is on another level, compared to contact sports such as rugby league.”
His fascination with jiu-jitsu led to him entering competitions and experiencing encouraging wins on the mats before trying his hand at amateur martial arts, with similar success. It told him everything he needed to know before deciding his next step.
“It was time for me to bring my skills to the cage and see what I could do.”
What he can do is pretty impressive. Nguyen won his first four bouts and was thrust into a short-notice ONE world title contest against undefeated Russian Marat Gafurov. It proved to be too much, too soon, as he succumbed to Gafurov’s signature rear-naked choke in just 41 seconds.
That loss would have crushed a mentally-weaker athlete, but Nguyen proved he’s made of stronger stuff. He rebounded with four straight wins, all by first-round stoppage, before being pitched into a rematch with Gafurov, this time with a full training camp to prepare.
When he stepped into the cage for the rematch, he was a different animal.
After fighting off an early rear-naked choke attempt from the Russian world champion, Nguyen visibly grew in confidence, and knocked out the previously undefeated champion with a thunderous overhand right to capture the title. It was a moment he described as “surreal”.
“My wife was there for my match in my promotional debut, and she was in the cage when I got my hand raised after beating Gafurov,” he recalled.
“When I jumped off the cage, I saw my wife, and we had this moment again.”
Nguyen repeated the feat with another stunning one-punch KO, as he defeated Eduard Folayang to capture the ONE Lightweight World Title, and tee up his bantamweight title battle with Fernandes at ONE: IRON WILL on Saturday, 24 March.
If he’s successful, he’ll not only achieve a remarkable personal career landmark, he’ll also help achieve his other goal of being an inspiration to others.
“I want to inspire people,” he explained.
“I want them to see the hard work I go through, and if I do end up winning this belt, it all starts from hard work and dedication.
“If you really want something in life, you have to work hard for it. You have to put your head down, set your goals and meet them, and that is what I want to push to the new generation.
“The main thing martial arts has provided me with is discipline, and the values of life — not only through combat sports, but the family values of how people get together, meeting other people, learning their journeys, and experiencing your own.
“It has helped me a lot through life, and with the support of my wife, this martial arts career has been phenomenal. It has been a great journey so far.”