The most historic bout in ONE Championship history took place last Saturday, 24 March. An unmistakable big match atmosphere took over the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand, as two of the greatest champions in the promotion’s history collided.
ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes made his record-extending eighth title defense against ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen in the main event of ONE: IRON WILL, and it did not disappoint.
In the end, Fernandes had to dig deep to pull out a gutsy performance, ultimately winning by razor-thin split decision, and overcoming a spirited effort from the Vietnamese-Australian.
The first round started off with both men extremely cautious of what the other was capable of. For Fernandes, it was as simple as avoiding a clean hit from Nguyen’s vaunted overhand right. For Nguyen, going to the mat against a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt like Fernandes would be ill-advised.
They circled at the center of the ONE cage, carefully sizing each other up with neither man taking unnecessary chances. Nguyen looked to time a big shot for the majority of the contest, while Fernandes, who was well aware of his rival’s shocking knockout power, did most of his defensive work avoiding Nguyen’s frequent traps.
Sooner or later, however, Nguyen’s much talked about right hand was going to find its mark one way or another. As the Brazilian kept a high guard to protect his left side, “The Situ-Asian” began targeting his opponent’s lead leg with stinging low kicks.
With the tension beginning to build, both martial artists turned up the pressure in the second round, as they had each found their groove.
Appearing more comfortable in the second frame, Fernandes would become increasingly aggressive, stalking Nguyen with added gusto. By the middle of the stanza, he was actively pursuing the takedown.
Nguyen however, would prove as elusive as ever, and was extremely difficult to keep on the mat. In the rare occasion when Fernandes would take him to the canvas, the Aussie would pop immediately back up.
With a sense of urgency in the third round, Nguyen picked up the pace, but “The Flash” remained composed throughout. A pair of thunderous right hands landed for Fernandes to open the stanza, with Nguyen pressed up against the cage defending in the clinch.
At the midway point, however, Nguyen launched an overhand right elbow that connected on Fernandes’ forehead. It seemed to startle the bantamweight world champion, as he constantly checked on the wound.
On the other side of things, “The Situ-Asian” grew more confident with his striking, letting his combinations fly more frequently. An overhand right that landed on Fernandes’ temple rocked him, and Nguyen moved in for the finish.
The Brazilian, ever the veteran, used his experience and championship mettle to power through his predicament. He regained his bearings, returned fire with a right hand of his own, and then swiftly took Nguyen’s back to threaten with a rear-naked choke.
With no clear winner after three rounds of solid action, it was clear the victor would be decided in the championship rounds – and this is when Fernandes absolutely shone.
In the fourth and fifth rounds, Fernandes turned up the aggression. He beat Nguyen to the punch on multiple occasions, and began to pull away on the cards. He outworked “The Situ-Asian,” who appeared content to look for that one big punch to put the defending champion away for good. However, the opportunity never presented itself.
In the final moments of the bout, “The Flash” caught Nguyen with an explosive right hand that nearly finished the two-division world champion, and sent him reeling against the cage fence. Both men proceeded to ride it out to the final bell.
Ultimately, two of the three judges sitting cage side saw the bout in favor of Fernandes, who retained his ONE Bantamweight World Championship.
The victory saw Fernandes improve his overall record to 22-3. He also extended his win streak to 14, and claims the record for most wins in the promotion at 10.
Nguyen falls to 10-2, and will now turn his focus to defending his ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Championships.