Martin Nguyen is excited and grateful for the opportunity that stands in front of him at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS on Friday, 27 July.
The ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion has been given a second chance at a third World Title with a bout in Manila against fellow bantamweight contender Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon. The ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title on the line in Manila, the Philippines.
It’s another huge opportunity, and one that Nguyen is hugely grateful to accept.
“No one ever gets opportunities like this,” he admits.
“When someone loses a title shot, they have to go on a five-fight winning streak, or wait a year and a half to two years before they get another shot. There are other people waiting to step up, and you’ve got to take a step back.
“I feel blessed. I get a second chance to earn history-making credentials, and add to my legacy against the number one contender. I’ve just got to be thankful for the position I’m in, and the opportunities that come.
“I’m so thankful Chatri (Sityodtong, ONE CEO) gave me the opportunity to fight Belingon. I thought I was going to fight at lightweight. I want to snatch it, and never let it go.”
While it would be easy to assume Nguyen is simply on a mission to collect belts, the Vietnamese-Australian star’s aims are actually slightly different.
“I’m on a mission now to build my legacy – anybody they put in front of me. I want the big fights,” he says.
“Big fights have nothing to do with money. This is purely me on a mission to build on my legacy. I want people to look back and say, ‘Martin Nguyen? Oh yeah! he fought (Shinya) Aoki, he fought Marat (Gafurov) when he was undefeated, he fought Christian (Lee) when he was on a tear.’
“I want people to talk about me as the first double World Champion who defended all his World Titles. I’ve never turned down a fight – ever. They’ll say, ‘Martin we have this for you,’ and I’ll sign the paper. Eight weeks later, we’re in the cage.”
Nguyen’s latest “big fight” sees him face an aggressive contender who is in the midst of a rich vein of form. “The Silencer” is on a five-bout win streak, including impressive finishes of Toni Tauru, Reece McLaren and, in his most recent outing, Andrew Leone.
“I’m very excited about this match-up,” says Nguyen.
“We both have something to lose now. It’s always up to the challenger to bring it to the champion, and make him show why he deserves to be the champion.
“We’re both the challenger. We both want this, and we both really want to unify the title against Bibiano (Fernandes), who has beaten both of us. This is all or nothing. That should be the headline of the event.”
One interesting narrative to Nguyen’s bout with Belingon is the fact he’s facing off against Team Lakay for the third time. So far, “The Situ-Asian” is 2-0 against Mark Sangiao’s team, but “The Situ-Asian” holds the team, and their head coach, in high regard.
“Don’t get me wrong – when I said Team Lakay fight the same, they do strike the same, but they are forever evolving,” he explains.
“They could come up with a fighting style no one has ever seen. They’re devastating strikers and they like to put their opponents away with devastating strikes.
“They can come back completely different after the first two times. The first time, against Edward Kelly, my game plan was to take him down.
“It was unfortunate for him that they had to stop it, because who knows how that fight could have gone? That was a fight that really deserves a rematch – but we can talk about that later.
“When it came to the Eduard Folayang fight, I just had to go with the flow. He is someone I look up to. He’s humble and a good role model, and I don’t like to hurt anyone like that – but I had to shut everything off and fight my type of fight. Luckily, that paid off.
“For this third fight, I’m pretty sure Mark Sangiao will come up with a perfect game plan to try and put me out, but we’ll have to see what happens. It’s up to me to adjust and figure my opponent out.”
As a two-weight World Champion, Nguyen has a target on his back, with contenders from both the featherweight and lightweight divisions angling to earn a title shot against him.
It comes with the territory, and Nguyen takes it all with a pinch of salt when people call him out.
“I counted – the last four events I got called out four times!” he says.
“I laugh. They have to make a name for themselves to get a shot by mentioning my name.
“Don’t think it goes in one ear and out the other. I see what they’re trying to do and I see their game, but I don’t worry. I’ve already beaten them before they step in the cage.
“They didn’t see the hard work I did after losing to Marat. I took out five guys in devastating style, first-round finishes, knockout after knockout, submission after submission. I put on bout-of-the-night performances to get a rematch.
“I work hard for my rematches, and I believe in ONE Championship’s decisions. In terms of hard work and work ethic, I’m sure ONE will choose the right person to fight me.”
With contenders in ready supply, his views on who he believes he should face as he looks to defend his two titles make for interesting reading.
Following a busy few weeks in ONE Championship, he has highlighted a top contender from each division who he believes is most deserving of a shot at his belts.
“In my head, straight up, the person at lightweight I think deserves it is Ev Ting,” he says.
“He’s worked his way back and taken out devastating guys. He would be a guy I’d like to fight in the future.
“There’s Shinya Aoki and Shannon Wiratchai, and a lot of other guys, but Ev Ting has been more vocal – and his actions speak louder than his words, so that’s one guy I’d love to fight.
“In the featherweight division, I always say the trilogy with Gafurov has to happen, but I’d like to see him win a couple more fights. But man, (Narantungalag) Jadambaa is the guy I’m looking at. He’s another legacy-builder. It’ll be an honour to share the cage with him.”
But before he can turn his attention to his featherweight and lightweight belts, he has to deal with Belingon as he bids to add a strap belt to his collection.
And while “The Situ-Asian” says he’s friendly and respectful with his upcoming opponent, they both know they’ll have to put the pleasantries to one side when they meet at the Mall of Asia Arena on July 27.
“Kevin and I know each other. We don’t talk on a regular basis, but we still talk when we see each other, and we have the utmost respect for each other,” he says.
“This fight is going to be warrior versus warrior. We can continue the friendship, but at the end of the day, we have to think about our legacies. This is our mission, and this is what we have to work on at the moment.”