To say ONE Championship star Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen is an active athlete would be a massive understatement.
The 10-2 two-weight ONE World Champion captured both his titles last year, and came within inches of adding a third earlier this year.
Despite losing out to Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes via split decision in his tilt at the ONE Bantamweight Title, the ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion continues on as a two-division king. This weekend, he returns to his original weight class to defend one of his belts at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS.
On Friday, 18 May, Nguyen will face rising teenage star Christian “The Warrior” Lee in a ONE Featherweight World Championship bout. It represents the first defence of his world title against an opponent he’s already defeated.
Nguyen submitted Lee with a first-round modified guillotine choke in a breathless first encounter in August 2016, and hopes are high for a similarly exciting matchup second time around, including from Nguyen himself.
“I believe he has evolved into a new fighter,” he says of his opponent.
“Sometimes it takes a loss to realise our true potential, and he has worked his way back up the ranks.
“I thought he did it the easy way instead of fighting the true number one contender, who is Marat [Gafurov], but it only makes sense to have the rematch now.”
Despite his impressive record, Nguyen says he’ll go into the bout as the underdog. Lee is on a tear, and will be competing in front of his home crowd in Singapore. There is a lot of hype surrounding the teenage star, and Nguyen knows it. But he says he’s happy to play the role of underdog, if that’s how people view him.
“Of course. I think I will be the underdog no matter what,” he explains.
“I have said multiple times that a lot of people keep doubting me. I know when it comes to fights, everyone thinks I am going to lose. I catch everyone by surprise. People close to me know what I am capable of.
“Coming into this fight – with the momentum he has, and with his sister (ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee) being on this card too – I am pretty sure everyone will be picking him as the favourite. But it was the same situation in our last fight.”
When asked to elaborate on how he believes the matchup will end, Nguyen says he plans on adding another finish to his record, especially given the fact that his last bout went to the scorecards, only for him to narrowly miss out.
“My last fight went to a decision. I never really intended that to happen, but there was something to prove when it came to five-round fights,” he says.
“When it comes to me and Christian’s styles, however, we are both finishers.
“Anything he brings, I will be ready for. There will be no excuses from my end. It is either him finishing me, or me finishing him. That is how it is going to go.”
As well as his featherweight title, Nguyen knows he’ll have to defend his lightweight belt sooner rather than later, too. And with a host of top-level lightweight contenders set for action on the same night, a new number one contender may well emerge from the pack.
“Man, any of those matches could be a title eliminator,” he says.
“Anyone who wins those matches could challenge next, and I will be watching those matches closely.
“Eduard [Folayang] has to win. [He may need] a couple more fights before we meet again, but the others make sense.
“Rasul [Yakhyaev] took out Shannon [Wiratchai], who was on a six-bout win streak. He wanted another top contender, which is Shinya [Aoki], who has been at the top of the game for the last decade.
“Whoever wins that could be the next title challenger.”
On the topic of Folayang, the man he knocked out so spectacularly to win the lightweight title, Nguyen explains that he and the Filipino former champion have a respectful relationship, and that he hopes their competitive rivalry won’t stand in the way of a genuine friendship.
“We are part of each other’s journey,” he says.
“We met through martial arts, and martial arts combat is where we competed against each other. I personally do not let that get involved with our friendship.
“I do not know how he feels, but I know we are on speaking terms. I hope he is not taking [the loss] to heart. I know he is working hard to get the title back, but it is what it is. This is our job at the end of the day.”
Of course, there’s always the possibility of Nguyen returning to bantamweight once again for another crack at Fernandes. After all, their first meeting was so close, it split the judges, as well as many learned observers of the sport, on the night. But he admitted he wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin Belingon got the next shot and dethroned the Brazilian before Nguyen gets a second chance.
“Man, it has to happen. It only makes sense,” he says of a rematch with Fernandes.
“In terms of him beating me, look: it was razor-thin. I just have to accept on that day, the judges gave [the victory] to him. I have moved forward already. But for him to beat me decisively [and show] I am not in his league? That did not happen.
“There were mixed reviews that night – there are mixed reviews even now. But if Bibiano wants to go my way and take the rematch later on, I am 100 percent up for it. If he does not want to take the rematch, then he is probably going to get knocked out by Kevin Belingon, so it is what it is.
“Kevin is on a roll at the moment and I salute him. From where he came from with that first fight against Bibiano until now, he has taken out some big guys. He has shot up the ranks and taken out guys who have been on winning streaks.
“I believe he deserves a title shot. It is either me or Kevin for Bibiano, and it is up to Bibiano at the end of the day. The ball is in his court. I will be ready no matter what.”