ONE Featherweight & Lightweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen spent the past nine months challenging for titles in three divisions. But on Friday, 18 May, he started defending his gold.
The 29-year-old was successful in his first defense of the ONE Featherweight World Championship, as he defeated his longtime rival Christian “The Warrior” Lee by split decision at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore.
When these two athletes first met in August 2016, the Vietnamese-Australian put the teenage sensation to sleep via guillotine choke in the first round.
This time, however, the pair engaged in a strategic, drawn-out battle.
They opened the bout with much caution, each wary of the other’s finishing abilities. Lee attacked first, sliding in for a body lock on Nguyen, and then slamming the Vietnamese-Australian to the ground.
At one point, the dual-division world champion looked to be in trouble, as “The Warrior” locked him in an anaconda choke attempt against the cage. Despite the teenager’s persistence, Nguyen managed to slide out of the hold and keep his distance as the round drew to a close.
As the second round began, it was clear that Lee was not the same contender “The Situ-Asian” defeated nearly two years ago. The more composed and tactical Singaporean patiently took his time looking for his opportunity to attack.
Unfortunately for him, Nguyen has also evolved, and managed to defend the 19-year-old’s takedown attempts. The “Situ-Asian” was able to hit more consistently towards the end of the round, but Lee managed to evade the strikes.
The third round saw both competitors measuring each other up, knowing full well the championship rounds were near.
Lee, who splits his time between United MMA and Evolve MMA, was continuously frustrated by his rival’s takedown defense. With just under a minute to go in the round, Nguyen surprised him with a takedown attempt, but the teenager was able to stay on his feet.
Entering the championship rounds, the hometown hero looked to be more eager, as the visiting titleholder started taking control of the bout. He finally completed a takedown in the middle of the round, but Nguyen sprung back up to his feet.
The Vietnamese-Australian responded with a lightning-quick double-leg takedown, and rained down furious ground and pound on the challenger. Lee endured the offense and tried to neutralize Nguyen, but the champ would not be denied. The Singaporean eventually kicked his way out of trouble to get back to his feet at the end of the round.
In the final stanza, Nguyen showed tremendous balance by managing to stay on his feet despite Lee’s single-leg takedown attempt.
The Singaporean was also able to defend against a takedown attempt, but the champ would inflict damage to his opponent’s thighs by landing knees from the clinch. Those knees and Nguyen’s low leg kicks from throughout the match looked to have taken its toll on Lee, as he slipped after a kick to his shin in the final seconds of the tilt.
When the final bell rang, the judges were split in their decision. Ultimately, the victory was awarded to Nguyen, and he had the belt presented to him by none other than Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimming world champion of all time.
“The Situ-Asian” improves his record to 11-2, and has a plethora of contenders in both the featherweight and lightweight division waiting for their shot.
Although Lee was not able to avenge his only professional loss nor capture the featherweight world title, he put forth a captivating effort, and could very well challenge for the belt one day again in the future. After all, he is still just 19 years of age.