Two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen is frustrated.
The 29-year-old successfully defended his featherweight world title for the first time on 18 May, as he beat longtime rival and hometown favorite Christian “The Warrior” Lee via split decision, in a rematch at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore.
Despite getting a second victory over Lee, the Vietnamese-Australian is not happy to have gone the distance with the teenage sensation, who he put to sleep via modified guillotine choke when they first faced off in August 2016.
Now, just a week removed from his five-round battle, Nguyen plans to return to KMA Top Team this weekend to resume his training and improve his martial arts skills.
In this interview, “The Situ-Asian” talks about the next challenge he wants to take on in his historic career.
ONE Championship: What did you learn about yourself from that match with Christian Lee?
Martin Nguyen: I respect my skill a lot more. Christian is no joke when it comes to taking his opponents to the ground and imposing his will. Bibiano (Fernandes) could not take me down and impose his will on me. I backed it up against Christian.
Christian has taken out his last four opponents by submission, ground and pound, and his signature wrestling slam, so his ground game is legit. No one can ever question it. He has athleticism, and he is a ground wizard. For me to excel past his ground wizardry, I respect my skills 100 percent now.
ONE: You went 25 minutes with Fernandes in March, then again with Lee last weekend. Do you believe you proved something after all your other bouts finished quickly?
MN: Definitely. My whole career, prior to the Bibiano fight, it has been, ‘Martin has never been past the second round, so how is his gas tank?’ Everyone was questioning my gas tank, and I never had an issue with whether I could go five rounds, or even go three rounds.
No one has ever seen me go three rounds, so it was just a matter of time. Now that I have gone five rounds — not once, but twice — I am sure my cardio is not an issue anymore.
ONE: In both those matches, you wanted to get the knockout, but instead they went to split decisions. Does that bother you?
MN: It has happened twice now. Both of my opponents were wary of what I have, and they have been studying what I have been doing my whole mixed martial arts career. Now in terms of going 25 minutes with both guys, it was like a chess match. It was a boring fight [with Christian], and I do not like those type of fights.
The first thing I am going to do when this Saturday comes is revamp my whole game in terms of wrestling, and in terms of manipulating my opponents to initiate a strike, instead of them running away like both guys did. There is always a new learning curve and there is always room for improvement.
ONE: In your opinion, who are the top contenders in the lightweight division?
The top contender I would say is Shinya [Aoki], just judging off the time he has put in, his track record, and everything [he has accomplished] in mixed martial arts. I would reckon he is the top contender. Eduard is still a top contender, too, but he needs a few more bouts before he gets another title shot.
ONE: Before the match with Christian, you said you thought Marat Gafurov was the number one contender at featherweight. Do you still feel that way?
MN: I still feel the same, but Marat is in the same situation as Eduard. Everyone thinks Eduard is the number one contender, but he got knocked out, and Marat got knocked out. Both have won their matches since losing to me.
Personally, I think they need another win or two, decisively, to get their title shots again. But in terms of Marat, there is no denying it: the trilogy match must happen. We are 1-1. Even I say we have to fight again.
In terms of fighting for the title, I would like to see him fight one more guy, at least, before [he challenges] for the title again.
ONE: Since you are eager to compete again, when could you return, and who is the opponent you have in mind?
MN: Realistically, I would want to return 27 July (at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS), which is in Manila, Philippines. And if Bibiano is out, I would fight Kevin Belingon for the interim title or number one contender spot.
Honestly, he deserves nothing but the best. He has taken out top contenders in devastating fashion. He is the one who deserves the title shot next. Belingon has to stay active, because he has to put food on the table for his family, and he needs to fight. If there is anyone to step up against Belingon, other than myself, I cannot really say who.
For Belingon’s style and my style, it would make for an exciting main event.