ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen reaffirmed his position at the top of the division with back-to-back stoppage wins in 2019. However, there are several determined athletes who could challenge him for the crown in the next 12 months.
The featherweight ranks are stronger than ever, with established names and rising stars all vying for a shot at the Vietnamese-Australian’s coveted belt. All those warriors possess the striking firepower, grappling acumen, and hunger that comes with the hunt for World Title gold.
Nguyen could have a tough year ahead, but he relishes the prospect of squaring off against the strongest contenders in his weight class.
“It will be a big year for me. I want to get three or four fights next year. I want all the contenders,” the 30-year-old previously said.
“I’m going to line all of them up, one by one, ONE Championship is going to send me the contracts, and I’m just going to sign them. I’m going to take them all out.”
The division’s reigning king is in fine form and sounds more motivated than ever, so let’s take a look at five of his potential adversaries in 2020.
Despite now being the ONE Lightweight World Champion and ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix Champion, Christian “The Warrior” Lee spent most of his career in the featherweight division, where “The Situ-Asian” was his fiercest rival.
The pair faced off twice, with Nguyen achieving victory both times. However, after being submitted in their first contest back in August 2016, “The Warrior” closed the gap and battled to a close split-decision in May 2018.
Both men are eager to run it back for a third time — especially Lee.
“Although I am the king of the lightweight division, I feel like I have some unfinished business in the featherweight division still,” the Singaporean offered.
“We could very well see another match-up [with Martin] for a second belt in early 2020 because I’m not going to leave that division without claiming the belt first.”
Nguyen welcomes the contest, but only if his younger rival can drop to the necessary weight limit.
“I know he’s coming off a good year, but personally, I don’t think he can make the weight anymore. When I fought him, he was a kid, but now, he is a grown man,” the Vietnamese-Australian explained.
“It’s going to be much harder for him. I’m not saying he cannot do it – if given the appropriate time, I’m sure he can make the weight. If he can make weight, then it’ll be good for me, as he can be a great challenge for me.”
Although a World Champion versus World Champion contest would be massive, the name that personally fires Nguyen up more than any other is Marat “Cobra” Gafurov.
“That bout against Gafurov is the one I am hungriest for. I want to settle the score and place the final nail in the coffin, as we’ve won one fight apiece,” he stated.
“He fought me when I was a nobody, but then I took him down while he was a champion. Although he didn’t feature much in 2019, I believe Gafurov is still the number one contender.”
Gafurov, the previously-unbeaten ONE Featherweight World Champion, is the only man who has ever finished “The Situ-Asian.” He submitted Nguyen via rear-naked choke in just 41 seconds back in September 2015.
The Vietnamese-Australian, however, stormed his way back into World Title contention with four consecutive first-round finishes and then, in August 2017, he knocked out the Dagestani to hand “Cobra” his first loss and claim the gold.
Despite that, Gafurov is still a threat to anybody on the mat, as he showed with a dominant grappling display over Tetsuya Yamada in his sole outing last year.
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Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, January 10, 2020
Thanh Le has been the featherweight who has made the most waves in the past 12 months. In that time, he has scored three consecutive knockouts over elite opposition to rapidly climb the ladder.
The Vietnamese-American can finish with a variety of tools — just like the reigning World Champion — and might be the biggest stand-up threat to Nguyen’s reign if they were to square off in the Circle.
Following his win over Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: A NEW TOMORROW in Bangkok, Thailand just days ago, Le said that he needed to keep taking out the rest of the top featherweights in order to earn his crack at the gold.
“I do what I’m doing – [I’ll] beat the next guy, and the next guy, and the next guy, and when [the opportunity] comes, it comes, and I’m gonna take it,” he asserted.
Although Le himself is in no rush to take on “The Situ-Asian,” his performances may have fast-tracked him to World Title contention.
Li Kai Wen
There is a potential contender from the division above, but also, there is one from the division below, as “The Underdog” Li Kai Wen — who recently dropped to bantamweight — has the Vietnamese-Australian in his sights.
“I would like to stay at bantamweight for my next couple of fights, but Martin Nguyen and I still have to scrap and settle things,” Li noted after his huge KO victory over Paul Lumihi at ONE: MASTERS OF FATE last November.
The two previously faced off in April 2016, when “The Situ-Asian” scored a first-round TKO over his Chinese adversary. But now, “The Underdog” is on a four-bout win streak all full of stoppages, and he has five wins in his last six contests.
Li has immense power in his hands, and he would undoubtedly stand toe-to-toe with Nguyen in what would be an extraordinary battle of big-hitters.
Chinese phenom Xie Bin picks up his SIXTH straight win with a signature D’Arce choke at 2:27 of Round 2!Watch the full event on the ONE Super App ???? http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast
Posted by ONE Championship on Friday, April 12, 2019
One dark horse that could put himself in the running for a World Title challenge before 2020 comes to a close is “The Stalker” Xie Bin.
The Chinese submission specialist has won seven consecutive matches in The Home Of Martial Arts since 2016, and five of those have been finishes.
Xie has not tapped into the upper echelon of the featherweight division just yet, but he got the biggest win of his career over Team Lakay veteran Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in his last outing, and he has the ability to spring a victory from out of nowhere.
The Tianjin resident’s chokes are lethal, particularly his head-and-arm attacks, and he only needs the slightest gap to start setting them up. His winning streak cannot be ignored, and with one more notable name on his résumé, “The Stalker” could be the sleeper in the pack.
Read more: Martin Nguyen’s 2019: A Year Of Redemption