There is not another martial artist who had a more memorable year than Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
The 28-year-old Vietnamese-Australian athlete started 2017 as a competitor who was on the cusp of title contention, and concluded the year as ONE Championship’s first, and only, two-division world champion.
In August, he avenged his lone career loss by knocking out undefeated titleholder Marat “Cobra” Gafurov for the ONE Featherweight World Championship, and then in his encore performance, he knocked out Eduard “Landslide” Folayang to take the ONE Lightweight World Championship.
Although Nguyen was considered the underdog in both bouts, he made a strong statement.
“That statement,” he begins, “is to never count me out. If you do, then you have already lost.”
“The Situ-Asian” had a history-defining year, but expects to top it. In an exclusive interview, the humble champion reflects on his favorite moments, talks about becoming a two-division world champion, and unveils his ambitious plan for 2018.
ONE: When you got your title shot against Gafurov in August, people labelled you as the underdog. What were your emotions at that time?
Martin Nguyen: Me and the team were very confident. Throughout event week and training camp, I said: “Boys, we are going to do this together. This is the stepping stone for our team (KMA Top Team), and this is our chance to have a world champion at our school.” So everyone stepped it up a notch.
In terms of event week, when we were preparing for the match, during the sweat-out sessions and on the day of the match, I said no matter what, this guy is not going to win. He can take my back, and I guarantee he will not submit me.
I guaranteed it to everyone I spoke to — Mitch Chilson, Michael Schiavello, all of them. I said: “Mark my words, this guy is going to get knocked out. I just had the confidence. I knew we put everything into this one, and I felt like he did not prepare as he should have. But it is what it is. I was the better man that day.
That led to the first-ever world champion showdown against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard Folayang in his stomping grounds of Manila, Philippines. You were the underdog yet again, but what was it like walking to the cage and trying to defeat him?
Usually if it is someone I do not like, or someone I have such high competitiveness against, then I will boast about it over social media. But Eduard is a very good friend of mine, and I like to show him that respect. I know he wants to move forward, and this is me helping him move forward as well.
In terms of what happened that night, I was the 10-1 underdog. There were 20,000 people up against me, so walking out to the cage, it was silent. It was dead silent. When he walked out, I went deaf.
Regardless of what anyone thought, I was the underdog throughout my whole career, but that never made a difference to me. I had a job, I knew how to execute it, and it was only a matter of time.
That knockout was astonishing. You caught Folayang in mid-spin and connected with a clean overhand right. Tell me a little bit about that. Did you make any in-match adjustments to land that punch?
If you watch a few spins before that, you can see I actually read his spins. I stepped to the one side, but did not strike. So ok, now I got the motion, now I got the flow, and here is where I am going to execute it.
A couple of spins before that, I studied him, and that last spinning back kick he threw, I stepped to the right side, so I knew where I needed to be. I did not think he would know what was coming next, and then he threw it again, and that is when I landed the punch.
Between all the landmark moments you have enjoyed, be it returning to Vietnam or winning the title, what has been your favorite memory over the past year?
Avenging the only loss of my career to Marat. Being counted out, I put everything into it. I said: “I have to win this match, that’s it.” This is the guy who is counting me out because he took me out so quickly in the first match.
He was not training as hard as he thought he should, because he thinks it was going to be an easy match. But I was oozing confidence. I said that I would knock him out, and he would not submit me.
How has your life changed since winning both the featherweight and lightweight world titles?
I have been getting a lot of recognition, obviously being in the handful of martial artists who have won two world titles. So I am getting a bit more recognition, and the fame is there, but thanks to ONE Championship, I am able to spend more time with my family. Everything has changed, but I am the same person.
Your confidence level must have gotten a boost though, right?
It is still the same. I knew I was going to get my chance. I set my goals, and when I put my head down and work hard, I will do everything I can to achieve them. I am the same person in January as I am now.
I just have a target on my back now. People are calling me out left, right, and center, and it is time for me to defend my legacy. After I make history again, I will start defending.
Well, when you started 2017, your goal was to become a two-division world champion. But now, what are your goals for 2018?
The goals for 2018 are to win the ONE Bantamweight World Title, and then defend all three titles at least once.
How I have sorted it is, I am going to win the bantamweight title, then I will defend the bantamweight title because I will be around the same weight. And then, I will move up to featherweight, and as it comes to the end of the year, I can start eating.