After spending the past nine months challenging for world titles and collecting gold, two-division ONE World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen is ready to defend one of his coveted belts.
On Friday, 18 May, the Vietnamese-Australian star will make his first title defense of the ONE Featherweight World Championship against young sensation Christian “The Warrior” Lee at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS. The event takes place in front of Lee’s home crowd in Singapore.
“I am looking forward to defending my legacy,” the 29-year-old states. “I want to stay as active as possible, and I am excited for this fight.”
The riveting featherweight affair, which will be one of three world title bouts featured on the historic card, serves as a rematch of the pair’s initial clash nearly two years ago.
Back in August 2016, Nguyen beat the then-undefeated Singaporean to the punch in several exchanges before stunning him with a left hook. He then proceeded to put him to sleep with a modified guillotine choke with just 30 seconds remaining in the first round.
Ever since that fateful night, Lee has matured as a martial artist.
The 19-year-old learnt patience, earned a BJJ black belt, and enhanced his striking under the careful eye of the Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA. He proceeded to go on a four-bout win streak, most recently submitting two-division DEEP Champion Kazunori Yokota in March with the Lee family’s very own “Terminator Guillotine.”
Nguyen acknowledges his rival’s startling progression, and believes he has done enough to warrant an opportunity at the featherweight world title.
“I believe he has evolved into a new fighter,” Nguyen says.
“Sometimes it takes a loss to realize our true potential, and he has worked his way back up the ranks. Personally, 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.”
Following his victory over Lee, Nguyen’s career skyrocketed.
“The Situ-Asian” used his trademark overhand right to knockout three consecutive opponents. First was Yokota in January 2017, then previously-unbeaten titleholder Gafurov later that August to claim the ONE Featherweight World Championship, and finally, ONE Lightweight World ChampionEduard Folayang in November to capture a second belt.
Nguyen made history as the first-ever two-division ONE World Champion, and tried becoming an unprecedented three-weight titleholder when he challenged ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes for the gold in late March.
Although Nguyen gave the Brazilian legend all he could handle in a thrilling five-round encounter, he fell on the wrong side of a razor-thin split decision.
Three days later, the Vietnamese-Australian expressed his desire to remain active. He was offered the bout with Lee by ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong, and immediately accepted.
“I was not hurt from the fight [with Bibiano] — just a few bruises here and there from the kicks and punches,” he recalls. “I was not injured, I did not have any broken bones. I was fine, so I said yeah. I was fresh, and ready to go.”
Nguyen started his training camp by doing some light cardio before returning to KMA Top Team, where he trains under his longtime coach Fari Salievski. He then spent time working with Niko Han, a Rickson Gracie BJJ black belt, at Synergy BJJ MMA Academy in Bali, Indonesia.
“His (Han’s) knowledge, and the way he explains every situation we work on, is amazing,” Nguyen explains. “It was great training with him, because he is the perfect size for my opponent, Christian. [Between] his body type, his limbs, and working out of different positions, I got to strengthen my game.”
“The Situ-Asian” will finish up training camp in his native Sydney, Australia, with his devoted team, and then fly to Singapore in the week leading up to ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS.
While this marks Nguyen’s first defense of the ONE Featherweight World Title, this will be Lee’s first world title challenge.
Not only could “The Warrior” avenge his lone blemish, but he could also make history. He shares the bill with his older sibling, Angela Lee, who defends the ONE Women’s Atomweight World Title against Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi. If both win, they will become the first-ever brother-sister world champions in mixed martial arts history.
Lee clearly is not short on motivation, but “The Situ-Asian” is not either. Nguyen had been considered the underdog throughout his mixed martial arts career, but this time, he enters the contest as the World Champion. Also, he will have a psychological advantage.
After all, he has finished “The Warrior” once before, and he is driven to spoil his homecoming by finishing him yet again.
“In my last fight [against Bibiano], I showed too much respect, and held back on some situations that I could have taken advantage of. I kick myself for it,” Nguyen says.
“Coming into this fight with Christian, I am not leaving any situation behind. The way I am, I adapt to every situation. Whether he comes out strong, or whether he comes out slow, I will adjust to every situation, and make sure I win every exchange.
“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.”