Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen still strives to become the first man to ever hold three mixed martial arts world championships.
The two-division ONE World Champion already owns the belts at lightweight and featherweight, and will face Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon for the ONE Interim Bantamweight World Title at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS.
That bout will feature as the main event at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, the Philippines on 27 July.
The Vietnamese-Australian heads into the match off the back of his first World Title defense – a unanimous decision win over Christian “The Warrior” Lee in May.
Nguyen was not pleased with his performance in that contest at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS in Singapore, because it did not meet his usual high standards for excitement.
On reflection, however, he is content with the work he did with his partners at KMA Top Team to triumph over a young, dangerous opponent on the largest global stage for martial arts.
“At the end of the day, regardless of how we fought, we got what we went for, which was the win,” he says.
“We’re happy, none of us were injured, and I could go back to the gym to work on what I needed to get back in there in the cage.”
Once he was back in Sydney, the options for “The Situ-Asian’s” next move were numerous, and spread across three weight classes.
In the past month, he has been called out by several contenders in the divisions he reigns over, and he still has a desire to face ONE Bantamweight World Champion Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes again after their close split-decision bout in February.
With the Brazilian nursing an injury, that contest was out of the question. As a true martial artist and World Champion, the man from Sydney was willing to do whatever was asked of him, and face anyone in any weight class.
As luck would have it, ONE offered him what he had already named as his ideal matchup – the next-best thing to a rematch with Fernandes, and another chance to win a historic third World Title.
“My ultimate goal after that featherweight title defense was to defend my lightweight title,” he explains.
“We also wanted that rematch with Bibiano, but Kevin is the true number one contender, and I don’t think he would want to wait for Bibiano, either. This gets both of us back to the cage as soon as possible.”
It’s yet another high-stakes scenario, in which the ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion will face a ton of pressure.
He will be up against a man who has looked phenomenal putting five wins in a row together – including his latest, a sensational knockout of Andrew Leone. Nguyen will also travel to the Filipino’s home country to face him.
That is nothing new for him, however. It is a very similar set of circumstances to his match against Eduard “Landslide” Folayang – another member of Baguio City’s Team Lakay – at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD last November.
Folayang was also enjoying a victorious run as the ONE Lightweight World Champion, and stepped into the cage to defend the belt on home soil. But that night ended in a knockout victory for the visiting Vietnamese-Australian. He expected a tough match then, and this time will be no different.
Belingon will actually be the third member of the Philippines’ most famous gym the two-division champion has faced. He first took on Edward “The Ferocious” Kelly in 2014 before he eventually met Folayang.
He believes his familiarity with the way the wushu stylists from that gym operate will be an extra advantage, along with some of his other qualities.
“I feel my advantages, to be blunt, have to be my championship round experience and my gas tank,” Nguyen explains.
“I’ve got the utmost respect for Team Lakay. Mark [Sangiao, head coach] is out there doing a really good job at keeping the fighters humble and hungry. To be honest, I like to watch Team Lakay fight. They’re powerful strikers with devastating kicks, as well as takedown defense.
“Kevin is a complete mixed martial artist. Yes, he’s known for his striking, but he’s proved to the world he can also wrestle.
“In general, they all fight the same way. This is my third fight with a guy from Team Lakay, so the way I prepared for that first one is how I’ll be preparing for every other fight.”
In true “Situ-Asian” style, he is supremely confident of a win on 27 July, and a battle that should entertain fans in the arena and at home around the world. In short, his message to them is: “Don’t blink.”
A victory would set up a unification bout with Fernandes in the future – before or after he has a title defense at lightweight.
Making matters more interesting, “The Flash” is expected to be cageside in Manila to watch Nguyen and Belingon go at it, and meet the winner afterward.
The ONE Featherweight and Lightweight World Champion is looking forward to that encounter if he gets his hand raised, but promises it will be a cordial one. The fireworks will have to wait until they meet in a main-event contest again.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to dance again, and I’m here to be the hardest fight for anyone I face, and I believe I was the hardest fight of his whole career,” Nguyen says.
“If he’s there, I’ll be respectful. The guy is an absolute legend and I look up to him as well, so there’ll be a good chat,” he adds, with a laugh.