Last Friday, 2 August, the Vietnamese-Australian cemented his position as the most dominant featherweight in ONE Championship history by beating Koyomi “Moushigo” Matsushima in Manila, Philippines.
The Japanese challenger tested the ONE Featherweight World Champion in the first round, but he defended his belt via TKO at the end of the second stanza.
The contest was billed as “The Situ-Asian’s” toughest test yet, but he passed it with flying colors, and he is already looking ahead to his next challenge.
In this interview, the 30-year-old from Sydney reveals how he put on a show for the Filipino crowd and who he would like to face next.
ONE Championship: This was billed as your most difficult World Title defense, so how satisfied were you to finish so quickly?
Martin Nguyen: I’m very happy with the result, but I feel like there’s so much more room for improvement in terms of my performance, but that’s what makes me dangerous.
I’ve come to the point where I’ve fallen in love with the sport again. I’ve started again, and when [you do that with a high skill level], we’ve only leveled up in every single camp.
Having world-class coaches in my ear, showing me the right ways – they know me and where I excel, and where I don’t excel, and [all of them] working together are making me a better athlete than what I was.
I’m falling back in love with the sport again and working with world-class coaches for the first time ever in my life. I’ve become a student again. I won two World Titles at a small gym, and it took my three bad performances – it should have only taken one – to realize that there was better out there.
ONE: Did you expect Matsushima would take you down in the first round?
MN: We knew he was a high-level wrestler. In his last fight against Kwon Won Il, he completely dominated. It wasn’t even a match.
We knew what he brought to the table, so we knew striking and wrestling was critical. I’ve been around the block though – I’ve fought jiu-jitsu champions, Russian wrestlers, strikers – so I think my experience of staying composed and utilizing my pressure game is what won it for me.
Hats off to Koyomi, I’ve got nothing but respect for the guy. He was strong – definitely one of my toughest opponents to date. He made me step up as a martial artist to defend my legacy.
ONE: What changed between rounds one and two? What did your corner tell you?
MN: It was words of wisdom from that corner because they see a different fight to what I see. Aung La [N Sang’s] first words were, ‘Calm down.’
Henri [Hooft – head coach at Hard Knocks 365] jumped in and told me, ‘Now you know his game plan, so every time he strikes, let’s counter back, but not just one shot – two, three, four, whatever we can get. Don’t take a step backward. Push forward and watch him crumble.’
I thought I was already taking steps forward, but it was not like trying to get in his face. I needed to get in the pocket, but not deep enough to give him the chance to take me down. He took me down in the first round and it shocked me.
After that, I kept my distance, stayed in the pocket, and there was no chance of him taking me down. I was always on point with my defense and transitions.
ONE: How important was it that you picked your shots for the finish instead of going all-out?
MN: I knew I had tagged him and had hit him pretty hard by the way [my right hand] landed, but there was still about two minutes to play around with him [before the end of round two].
Whether he recovered or not, he was going to be panicking, so [I didn’t want to] go too much for the kill because I’d give him an opportunity.
Two minutes is a long time in there, so I picked my shots, and it all went to plan.
ONE: How nice was it to remind people about your knockout power in your hands?
MN: Definitely. It was good to land a few punches. I’d say it was more satisfying knowing I can land and hurt him.
ONE: When you called for a trilogy bout after the match, did you mean with Marat “Cobra” Gafurov or Christian “The Warrior” Lee?
MN: I was talking about Gafurov. I really want to close the chapter there. It’s just one of those fights.
With Christian Lee, I fought him twice, and I won twice. I didn’t lose, and I finished one of those. It’s not really a trilogy match – more of a revenge match [for him]. With Gafurov, we’re 1-1, and he dominated Yamada [in his last bout].
Everyone wants to see these fights, but I’ll fight anyone. If Christian wants to come down and try to be a champ-champ, or Gafurov wants to try and get his belt back, I’ll be ready.