It’s certainly been a challenging year for former ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen.
First, the Vietnamese-Australian’s matchup with “The Fighting God” Kim Jae Woong was delayed multiple times due to health and safety protocols.
Then at ONE: REVOLUTION in September, the South Korean shocked Nguyen with a short counter right hand to the jaw, dropping “The Situ-Asian” and handing him his second consecutive knockout loss. In the process, Kim grabbed the division’s #1 ranking and dropped Nguyen to #3.
It was a tough blow for the ex-titleholder, who moved further away from a potential rematch with reigning featherweight king Thanh Le. However, the Vietnamese-Australian viewed it as a signal to tighten up his game before coming back stronger in 2022.
In this sit-down interview, Nguyen talks about that defeat, how he’s turning things around, and his plans for a return. Also, he shares his thoughts on Kim’s chances in a future ONE Featherweight World Title fight.
ONE Championship: When you last competed in the Circle, you were knocked out by Kim Jae Woong – and it was the first time you ever tasted back-to-back defeats. Where do you feel things went wrong in that bout?
Martin Nguyen: I feel that second loss against Kim Jae Woong is kind of waking me up, but not to the fact that I needed to get woken up – it was just the fact that I need to be better.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no excuses. I take the loss as a man, but up until I got caught with that one punch, I was winning the fight. It was just a mind lapse of wanting to go for that shot at that very moment. I could have fought smarter and mixed it up a bit more.
There were options, but I let my ego get ahead of me once again. I landed a few jabs and I felt amazing, and I was like, ‘You know what? I can do this.’ And obviously, my opponent had studied me for that long. He just read it, had perfect timing, and then caught me.
All it takes in this unforgiving sport is that one punch, and I’ve been there. I’ve been on his side of the punches, they do feel amazing at the time as well. So hats off to him, credit to him. I take the loss as a man. I go back, I get back to work, and get better.
ONE: So what are some things you’ve been trying to sharpen, and who have you been working with?
MN: I’ve been doing a lot of jiu-jitsu just to sharpen my ground game at Cabra Kai and been doing a lot of my boxing with Nedal “Skinny” Hussein, who ultimately is an underground champion. He knocked down [Manny] Pacquiao with the jab for a 13-second count, and no one knows about it. You can bring it up on YouTube.
I still work with Chrysler [De Castro] as well, my overall coach for kickboxing and boxing. I still have my strength and conditioning program from Sanford, but overall, I have amazing training partners, guys that have just been training that one particular sport their whole lives, and me trying to jump into their sport.
It’s like me going into a fight. I get the nerves and butterflies every time I roll with somebody that I’ve never sparred with, and that’s what I need to get used to as well, so just mixing with different bodies that I have never been with – whether they’re Australian Champions, whether they’re jiu-jitsu black belts or brown belts, or just people of all calibers and different type of styles for me to get used to.
I need to adapt to that and move forward – even people under the radar, especially in Australia, but just guys that have been training their particular style for so long, you’re trying to move around, and then there’s something new that they hit you with, like, ‘Oh man, I’ve never seen that coming.’ And that’s the beauty of it, to learn that type of movement so it trains your body to not ever be in that position again.
ONE: How would you compare the training at Sanford MMA with the training you do in Australia?
MN: Sanford is one of the best teams I’ve ever trained at, period. I feel like when I’m there, it’s a short space of eight weeks of cramming everything in – and it’s not the point that I’m learning, it’s more sharpening up for a fight.
Whereas when I’m in Australia, I need to be learning. I need to add new tools, remove the ones that aren’t working, fix up whatever I’m lacking, and go from there. When I’m in Australia, I’ve got time, there’s no rush for that.
So, in saying that, I feel like it’s a blessing in disguise, having high-level jiu-jitsu coaches, striking coaches, and striking athletes that have come from Australia that are underground, and just learning as much as I can from them, honing my skills, sparring, putting [my skills] to work to see if they’re working or not, what I need to fix, and then going from there.
ONE: When do you want to make your return to the Circle?
MN: Around March, after my birthday. I’m not in too much of a rush to get back in [there] to prove myself. At the moment, I’m just trying to get better and learn new things so I can come back with a whole set of new tools and not just come back just for the sake of coming back.
I’m not in any financial burden where I need to get back at this very moment. I just need to get better, rewrite my whole content of books in fighting styles in my head, and practice them, and keep practicing and fix the flaws. And then, when it’s time to fight, I’ll know when it’s time to fight, but I’m not looking anytime soon.
ONE: As we all know, Thanh Le is defending the ONE Featherweight World Title against Garry Tonon next. Who do you think wins that matchup, and what do you think Kim’s chances are against either man?
MN: If I had to pick, I’d say the champ, Thanh, just based purely based on my experience.
I don’t see [Kim] beating any of them, to be honest. Garry will take him down – something I should have done – and submit him. I see Thanh Le moving and frustrating him like he did to me, picking him apart. But in all honesty, I don’t really care. The whole division’s there, everyone will be on notice when I’m back in the winning column.
ONE: Have you thought about moving down to the bantamweight division?
MN: [Moving to bantamweight] was on my mind, but I’m not going to move down to bantamweight until I get the win in the featherweight division. Everything else is not on my mind but getting a win in the featherweight division, so they’re on the back burner for now.
Had I won the last one against Kim Jae Woong, it would have been a different story because, obviously, Thanh is fighting Garry for the title. Me wanting to stay busy, I would have moved down. But now, I’m forced to stay in this division — by myself — to get a win, get back into the winning column, and work my way back up the ladder.