There’s no doubt that 2020 did not go to plan for Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen, but the setbacks have given him more motivation than ever to rule the featherweight division.
The Vietnamese-Australian’s grip on the ONE Featherweight World Title was finally loosened by challenger Thanh Le in their epic clash at ONE: INSIDE THE MATRIX in October, and Nguyen would end the year without any silverware for the first time since 2017.
In this exclusive Q&A, “The Situ-Asian” reflects on the turbulent past 12 months, his gratitude for the lessons learned, and his plan to get back on top.
ONE Championship: How was life for you over the past year? What have you learned about yourself?
Martin Nguyen: It was pretty crazy. I was booked to fight Thanh Le at the start of the year, and I left my family for three months to train for it [at Sanford MMA in Florida, USA], then I got told that fight wasn’t going to go through and I had to come back to Australia and quarantine.
This whole COVID-19 situation caught everyone off-guard, and there were a lot of people who weren’t happy that borders were closing and all the restrictions that came in, but it was all for the best. As human beings, we learned to adapt and move forward to not spread it.
It was hard to adjust at the start. I could only train in my backyard, anywhere you went you had to put a mask on, things like that. What I’ve learned the most is to never stress about the situation. Why waste my energy on something that I physically can’t change? You just have to move on, adapt, and put your good energy into what’s next.
ONE: Did it help to take a step back and prioritize things like family?
MN: Yeah, my family’s health comes first no matter what.
We’ve been extremely lucky that nobody in our family has had COVID, and not in my extended family either. The closest person I know was Aung La N Sang [ONE Light Heavyweight World Champion and Sanford MMA teammate] and his family, so going back over to Florida to train, I was a bit skeptical, and I was a real germaphobe when I was back there, cleaning up after myself and being really aware of it.
The whole team was getting COVID, and I was a bit scared about going over there, but the nine weeks I was there, I got through unscathed. I was one of the few that slipped through the cracks and didn’t get it.
Coming back into Australia, the health system over here was on point with maintaining everything. There are minorities of people out there that still don’t care, but the Australian health department has been on point. I’m thankful to God that nobody [from my family] caught it and to this day, knock on wood, still haven’t.
ONE: You had to leave Florida after the first camp without a fight and then head back to do it all again. Did it play on your mind that another bout could be scrapped due to the pandemic?
MN: One-hundred percent. You’re always skeptical about going places. I was stressing all the way up to two days before the fight. One of my cornermen tested positive for COVID, so my bout with Thanh Le was in jeopardy. Aung La and I were the main and co-main event, and we were told that because we were with him, we might not be able to fight.
I thought our fight was going to be scrapped after we had done all of this, going through so much mental and physical struggle. It was hard. Nothing went right, nothing went our way, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change it for the world as long as we got to experience it.
Without loss or without something bad happening, you can’t grow – you’d just be stale. That happening and losing my title made me realize the purpose of having it, and it has made me work harder than ever to get my title back.
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ONE: The bout ended up happening in October. What are your reflections now that you’ve had some time to digest the result?
MN: Looking back, I realized what happened and what went wrong. I didn’t stick to the game plan, what I knew, and what I’d been working on for the last nine weeks. After having a bad week with all the scares and being quarantined in the rooms in Singapore for 23 hours a day, I was really emotional. For the first time in my life, I had high anxiety.
Usually, fight week is super chilled and relaxed with our cornermen because the work is done, but instead, we were locked in our rooms. I was constantly thinking about the fight and going through all these emotions. I was mentally drained.
I’d built up so much emotion that all I wanted to do was just hurt somebody and fight. I didn’t care, I didn’t respect everything that I’d worked on, and I didn’t respect the title or my position. I just wanted to go out there and throw hands, and that’s what I did. I paid the price for that.
I’d never fight like this, but I’d literally take one or two shots just to throw a shot. Either hit him or not, I didn’t care, but I’m never usually like that. But the fight happened, and it is what it is. He came to win, and I came to fight – that was the difference.
That happening was a big slap in the face on my end for my own performance and the way I handled the fight. I had a lot of pity on myself for [losing] the fight like that, getting finished, and not keeping my title. Ultimately, from every loss, you can come back stronger. I’m just working in silence and when I get the rematch, I will show the world how I am meant to fight.
ONE: You’ve been so dominant in the division for so long. Would you like to go back into a World Title fight straight away, or take on one of the other top contenders first like Garry Tonon?
MN: My ultimate goal is the rematch and giving the people what they want. It only makes sense after holding the title for three years and defending it four times, and I am sure Thanh Le wants that rematch as well.
But we’ve got a speed bump, and that speed bump is Garry Tonon, so whether ONE wants it that way or wants me to go straight back into the title fight, there will be good matchups. I would personally like to fight Tonon as a title defense, and I can’t do that until I beat Le and get my title back.
I’m back in pre-camp now to start getting ready, so whether that happens now or later, I’ll be asking for the rematch. We will see whether they approve it or whether I have to get a couple of wins under my belt.
ONE: Now that you’re back training, are there any thoughts on a timeframe and when you’d like to get back in the Circle?
MN: I’m hoping for March. I usually spend three-to-four weeks preparing with my team here [in Sydney], getting my cardio up and on point, and then I go to Florida. But I think this time I am going to cap it.
Last time, I was there for the whole eight weeks, but this time, I’m going to go for four weeks to tighten everything up, and then you have fight week. So, it depends on when I am offered a fight, but I am hoping to be prepared for March.