EXCLUSIVE: Martin Nguyen is ONE Championship for life

Martin Nguyen is the best featherweight in ONE Championship’s short history. Yet, despite the former division king not having much left to prove in the organization, the “Situ-Asian” expects to be an employee of ONE Championship for the rest of his career.

The last 25 months have been difficult for Nguyen, 32, as the COVID-19 pandemic has only allowed him to compete once in that time. And that lone fight was an October defeat to Thanh Le that brought his three-year reign as division king to an end. After six years in the organization, it doesn’t seem like there are many more worthwhile mountains to climb for the man that also held lightweight gold. However, Nguyen has enjoyed every bit of his time in the promotion, and would much rather stay a big fish in their pond, than possibly take a pay cut and work his way up all over again the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s pond.

“ONE Championship has looked out for me from the get-go. Looking after me means looking after my family and that means a lot. No matter how much of a pay cut it is, I still feel if I went to the UFC I’d have to kind of establish myself. Where at ONE Championship I’m one of the top dogs in the division,” Nguyen told MixedMartialArts.com.

“Regardless of me fighting or not they still look after me. I’m thankful. Like I don’t really care [about outside opportunities]. There’s no other organization I’m gonna go to. I’m just going to ride out my career with ONE Championship. I’ve got a long contract that I signed and I’m here to fulfill that. … Right now I’m happy, I’m healthy, and I’m here to do my job regardless.”

Although he is admittedly happy, it doesn’t mean he’s thrilled with making his return at ONE: Revolution against fifth-ranked talent Jae Woong Kim, instead of in an immediate title rematch against Le. In fact, he is a little baffled by the booking.

“Let’s just say you aren’t the only one that’s mind blown I’m not getting a rematch. But look, it’s whatever ONE Championship says [and] I’m just gonna go with the flow,” said Nguyen. “If I have to fight another three or four fights before I get another shot, I’m gonna do so. I’m not going to sit around and complain about what could have been or what could be. … The champ called [for] it. He felt like I deserved the immediate rematch. A lot of people felt I deserved the immediate rematch [after] being a dominant champion the last three years.”

On September 24, he faces what could be viewed as a high-risk, low-reward opponent. As the best featherweight in company history, and in the middle of his prime, he will be expected to beat the South Korean talent. Especially, since Nguyen owns a knockout victory over Kyomi Matsushima a man that handed Kim a KO loss last year.

Although the booking is not what Nguyen would have preferred, mentally he is viewing it as a title defense, and taking Kim as serious as a legitimate title contender. Especially, after “The Fighting God” called for a bout with the former champion in the first place.

“I believe every fight is a different fight regardless of how I beat Matsushima, and Matsushima beat him. You never know, that loss could have ignited another fire in him. That’s why he’s decided to call me out,” said Nguyen. “I take it as it comes. I go in there, I do my thing [and] I show why I’m a bad fight for everyone in this division. Regardless of results or whatever, I’m here to fight, I’m here to put your lights out. Come fight night, I’ll show him why he should keep my name out his mouth.”

Nguyen’s mission is to win at “Revolution,” get a rematch with Le, and become a two-time ONE Championship featherweight titleholder. After that, things get a bit more complicated, because it would mean he’s beaten much of the best talent in the division already. There is the possibility of a matchup with gifted grappler Garry Tonon, however, if he is the man to fight for the title next — as Nguyen expects — and loses, then a matchup with him seems far less appealing to the Sanford MMA fighter.

With dwindling options at featherweight, that brings up the idea of a return to lightweight. A division Nguyen held the title for in 2018 but vacated due to an injury. It’s also a division currently reigned over by Christian Lee, a man Nguyen owns two victories over at featherweight. Despite his history in the division, the featherweight star is not interested in a return to the division, however, he revealed he is open to the notion of catchweight fights against some of the division’s elite talents.

“Let’s just say there have been seeds planted of having lightweight fights. It’s not that I’m scared to fight at lightweight, it’s the fact that I don’t want to give my opponent the upper hand because, as I told all the matchmakers at ONE Championship, I naturally walk around at 157-pounds. Roughly 71 or 72 kilos. As of this morning, I was 156. Me walking in at that weight, and my opponents walking in at 170, that’s a huge weight advantage,” Nguyen said.

“I know for a fact Shinya Aoki gets down to 74 or 75 kilos. That fight can happen if he gets down to that weight. If Christian wants it again, I’m the only guy who has beaten Christian. And Christian has certainly gotten better, and obviously defended multiple times, and he is a true champion. He’s only getting better. But if Christian wants it, he knows where to find me down at the featherweight division.”

ONE Championship: Revolution takes place on September 24 in the Singapore Indoor Stadium. The event will air on Bleacher Report, and the B/R Live app at 7:30 am ET.

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