Whatever happens at ONE: Unstoppable Dreams, Martin Nguyen’s name will go down in the annals of Asian MMA. He became the first fighter to ever hold two concurrent titles with ONE Championship and did so by knocking out Marat Gafurov and Eduard Folayang, two of the promotion's top stars.
Can Martin Nguyen continue to compete with world's best fighters?
The question now is will Nguyen continue to dominate for years to come or could those incredible recent results prove to be a flash in the pan? All signs point towards the former, as his recent bantamweight title fight with Bibiano Fernandes proved he can hang with the best fighters in the world.
But Nguyen knows exactly what is at stake at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday. It’s not just about defending his featherweight title against Christian Lee, it is about securing his place in history.
“I am looking forward to defending my legacy. I want to stay as active as possible and I am excited for this fight.”
The fight with Fernandes could not have been any closer. Had Nguyen beaten the Brazilian, there would have been a debate to be had as to whether he might be the best fighter on the planet. The margins between success and failure in a split-decision defeat are incredibly thin and a late knockdown probably cost the Australian the fight.
While Nguyen had knocked out both Folayang and Gafurov in spectacular style, he couldn’t land that trademark right hand against Fernandes. The fight turned into more of a 25-minute chess match and the loser emerged from it with some regrets.
“In my last fight, I showed too much respect and held back on some situations that I could have taken advantage of. I kick myself for it,” he said.
How does the rematch with Christian Lee shape up?
Statistically, the rematch with Lee is unlikely to end in similar fashion. The teenager has ten fights and none of them has gone the distance, while Fernandes, who hasn’t been finished since 2006, was the first opponent to take Nguyen to the 15-minute mark.
Both men believe in their ability to finish fights, but Nguyen says he is taking nothing for granted with his preparation.
“Coming into this fight with Christian, I am not leaving any situation behind. Whether he comes out strong or whether he comes out slow, I will adapt (and) adjust to every situation, make sure I win every exchange.”
The loss to Nguyen in 2016 was the first of Lee’s entire career. Nguyen did not embark on the epic winning streak that would see him claim two ONE Championship titles until a submission defeat at the hands of Marat Gafurov, so he knows that disappointment can be a catalyst for rapid improvement.
“Sometimes it takes a loss to realize our true potential and he has worked his way back up the ranks. I believe he has evolved into a new fighter,” he said about Lee.
However, he does question how the teenager was able to secure a title shot without going up against Gafurov, the former champion who has been guaranteed the next shot at the featherweight belt.
“Personally, I thought he did it the easy way instead of fighting the true number one contender, but it only makes sense to have the rematch now.”
Martin Nguyen doesn't intend to slow down any time soon
The handful of fighters who achieve Nguyen’s level of success tend to only fight twice a year during their prime. Once you establish yourself as one of the biggest names on the roster, promotions tend to use you more sparingly, but that hasn’t been the case for the Australian.
This will be his third fight in seven months and less than eight weeks have elapsed since the loss to Fernandes. Despite going the full 25 minutes with the Brazilian, he emerged relatively unscathed and Nguyen says he had no qualms about accepting such a fast turnaround.
“I was not hurt from the fight, just a few bruises here and there from the kicks and punches. I was not injured, I did not have any broken bones. I was fine, I was fresh and ready to go, so I said, ‘yeah’.”
Nguyen retains a sense of lingering regret from the fight with Fernandes. He feels he could have committed to finishing that contest and was overly cautious. It is a mistake the 29-year-old won’t be making again and he doesn’t expect the judges to get involved in Friday’s fight.
“I will be ready for anything he brings. There will be no excuses from my end. It is either him finishing me or me finishing him. That is how it is going to go.”
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