Martin Nguyen Breaks Down The Top Five Featherweight Contenders
ONE featherweight champion Martin Nguyen is itching to get back inside the ONE Circle to defend his title. His primary focus is on the top five featherweights, according to the new official ONE rankings. Sitting down with ONE Championship, the Vietnamese-Australian champion voiced his thoughts on each of his potential challengers sitting in the top five.
Sitting at the number one spot is ONE lightweight champion Christian Lee. Last May, ‘The Warrior’ made ONE history by becoming the youngest world champion at ONE: Enter The Dragon. The 22 year old most recently picked up a win over Saygid ‘Dagi’ Arslaniev last October at ONE: Century. Nguyen and Lee have faced each other twice before, with ‘The Situ-Asian’ coming out on top both times.
“Christian Lee has done good things. He is blessed to have started at a young age and gotten to where he is now at still a young age. So, number one contender? Yeah, I justify that. He has taken out the majority of the featherweight division. I mean, there are new guys in [the division] now who are high contenders that he hasn’t faced, but for his credentials and what he has done in both divisions, yeah, it is justified. He is the number one contender, and we will be facing each other in the future.”
Second in the rankings is Koyomi Matsushima. The takedown specialist from Japan previously challenged Nguyen for the title at ONE: Dawn Of Heroes but came up short. He is coming off of a TKO victory over Kim Jae Woong at ONE: Warrior’s Code. The reigning featherweight champion has nothing but respect for ‘Moushigo’.
“Koyomi is a good guy. He is very respectful, has high credentials, and he was a tough fight when I fought him. He has beaten Marat Gafurov and he was scheduled to fight Christian on more than one occasion, but [his spot is] justified. The guy just beat a very tough fighter as well (Kim Jae Woong). Koyomi dominated the guy, and the guy was tough. But it is justified. It is what it is. He is a super-talented athlete.”
Number three in the rankings is Thanh Le. Since debuting in ONE, the Vietnamese-American has established himself as a knockout artist, winning all three of his ONE fights by stoppage. Most recently, he knocked out Ryogo Takahashi at ONE: A New Tomorrow. Nguyen defending his title against the 34 year old would make for a great striking showcase and would be huge for Vietnamese MMA.
“Thanh Le came from a North American promotion and he was killing it on the scene. He got his shot, came into ONE Championship, did his thing, won three in a row, and it justifies that he fights a top contender. At the moment, in terms of a high contender, I would have thought that he would have faced someone like Christian or Matsushima first, but I’m happy to take that fight. I’m ready to fight anyone in the division, and I’ll always be ready to fight anyone in this division, whether they deserve it or not. ONE Championship deemed this guy was ready, and here we are.”
In the number four spot is Tetsuya Yamada. The Japanese fighter made only one appearance in 2019, losing a unanimous decision to Marat Gafurov at ONE: For Honor. The 30 year old holds wins over Eric Kelly and Rafael Nunes inside the ONE Circle. Nguyen admits that he did not expect to see ‘MMA Fantasista’ in the top five.
“I haven’t heard of Yamada in a while. The last time he fought was against Marat Gafurov. I would have thought Marat would have been [ranked] instead of Yamada, but it is what it is. The guy is there, he is a name, and he is someone who is in the division, so I have to be ready for him, too.”
Sitting at number five is Garry Tonon. ‘The Lion Killer’s’ strong Brazilian jiu-jitsu background has helped him make a smooth transition into mixed martial arts. As of now, the 28 year old is undefeated at 5–0 in MMA, finishing all five of his opponents inside the ONE Circle. His most recent win came against Yoshiki Nakahara by submission at ONE: Enter The Dragon. The ONE featherweight champion believes that by winning all five of his fights by way of a finish, has helped see the BJJ master jump straight into the top five rankings.
“Garry is on a five-fight winning streak – who can’t deny his position? He deserves to be there, I’d say, with his jiu-jitsu credentials and the rest of his martial arts background. And the way he has won every single fight was a finish. If it was by decision, or if the fights could have gone either way, you’d question his position in the rankings. But he has finished every single guy who was on somewhat of a winning streak or had been dangerous one time in their career, and he’s just finished them. So yeah, he deserves to be in that position, and a matchup with me and Tonon will definitely happen. It’s just inevitable.”
Nguyen was set to defend his ONE featherweight title against Le in April, before the global coronavirus pandemic saw ONE postpone all their events in March, April, May and June.
Who do you think from the top five gives Martin Nguyen the toughest test inside the ONE Circle?