Martin Nguyen Looking For Redemption in 2021
To say that Martin Nguyen had a rough 2020 would be an understatement. In his lone fight of the year, he lost the ONE featherweight title to Thanh Le at ONE: Inside the Matrix. But he is motivated to come back stronger in 2021.
Since his previous fight, Nguyen went through three training camps, before finally stepping foot back inside the ONE Circle. Prior to his cancelled fight with Le last May because of the global coronavirus pandemic, he was scheduled to fight Christian Lee at the end of 2019, but this fight also fell through when ‘The Warrior’ stepped in and replaced the injured Eddie Alvarez in the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix final.
Speaking to ONE Championship, Nguyen said he was able to learn new lessons amid the pandemic.
“Never Stress About The Situation”
“It was pretty crazy,” said Nguyen. “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.”
Family Comes First
For Nguyen, the best thing about the pandemic was that it allowed him to spend more time with his family.
“Yeah, my family’s health comes first no matter what,” Nguyen said. “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 Nsang 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.”
“Nothing Went Right”
Following a stressful year to say the least, the stress intensified when Nguyen arrived in Singapore. After one of his cornermen tested positive for the coronavirus, it looked at one point that his fight with Le would be scrapped at the last minute.
“One-hundred percent. You’re always skeptical about going places,” Nguyen said. “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.
Losing his title has also served as a lesson. Entering 2021, the Vietnamese-Australian is now more motivated than ever to return to the top of the featherweight division.
“Without loss or without something bad happening, you can’t grow – you’d just be stale,” said Nguyen. “That happening and losing my title made me realise the purpose of having it, and it has made me work harder than ever to get my title back.”
Fighting With Anxiety
After dominating as ONE featherweight champion for so long, Nguyen was finally dethroned on October 30th. Reflecting on his fight with Le, the 32-year-old realises that the quarantine protocols had an impact on him. Usually relaxed on fight night, there was a lot of stress on ‘The Situ-Asian’. This ultimately led to the end of his title reign.
“Looking back, I realised what happened and what went wrong,” Nguyen said. “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.”
“He Came To Win And I Came To Fight”
The mental drain on Nguyen was evident when he stepped into the ONE Circle. He fought carelessly and ended up taking more punishment than he gave. In the end, he paid the price by losing the title he’d held for so long. But it also served as a wake-up call for the Sanford MMA representative. With the loss, he is ready to come back better.
“I’d never fight like this, but I’d literally take one or two shots just to throw a shot,” said Nguyen. “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.”
A Title Rematch
Nguyen already has his next fight in mind, which is a rematch for the title against Le. But he also realises that he may have to overcome one more opponent before he gets a title shot: Garry Tonon. Either way, the former champion is already in preparation mode.
“My ultimate goal is the rematch and giving the people what they want,” Nguyen said. “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 defence, 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.”
“I’m Hoping To Be Prepared For March”
Back in training camp, Nguyen is hoping to be back in action as soon as March. He is currently in his home of Sydney before heading off to Sanford MMA.
“I’m hoping for March,” said Nguyen. “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.”
Who should Martin Nguyen face first in 2021?