Former featherweight contender Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen believes he is about to have the biggest fight of his young mixed martial arts career.
The Sydney, Australia, native will meet former DEEP Featherweight Champion Kazunori Yokota in the penultimate bout of ONE: QUEST FOR POWER, which broadcasts live from Indonesia’s Jakarta Convention Center on Saturday Night, 14 January.
“This fight means the most to me, because he is the toughest of all my opponents so far,” the 27-year-old explains. “[Yokota] is a veteran and has been in this game for so long.
“He is a veteran of 30-plus fights. He has more than double what I have, so I cannot imagine what he has been through. It is hard being a fighter, going through this emotional and physical ride.”
Sometimes emotions can get the best of a fighter, and that is something Nguyen is familiar with.
Last August, the Aussie scored a big submission victory over previously-unbeaten prospect Christian Lee at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD. The slick guillotine choke win was dramatic enough, but then Nguyen leapt up to his feet and shouted down loudly at the felled Lee.
“The Situ-Asian” is not particularly known for trash talking or taunting, so it was a little surprising to witness. In fact, there was speculation as to whether or not if there had been some unseen personal animosity between the two, or if perhaps Nguyen was just overly excited after earning the tap out.
“I was definitely hyped up as well, but I do not know. I felt disrespected by everyone saying he was going to walk through me,” he admits.
“From his ranking being higher, to the commentators in ONE and the way they talked about him, maybe I took it the wrong way but I felt like everyone was saying he was going to be dominant and walk through me. So, I took it personally. I felt I had a point to prove, and had to mark my place in the division.”
Nguyen had made his mark on the MMA world in a relatively small amount of time.
In 2009, Nguyen’s martial arts journey began when he walked into KMA Top Team, a dojo that teaches Muay Thai, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, boxing, and wrestling. At the time, he was just looking for a way to get back into shape after injuries ended his then-promising rugby career.
“I started for fitness because I had come off of some injuries after playing in a rugby league. I stopped playing and had a two-year lay-off, and came into the gym at 86kg — very fat,” he chuckles.
Soon, however, the inner competitor came out in Nguyen. He participated in various martial arts competitions and fell in love.
“After I had trained in jiujitsu on and off for a year, I took part in a Gracie grappling competition. I came in third after four rolls, and was kind of happy with my performance. Then, the next competition came, and I did that. Then, I decided to do amateur MMA,” he recalls.
“I won the fight, and as soon as I had my hand raised, I knew I loved it. There is no feeling like that,” he continues. “The adrenaline you get from fighting and winning is like nothing else.”
Ever since winning his first amateur fight back in 2012, Nguyen has not looked back. “The Situ-Asian” turned professional later that July and steamrolled through his opponents, even capturing the BRACE Featherweight Championship in the processes.
He signed with ONE Championship soon thereafter, and defeated boxer-turned-MMA fighter Rocky Batolbatol in his promotional debut in November 2014. Ten months later, the Aussie took a very short-notice bout against Marat Gafurov for the Interim ONE Featherweight World Championship at ONE: ODYSSEY OF CHAMPIONS.
Nguyen suffered his first professional loss after just 41 seconds, as Gafurov took his back and sank in a rear-naked choke. The defeat could have crushed others, but he used that defining moment to learn, and he believes he is much better now for it.
“I learned a lot about the emotional side of fighting. I let the fight get to me. I lost before I even got into the cage,” he says. “[The loss] was like a weight off my shoulders. I was undefeated as an amateur and undefeated as a professional. It was a relief to no longer have the pressure of feeling as though you could never lose.”
Freed from the burden of maintaining a perfect record, Nguyen has come back strongly. He heads into his upcoming tilt on a three-fight win streak and with a lot more knowledge.
“I want to go wherever the sport takes me,” he explains. “Everyone dreams of becoming a world champion. That is everyone’s dream. But I have just one goal at the moment, and that is winning my next fight.”
Nguyen seems to respect Yokota and all his experience and accomplishments a great deal. Still, he is confident that he will come out on top. Experience comes with age. Being over a decade older than Nguyen makes Yokota much more savvy, but he may also be a tad creakier for it.
Despite Yokota’s many strengths, Nguyen still believes he will prevail. When asked why, he simply replied with a laugh and a smile: “youth and athleticism.”