Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen (8-1) may have been a menace during his adolescence, but he never had to look far to find inspiration and set himself on the right path. For him, it was right at home, and came in the form of the man he called “dad.”
Before the future ONE Featherweight World Title challenger was even born, his father and mother had to find a new home. When the Vietnam War was coming to a close in the 1970s, his parents fled their South Vietnam community, passed through refugee camps throughout Southeast Asia, and boarded one of the first refugee flights to Australia, where they started anew.
Nguyen’s father quickly found work. He secured a job as a laborer in the tiling and carpentry industries, and was able to support his family through pure hard work.
“My dad worked hard just for us to get by. We were not the richest family, and we were not as poor as other people out here, but we got by,” the 28-year-old recalls. “He was my sole inspiration to work hard, just the way he was able to provide for his family.”
Not only was Nguyen senior able to put food on the table, but he even saved up enough money to take a couple of family vacations back to Vietnam, just so he could show his children their roots.
Although Nguyen could not remember much of anything from his first trip to the Southeast Asian country at 6 years old, he returned again when he was nearly 18. That time, the trip resonated with him.
“My dad sent us all over to Vietnam, and that helped me discover where we came from. I discovered the community, met my cousins, aunties, and uncles, and it woke me up,” Nguyen explains. He also looked at his father in a brand new light.
“I came back to Australia and my parents wanted me to study, like all Asian parents do,” he continues. “But I just wanted to work and provide like my dad. At the time, I was with my current wife. We had our son, so it just motivated me to provide the best I could for him.”
Nguyen followed his dad’s lead and supported his growing family as a full-time mechanic. But in 2010, he was quietly laying the foundation for a career in the martial arts.
After an unsuccessful rugby career, Nguyen felt “a bit fat,” as he puts it, and started doing martial arts at KMA Top Team in New South Wales to get back in shape. That led “The Situ-Asian” to testing his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills in grappling tournaments, and then competing in martial arts competitions at the amateur level. While his father was not particularly fond of his son stepping into the cage, he watched, and supported him nonetheless.
In July 2012, Nguyen made his professional debut, and proved to be quite the talent as soon as the bell rang. He was flawless, winning every bout en route to capturing the BRACE Featherweight Title in November 2013. Like a good son, he brought the belt to his father shortly after winning it.
“My dad looked at it. He was all happy and taking pictures with it. It was awesome,” Nguyen begins. “And then he said, ‘Alright, you got the belt now. Enough. Just call it quits.’ No parent likes to see their child getting injured in a match or anything like that, so he said, ‘Enough now. No more.’”
Sadly, that was the last thing Nguyen’s father said to him with regard to his martial arts career.
Just a few weeks later, Nguyen’s dad tragically passed away. His father had undergone a bone marrow transplant so he could get more white blood cells into his body. The procedure was initially a success, but the healing process taking longer than usual. As doctors were preparing to do more testing, Nguyen’s father contracted the flu, and that eventually turned into pneumonia and took his life.
“I never experienced any hardship or heartbreak until then, and I will never forget that day,” Nguyen says. “He was in Melbourne at that time, so I flew into Melbourne to see him. Everything was happening so fast, and then he was gone. I did not even get to speak to him, and there are a lot of things I wish I could have said to him. It was heartbreaking.”
Nearly four years later, he still carries that heartbreak around like an anchor around his neck. In fact, it is still difficult for him to talk about that tragic day.
Even though the Vietnamese-Australian is constantly reminded of his dad, he knows a fitting way to pay tribute to him. “The Situ-Asian” remembers his dad’s excitement when he held the BRACE Featherweight Title and while he cannot replicate that scene again, he can do better by winning a world championship in his honor.
On Friday, 18 August, at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS, Nguyen will attempt to defeat Marat “Cobra” Gafurov (15-0) for the ONE Featherweight World Championship, and try to make his father proud, wherever he is.
“I am doing doing this all for him,” the challenger says. “One big title to put the icing on the cake.”