For Australia’s Martin Nguyen, the highly-anticipated featherweight title rematch on 18 August was the culmination of nearly two years of hard work. For Marat Gafurov, the defending ONE Featherweight World Champion, it was a chance to silence the doubters, and put Nguyen back in his rear view mirror.
In the end, it was Nguyen who prevailed, and was crowned the ONE Featherweight World Champion after a second-round knockout win.
“The Situ-Asian” battled “Cobra” in a five-round main event at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS, which went down in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s iconic Stadium Negara. It was an incredibly high-level matchup, one that did not fail to bring the crowd to their feet in excitement.
After taking Nguyen to the ground early, Gafurov effortlessly slid to the Vietnamese-Australian’s back, and looked for his favorite maneuver, the rear-naked choke. Nguyen, however, promised fans that there was no way he was going to be submitted in the first round. With a more fluid grappling game – particularly much improved submission defense – Nguyen escaped the hold, and made it back up to his feet.
In striking exchanges, Nguyen was looking to time his vaunted overhand right – the same weapon that has felled many an opponent – while Gafurov goaded him on.
In the second round, Gafurov again took Nguyen to the ground, driving him to the canvas, but the Vietnamese-Australian featherweight would once again stand back up. Though Gafurov piled on the pressure, Nguyen was able to keep out of harm’s way. It was clear things would be much more difficult for the Russian champion this time around, as Nguyen was determined to author his own destiny.
A minute into the second round, Nguyen landed a huge overhand right that dropped Gafurov from out of nowhere, sending the defending champion crashing to the mat face-first. Nguyen immediately jumped on Gafurov and swarmed him with punches, as referee Yuji Shimada stepped in to call a halt to the contest.
The end came officially at 1:02 minutes of round two, as Nguyen was awarded a shocking knockout victory to become the new ONE Featherweight World Champion.
“I just want to dedicate this fight, not only to Malaysia for being so welcoming and having such a beautiful country,” said Nguyen. “This is for my dad. He was my inspiration for the whole camp when I mentally broke. He and the boys (at KMA Top Team) kept me together.”
An emotional Nguyen stood at the center of the ONE Championship cage with broadcast analyst Mitch Chilson, thanking his late father, whom he said was watching over him. The newly-crowned featherweight champion then paid tribute to Gafurov.
“I’ve got a deadly overhand right, but it’s not my only weapon,” said Nguyen. “Thank you to Marat (Gafurov) for giving me the opportunity.”
With the victory, Nguyen improves his record to 9-1, and became the new undisputed king of the ONE Championship featherweight division, while Gafurov suffers the first loss of his career and drops to 15-1.
It was a career-defining victory for Nguyen, who stood at the center of the arena with tears in his eyes. The victory opens up a slew of tremendous future matchups for the budding star. Gafurov, on the other hand, will have to retreat to the drawing board and find out how to get his belt back.