ONE Championship atomweight star Bi Nguyen feels like she’s entering the prime of her fighting life.
Nguyen fights Filipina prospect Jenelyn Olsim at ONE: Battleground III this Friday in Singapore. The Vietnamese-American striking specialist will enter the fight with arguably the biggest win of her career in the rear-view mirror: a hard-fought decision triumph over Indian wrestling sensation Ritu Phogat.
When Nguyen stepped into the cage with Phogat in May, the Indian star was already booked to fight Meng Bo in the upcoming ONE Atomweight World Grand Prix. Nguyen took issue with that double-booking, because it implied Phogat would come out on top in their matchup.
That frustration became the high-octane fuel she needed to put forth one of the best performances of her career.
“It kind of implied that I was a warm-up fight [before Phogat’s Grand Prix fight],” Nguyen told BJPENN.com ahead of her fight with Olsim. “It got me really upset and offended. I had a chip on my shoulder.
“I spoke to ONE after, and it was really more of a test [for Phogat] than a warm-up fight, but that’s how I approached the fight. That’s the motivation I had going in.”
If the fight was a test, Phogat didn’t pass it. After three competitive rounds, Nguyen was named the winner by split decision. It was her first victory since a 2019 defeat of Puja Tomar in Muay Thai competition. That, coupled with the emotions at play, made the victory even sweeter.
“It was everything I needed,” Nguyen said. “I think that I needed to be offended and be pissed off. I think I have the skill to be the champion in this division. I’ve been fighting a long time; I just needed that fire lit under my ass.”
Nguyen hopes to keep her momentum alive against Olsim this Friday. While the Olsim is an unfamiliar name to many fight fans, Nguyen has benefited from training with the Filipina’s most recent opponent, Maira Mazar.
“I’m actually training with her last opponent, so I know a lot about her—her tendencies, her power, how she feels,” Nguyen said. “That’s really important because when you’re watching a fight, there’s so many factors. Somebody might look good because they’re fighting someone who is making mistakes—stuff like that. So it’s good to have Maira in camp with me and telling me how [Olsim] feels.
“Jenelyn is bigger than me, which is nothing new to me,” Nguyen continued, sizing up her foe. “She’s a strong Muay Thai fighter. She loves one or two chokes. She loves her guillotines, and when she gets hold of something, she doesn’t let go. I’ve been training and planning for that, I think I’m definitely faster and more skilled than she is though.”
Ahead of Friday’s ONE: Battleground III card, it was announced that the winner of Nguyen and Olsim’s fight will take on Grace Cleveland in an official Atomweight World Grand Prix alternate bout.
Nguyen isn’t overly focused on earning a spot in the tournament but admits she’d be happy to be a part of it.
“Everybody knows I like to compete against the best,” Nguyen said. “I just want to keep winning. If it happens, I’d be very happy. If not, I’ll keep fighting.”
The upcoming Grand Prix will be populated by some of the best fighters in ONE Championship, including unbeaten contenders like Denice Zamboanga and Itsuki Hirata, fan favorites like Stamp Fairtex, and accomplished veterans like Seo Hee Ham and Meng Bo.
Nguyen has particular interest in a fight with Hirata, who she’s been matched up with on two previous occasions to no avail.
“I have so much history with Itsuki,” she said. “She’s talented, she’s slightly arrogant, and she’s young, so it’s really exciting, a matchup against her. The first time we were matched up I broke my elbow. The second time we were matched up, for some reason, she ended up not signing the contract at the end. So we have unfinished business. I definitely would love to face Itsuki.”
Whether Nguyen competes in the Grand Prix or not, and whether she collides with Hirata or somebody else, her priority remains the same: fighting often and winning often.
That formula, she believes, is the ticket to a crack at the ONE atomweight title.
“I like to take it one fight at a time and not get ahead of myself, but it would be triumphant [to fight for the title],” she said. “It would be great, because I’ve fought all of the best. I haven’t always come out of with a win, so to come back from the losses and win the title, it’d be a hell of a story.”
The ONE atomweight title is currently the property of Angela Lee, who is working toward a return to action after the birth of her first child. Nguyen has respect for Lee, but believes she has the skills to usurp the champion’s throne.
“I think I match up well with Angela Lee,” she said. “I’m durable. I’ve been working on my ground game to prepare for the top three of the division—grapplers like Itsuki, Denice and [Lee]—so my grappling has improved tremendously, but most of all I’m durable and I’m tough. Angela is skilled but I’m going to make it gritty. That’s not really Angela’s thing. She loves to come forward and be the aggressor. So I think it would be a great fight.”
For Bi Nguyen, a Grand Prix spot, a long-awaited fight with Hirata, and a title fight with Lee could all hinge on the outcome of her imminent fight with Olsim. She’s confident that, in the end, she’ll have her hand raised—much to the chagrin of her ever-diminishing crop of doubters.
“I see a finish on the ground—TKO,” she said.
“Just watch me. My whole career I’ve had doubters, and I’ve been proving them all wrong. I’m only going up from here. This is going to be the best Bi you’ve ever seen.”