ONE Championship Spotlight: Martin Nguyen

Martin Nguyen is a trailblazer. The Vietnamese-Australian martial artist is the first ONE Championship athlete to win world titles in two different weight classes.

Before reaching the pinnacle of the promotion, Nguyen had only three bouts when he made the jump to ONE Championship. From 2012 to 2013, Nguyen went 3-0 with stoppage wins in each match.

At the age of 25, Nguyen made his promotional debut with ONE in November 2014. The event was ONE: BATTLE OF LIONS and Nguyen’s opponent was the late Rocky Batolbatol.

Keeping with his run of stoppage victories, Nguyen registered a second-round submission victory. Nguyen would secure the win with a rear-naked choke. While he’d gain fame for his striking later in his run with ONE, Nguyen’s submission skills have always been a significant part of his martial arts repertoire.

Recognizing Nguyen’s talent, ONE placed him in a matchup with Marat Gafurov for the interim title. Nguyen would face the tough Russian in September 2015 at ONE: ODYSSEY OF CHAMPIONS.

Gafurov was initially supposed to meet Narantungalag Jadambaa, but the latter had visa issues. Nguyen stepped up to take the challenge in Jakarta but quickly found out why “The Cobra” is such a deadly competitor.

Gafurov would defeat Nguyen in just 41 seconds to remain undefeated. Nguyen had taken his first pro loss, but he was by no means defeated.

Less than two months later, Nguyen bounced back with a win over Kotetsu Boku at ONE: PRIDE OF LIONS. This triumph was also a stoppage victory, and it launched a six-match win streak.

Nguyen would tear through Li Kai Wen at ONE: GLOBAL RIVALS in April 2016. He would win by strikes in that bout. Next he choked out the rising, but still inexperienced Christian Lee at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD in August 2016.

Then, at the aptly named ONE: QUEST FOR POWER in January 2017, Nguyen scored an electrifying one-punch KO win over Kazunori Yokota in the first round. That victory secured a rematch with Gafurov, who had since removed the interim tag from his title reign.

The bout took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in August 2017 at ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS. After an entertaining and nervous first round, Nguyen would make Gafarov feel the same power that took down Yokota.

After a grappling sequence against the cage, in which Nguyen had a slight advantage, the two men disengaged. Nguyen shuffled backward to reset his striking approach. As Gafurov attempted to throw a left-leg kick, Nguyen uncorked a huge overhand right that landed square on the Russian’s chin.

Martin Nguyen had done it. He avenged the only loss of his career and became the ONE Featherweight champion in the process. After scoring his career-defining victory, Nguyen took to Instagram to share a special tribute to his deceased father, and to give thanks to his wife Brooke, and everyone that played a role in his rise.

Always thorough, it comes as no surprise Nguyen would have such a lengthy thank-you list. After such a big win, other competitors might have rested, but not the Situ-Asian. He set his sights on even bigger goals, like the Lightweight division champion Eduard Folayang. Yes, Nguyen wanted to become the first ONE athlete to win a title in two different divisions.

Less than three months later in November 2017 at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in Folayang’s home country of the Philippines, Nguyen proved his power had life in a higher weight class.

Nguyen scored another shocking one-punch KO of Folayang in the second round. Just like that, he’d made history. He’d become the first-ever two-time champion with ONE, and the first to hold a title in two different weight classes.

In a short time, Martin Nguyen arguably made himself the promotion’s biggest star. True to his accomplishment-driven personality, Nguyen still wanted more. He sought a third title in his next fight. This time he targeted ONE’s longest reigning champion Bibiano Fernandes, the king of the bantamweight division.

Nguyen’s ability to make weight for these bouts was almost as amazing as his two wins in the different divisions. Unfortunately, the challenge of dropping to bantamweight and outworking a competitor of Fernandes’ caliber just wasn’t in the cards, though it was close. Fernandes retained his title via split decision at ONE: IRON WILL in Thailand in March 2018.

Needing to get back to defend his original title, Nguyen gave Lee a rematch in May 2018 at ONE: UNSTOPPABLE DREAMS. While Lee showed some apparent improvements, he still didn’t have the overall skill to dethrone Nguyen. However, Lee did manage to go the distance in a split-decision defeat.

Still title-hungry, Nguyen tried to carve a new path to the bantamweight championship. He faced Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon at ONE: REIGN OF KINGS in July 2018 for the interim belt. The winner was set to get a rematch against Fernandes, as both men had faced the tough Brazilian and lost. Belingon would deny Nguyen via unanimous decision. Shortly after, a serious knee injury forced Nguyen to vacate the lightweight title, but he remains the featherweight champion.  

Despite what he’s already accomplished, and the recovery from his knee injury, don’t expect Martin Nguyen to stop striving for new goals. He’s already set to defend his featherweight strap against the former champion Narantungalag Jadambaa at ONE: ROOTS OF HONOR in Manila, The Philippines on April 12. Interestingly, he’s currently training for the bout alongside ONE middleweight and light heavyweight champ Aung La N Sang in Florida.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 3/4/2019.