The path to becoming a world champion is paved with much sacrifice, just ask Vietnamese-Australian standout Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen (8-1).
The months of toil and the special occasions with his family and friends missed as he focuses fully on his training.
“The life of a professional martial artist is difficult but I understand that, in order to be the best, we have to make certain sacrifices,” says Nguyen. “Spending time away from friends and family to train isn’t easy. It’s part of being a professional martial artist. A lot of sacrifices have been made.
“Training in December was one of them. I had to give up Christmas celebrations for this fight. I missed a lot of family activities such as birthdays and reunions. If I want to consider myself as a championship-quality athlete in this sport, I have to make that sacrifice. In the end, I will reap the fruits of my labor. Hard work cannot be denied forever.”
The 28-year-old Vietnamese-Australian gets his reward this Friday when he squares off with Marat “Cobra” Gafurov of Russia (15-0) for the ONE Championship’s featherweight world championship in the main event of ONE: Quest for Greatness, at Stadium Negara, Kuala Lumpur.
Nguyen earned his much-deserved shot at Gafurov’s belt after notching a remarkable first-round knockout of Japanese journeyman Kazunori Yokota (25-7) in January. After nearly two years of trying, Nguyen finally found himself back in contention for the ONE featherweight world championship.
“I am back,” he says. “I really worked hard for this. I know you hear it from many athletes, that their dream is to become a world champion. I would say the same. It’s the main objective of every martial artist.”
Nguyen finds himself up against an overwhelming favorite in Gafurov, but according to the challenger it is a role in which he will thrive.
“I love being the underdog,” says Nguyen.
“Being the underdog takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders as well. I am already reading posts from fans about how Marat is going to take me out in round one again, but it was more of the nerves and my mistake in the first bout that he capitalised on. I did not really show any weaknesses in the first bout, so come this second bout, he will be very surprised if he is taking me lightly.”
BEING THE UNDERDOG TAKES A LOT OF PRESSURE OFF MY SHOULDERS. HE WILL BE VERY SURPRISED IF HE IS TAKING ME LIGHTLY.
Nguyen took a bout at very short-notice against Gafurov in September 2015, with the interim ONE featherweight world championship on the line. He suffered his first professional loss in just 41 seconds as the Russian effortlessly latched on a rear-naked choke.
The submission setback could have swallowed Nguyen whole, but it only freed him from the burden of maintaining a perfect record.
Using his defeat to Gafurov as a defining moment, Nguyen was able to ace his four next assignments, defeating the likes of Edward Kelly, Li Kai Wen, Christian Lee and then Yokota.
That last win put everyone on notice that Nguyen was back, again, as a serious contender.
“I had to make a statement to let everyone know I am coming back, and wanting this rematch against Marat,” says Nguyen. “So, everything we worked for I had to put out there in the first round. It took three and a half minutes but, eventually, I got the knockout.”
Although the undefeated Gafurov is widely considered among the elite the featherweights in the world today, Nguyen believes he has what it takes to pull off the upset.
“Marat Gafurov is just human at the end of the day, so if I bring the same pressure and same aggressive style to my opponent, then it is up to him to adjust,” he says.
“I foresee my hand getting raised at the end of this bout. This is not going to go five rounds. It is either him finishing me or me finishing him, and I will do everything I can to finish this match.”