Martin Nguyen might not be a Filipino by birth, but the Philippines profoundly holds a special a place in the heart of the reigning ONE featherweight champion.
Nguyen says he feels at home in the venue where he made history by becoming the first fighter to ever hold two ONE Championship titles in different weight classes,
“I love the Philippines and its people. In general, the Filipino crowd is one of the most educated crowds in the world. They know the sport so well. Even if you are the visiting foreigner taking on their champion, they still respect your craft,” he said.
Nguyen actually has a Filipino family connection. His sister’s husband is from the Philippines and it gives him some permanent roots in the country,
“I’ve always got a sweet spot for the Philippines. Having a Filipino family, with my brother-in-law being a Filipino, I feel like we already have Filipino blood in our family,” he shared.
The blockbuster card on Friday features the prominent members of Team Lakay such as Eduard Folayang, Danny Kingad, Geje Eustaquio, Honorio Banario and Edward Kelly.
Although Nguyen does not compete under the same national flag as those heroes from the Baguio City-based MMA stable, he expects an enthusiastic reception from the fans in attendance.
“There’s no better way to perform than to do it in front of 20,000 people. I know that, having four bouts there already. Going into my fifth, I feel that I’m an adopted Filipino already,” he stated.
Nguyen says he particularly enjoys fighting in front of the Filipino fans,
“The crowd is ecstatic. As soon as you start throwing punches and start putting on a show, it’s deafening in there. You just got to try and shut it out and not let the emotions and noise get to you,” Nguyen added.
Nguyen described the Philippines as the launchpad of his meteoric rise in the sport. He still remembers vividly when he first strutted his wares in front of a passionate Filipino crowd, defeating China’s Li Kai Wen via first-round technical knockout in April 2016.
“In terms of Manila and the Philippines, there was my first bout against Li Kai Wen, where I made a huge splash. Ever since that fight, I started to climb the ranks and win match after match. It brought me luck,” he explained.
After his cage meeting with Li, he went on to win four more fights, which included his shocking knockout victories over the likes of Marat Gafurov for the featherweight title in August 2017 and then Folayang for the lightweight strap three months later.
Nguyen tasted his first defeat on Philippine soil in July 2018 when he bowed to Folayang’s teammate Kevin Belingon by unanimous decision in their battle for the interim bantamweight championship.
However, he made up for it at ONE: ‘’ successfully defending his featherweight crown against Mongolian hard-hitter Narantungalag Jadambaa with a flying knee finish in the second round.
The man known as ‘The Situ-Asian’ makes his return to his adoptive hometown on Friday and is exuding confidence. He believes that he can continue his rule over ONE Championship’s featherweight division with an exciting victory against a tough challenger,
“I’m just be excited in general. I’m able to compete again at the highest level, defend (my belt) and have fun while doing it,” he said.
Nguyen very rarely goes the distance and he doesn’t expect to leave this one in the judge’s hands,
“I’ll be coming to put on a show for the fans and this one definitely won’t go the distance.”