A year ago Martin Nguyen was on top of the world. In the space of four months he had won ONE Championship titles in two different divisions, with both victories coming in sudden and totally unexpected fashion.

Fast forward 12 months and the outlook isn’t quite as rosy. Nguyen lost two fights out of three in 2018 and the only win came by way of split decision, after a disappointing five round affair with Christian Lee.

He was unable to defend his lightweight belt due to injury and had to give it up. Meanwhile Nguyen came up short in two different bantamweight title shots in 2018 but he remains the featherweight champion and has plenty of reasons to be cheerful heading into the new year.

First and foremost he is finally fit to fight. Nguyen hopes to be back in action at ONE: ‘Call to Greatness’ in February,

“I’m just getting clearance for my recent knee injury, sooner than expected. I’m looking at Singapore, I’ll be ready for that and I hope ONE can grant it.”

Dominant force

It’s worth noting that Nguyen remains a dominant force at featherweight. Both those losses came in the lighter division and he never looked like losing the rematch to Lee, even if one of the judges did put in a surprising scorecard in the challenger’s favour.

The loss to Bibiano Fernandes was also a split decision, meaning Nguyen was a whisker away from becoming a three division ONE Championship title holder. However he feels that moving down a division to try and make history might have been a mistake,

“After dropping to bantamweight, I felt like I lost the power in my punches as I dropped my weight. I had speed, but the strength was gone. Now I’m back to my normal weight, and I feel like a million bucks again.”

Bulking up

For Nguyen the bulking up process has begun and he will be a fully fledged featherweight by the time his next ONE Championship fight is booked,

“I’m feeling fit again, and my training intensity has stepped up. I’m wrestling, doing Jiu-Jitsu and striking but importantly I’m lifting weights to gain my strength back.”

Two fighters who Nguyen has already beaten are rising up the featherweight rankings but the  29 year old doesn’t think either has done enough to secure top contender status,

“Christian (Lee) will want to work his way back, maybe with another win or two. People talk about Li Kai Wen, he’s on a good streak, but I think he needs to beat another top contender first.”

Potential opponents

There are a couple of names Nguyen believes do deserve to be in the title conversation. He expects his next opponent to be one of the following,

“I would say Jadambaa (Narantungalag), coming off two straight wins over tough guys, and Koyomi Matsushima, who just knocked out Gafurov, are most deserving.”

Plans for Nguyen to defend his featherweight title at ONE: ‘A New Era’ in Tokyo appear to be on hold. But he expects to be offered a matchup at another event any day now and is not content to simply rule a single division,

“ONE has stepped up a huge notch, and it’s only going to get bigger from here. Give me 12 months, and I’ll be back to my ‘champ champ’ status when I can prepare properly for another bantamweight shot.”