Nguyen was riding a nine match winning streak in featherweight fights. He had suffered two defeats during this period but they had both come in bantamweight title bouts.
It was a surprise to see Nguyen lose but the circumstances surrounding the fight were far from normal. The 31 year old feels his performance was affected by some issues outside of the circle,
“Looking back, I realized what happened and what went wrong. I didn’t stick to the game plan, what I knew, and what I’d been working on for the last nine weeks. After having a bad week with all the scares and being quarantined in the rooms in Singapore for 23 hours a day, I was really emotional. For the first time in my life, I had high anxiety.”
This is in stark contrast to the relaxed persona that Nguyen normally presents behind the scenes. He has fought for ONE Championship 14 times now but says this fight was like no other,
“Usually, fight week is super chilled and relaxed with our cornermen because the work is done, but instead, we were locked in our rooms. I was constantly thinking about the fight and going through all these emotions. I was mentally drained.”
Nguyen has made his name by knocking people out, normally with an overhand right. But it is not a question of swinging wildly and hoping for the best, a lot of thought goes into the process that ultimately ends with a stoppage win for the Australian.
But in Singapore things were slightly different. An emotional Nguyen decided to throw his strategy out the window and go all out looking for a trademark stoppage win,
“I’d built up so much emotion that all I wanted to do was just hurt somebody and fight. I didn’t care, I didn’t respect everything that I’d worked on, and I didn’t respect the title or my position. I just wanted to go out there and throw hands, and that’s what I did. I paid the price for that.”
Both fighters were in similar situations, Le also had to endure the quarantine conditions. But while the American kept his cool on fight night Nguyen feels he let the occasion get the better of him,
“I’d never fight like this, but I’d literally take one or two shots just to throw a shot. Either hit him or not, I didn’t care, but I’m never usually like that. But the fight happened, and it is what it is. He came to win, and I came to fight, that was the difference.”
Having held the belt since 2017 Nguyen is entitled to feel he deserves an immediate rematch. That is the goal for the 31 year old,
“My ultimate goal is the rematch and giving the people what they want. It only makes sense after holding the title for three years and defending it four times, and I am sure Thanh Le wants that rematch as well.”
However he knows there is another featherweight in the mix and feels a fight with undefeated contender Garry Tonon is inevitable,
“We’ve got a speed bump, and that speed bump is Garry Tonon, so whether ONE wants it that way or wants me to go straight back into the title fight, there will be good matchups. I would personally like to fight Tonon as a title defense, and I can’t do that until I beat Le and get my title back.”
Having seen several fights fall through due to the Covid-19 pandemic Nguyen was worried his bout with Le would be scrapped at the last minute,
“I was stressing all the way up to two days before the fight. One of my cornermen tested positive for Covid, so my bout with Thanh Le was in jeopardy. Aung La and I were the main and co-main event, and we were told that because we were with him, we might not be able to fight.”
Earlier in the year Nguyen entered a training camp at Sanford MMA in Florida only to see a fight with Le fall through. He returned to Australia where Covid-19 restrictions made it impossible to train,
“It was pretty crazy. I was booked to fight Thanh Le at the start of the year, and I left my family for three months to train for it then I got told that fight wasn’t going to go through and I had to come back to Australia and quarantine,” he recalls.
Having travelled so far and trained for so long the thought of seeing the fight nixed at the last minute was a disturbing one for the Australian,
“I thought our fight was going to be scrapped after we had done all of this, going through so much mental and physical struggle. It was hard. Nothing went right, nothing went our way, but at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change it for the world as long as we got to experience it.”
Nguyen is determined to prepare for his next fight in Florida regardless of the restrictions and regulations he has to overcome in order to do it,
“I’m back in pre-camp now to start getting ready, so whether that happens now or later, I’ll be asking for the rematch. We will see whether they approve it or whether I have to get a couple of wins under my belt (but) this time I’m going to go (to Florida) for four weeks to tighten everything up.”
Having won so many fights in such impressive style Nguyen was not expecting to get stopped by Le. It was a shock to the former champion but he is determined to rebound by reclaiming the title in 2021,
“That happening was a big slap in the face on my end (but) from every loss, you can come back stronger. I’m just working in silence and, when I get the rematch, I will show the world how I am meant to fight.”