MANILA, Philippines – After coming up short in his bid to become a three-division world champion in ONE Championship, Martin Nguyen has decided to leave the bantamweight division.
Nguyen, called “The Situ-Asian,” reigns supreme at the top of the featherweight and lightweight divisions, but failed to wrestle the bantamweight strap from Bibiano Fernandes in March when he lost via split decision.
Last July, he lost for the second consecutive time, courtesy of newly crowned interim ONE Championship bantamweight title-holder Kevin Belingon.
Despite gaining great experience against the two top competitors in the 65.8-kg division, Nguyen has decided that it is best for him to stay away from the heavier weight classes.
“I was naive. I thought the weight cut was not going to be an issue, but it played out in the fight,” he admitted. “I did not feel tired – I could have gone another five rounds, but with my toe, it just came to a point where my reactions were off, and Kevin’s speed was impeccable. I could not adjust, and everything just came into play.”
“It was a good learning curve, and a good experience overall, but I will stick to my roots where my body feels stronger and more comfortable,” he added.
Nguyen is now shifting his focus to the possible threats to his featherweight and lightweight titles, as there are already plenty of challengers who want to step up.
ONE’s lightweight division remains stacked, especially with former champions Shinya Aoki and Eduard Folayang making their cases to contend for the belt again. Ev Ting, Timofey Nastyukhin, and Honorio Banario are on the rise as well.
Nguyen has yet to defend the lightweight belt, but gave his take on who he believes should be in the front of the lightweight title picture.
“I would say Shinya Aoki. He is a legend, and he has taken out his last two opponents devastatingly with first-round finishes. He is not riding decisions like Eduard and Ev,” said Nguyen.
“Yeah, they put up good fights, and they have fought good opponents, but Shinya has fought good opponents, too, and he put them away in the first round.”
Aoki’s last two contests have lasted a combined five minutes and 31 seconds. He submitted Rasul Yakhyaev in just over three minutes in Singapore, before finishing off Shannon Wiratchai in just over two minutes in Manila.
“As far as Timofey Nastyukhin goes, he is not as busy as I would expect for someone who wants to get a title shot, and Amir Khan is fighting Honorio Banario in Shanghai, so we will see if he jumps ahead if he wins,” said Nguyen.
In the featherweight division, Nguyen sees another former champion in Mongolia’s Narantungalag “Tungaa” Jadambaa as a viable challenger to his title.
“If that is the next one for me, then I want Jadambaa. He is the ex-king, he is a legend, and he has been in this sport forever,” he said.
Jadambaa is 4-1 in his last five matches and is coming off back-to-back victories with a unanimous decision win against Kazuki Tokudome and a second-round TKO win over Edward Kelly.
Another intriguing direction for Nguyen would be a grudge match against the very man that he dethroned to become the featherweight king, former champion Marat “The Cobra” Gafurov. Nguyen and Gafurov have split their first two meetings, and a trilogy bout is something that the reigning champion believes is inevitable down the road.
“I had to wait two years and finish four guys consecutively to get my rematch with him, and he has only had one fight since the loss, and that is against Emilio [Urrutia]. He beat him in the first round, so good on him. It was a good finish, but I would like to see him fight two more times, at least,” Nguyen said of Gafurov.
“I know the rematch is going to happen eventually, so we will see what happens,” he added.
Nguyen successfully defended his featherweight title in Singapore back in May, defeating Christian Lee via split decision.
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