This Friday’s fight between Martin Nguyen and Eduard Folayang pits champion against champion. Both man come into the headline bout at the MOA Arena as current ONE Championship titleholders, and one of them is hoping to leave with two belts.
There are plenty of potential storylines going into ONE: Legends of the World. But featherweight champion Nguyen, who is moving up a class to challenge for Folayang’s lightweight title, isn’t going to pretend that this is some sort of a grudge match,
“When ONE Championship flew us to Netflix headquarters in L.A., that's when Eduard had just won the world title and we just walked around Hollywood and spent five days together. From breakfast, lunch to dinner, it was me, Eduard, and Peter Davis, and we were just chilling out every day. Friendship grew and the respect came from there.”
Having spent five pleasant days in Folayang’s company was never going to be enough to put Nguyen off signing up for this fight. He is moving up in weight and has a chance to become ONE Championship’s first ever two-division champion.
“After we came to our terms and agreements it's just like any other fight. We said the things we had to say, we are martial artists at the end of the day, once all that was said and done. He just became an opponent in my eyes and we're ready for another opponent.”
Nguyen stunned the world with his second-round knockout of Marat Gafurov in August. It was the second time in a row he had knocked out a veteran opponent who had previously held titles with multiple promotions.
Whether Marat Gafurov or Kazunori Yokota underestimated Nguyen’s striking, only they will know. But the Australian, who is of Vietnamese descent, says that stand-up has never been his greatest strength.
“My strength is my wrestling and my cardio. I know I haven't showed much of it, but that's what I love to do. I love wrestling, hence the ears. But my striking has been on point at the moment, you can expect anything. I'm not a one-dimensional fighter, wherever the fight goes I will capitalize.”
The source of this particular skillset is somewhat unusual. Nguyen says that first learned to take opponents down while playing for a rugby league team in Australia.
“The wrestling skills came from rugby league. We played rugby and we had wrestlers come in and help us tackle.”
Folayang has been known to use takedowns to win fights. But the Filipino is renowned for his wushu and Nguyen feels this represents the biggest threat.
“Obviously his strength is his striking with his wushu background. That's Filipino warrior spirit made him step up to become the world champion (but) he's no longer a one-dimensional fighter, he showed that against Shinya (Aoki), who couldn't take him on the ground. It just proves everyone that he is taking it to another level and his martial arts career.”
Nguyen wasn’t expected to beat Gafurov, he had already lost to the Russian once, albeit in a match-up that was put together at very short notice. His knockout was a major upset and the 28-year-old can be content in the knowledge that he has already surpassed all expectations by becoming a champion.
However, Nguyen isn’t complacent about his career. He has the opportunity to become the most successful fighter in ONE Championship history, at least in terms of silverware, and is determined to grasp it by beating Folayang,
“My ultimate goal was just to win a world championship title. Now I have the opportunity to win two and be the first in ONE history. The idea of becoming a two-time world champion is just so mesmerizing.”
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