Aussie MMA pioneer Martin Nguyen makes monumental sacrifice in search of one more world title

Martin Nguyen is putting it all on the line for another taste of world title glory.

“The Situ-Asian” can take a big step toward reclaiming the ONE featherweight MMA world title when he faces number one contender Garry Tonon at ONE 165 this weekend.

But to get the job done on Sunday, January 28, at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, Japan, the devoted father is making a profound sacrifice – time with his family.

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Nguyen trades his home in Sydney for Florida, United States, to do his training camps at the star-studded Kill Cliff FC under renowned trainers Henri Hooft and Greg Jones, while mixing it up with the facility’s deep roster of MMA stars.

In recent years, that has meant spending almost half his time away from his wife, Brooke, and their three kids.

“They’re always my why, regardless of being in camp or without camp or whatever. They’re always the reason why I do everything,” Nguyen said.

“Come to think of it, the last time I was here before my last fight, I was (in the US) for eight weeks, and it was around the same time. So I will have spent, by the end of this camp, six months of that 12-month span over here constantly in camp.”

Giving up his dad duties for eight weeks at a time isn’t a decision that Nguyen and his family take lightly, but the bigger picture makes the time away worthwhile.

Nguyen is putting it all on the line. Credit: Supplied

While most people are only afforded four weeks of annual leave per year, the Aussie knockout artist’s unorthodox choice of vocation allows him to structure his work around his family.

When he is grinding it out stateside, however, he insists that his family are the ones running the hard yards.

“It’s somewhat easy for me because I know what needs to be done. The tough decision comes from my wife,” he said.

“She’s the one that has to deal and step up and be a double parent and look after three kids and going through their lives, running around and making sure their lives are on track, as well as hers. So, her life goes on pause to look after the kids, where it’s usually a teamwork thing.

“My whole family knows that it’s all for them at the end, and then obviously, it’s for me as well. But it’s all for them and the life we get to live with me being at home, being able to take them to school, pick them up from school. Some parents don’t even get to see their kids throughout the whole day. I have the blessing of seeing them, so it’s all part of the sacrifice.”

Nguyen is a pioneer of Australian MMA and has long led the charge for local stars in ONE Championship.

The 34-year-old enjoyed a historic reign over the promotion’s featherweight division from 2017 to 2020, a run during which he also netted the lightweight MMA strap.

Now Nguyen is craving a chance to get his hands on the belt once again, and that is why he seeks out the best training available.

Hard work is, after all, the bedrock of any career, not just that of a mixed martial artist. That, Nguyen says, is a value that he wants to instil in his children.

“Look, I’ve just got to think of it this way – I’m not in this sport forever. So, the time away, yes, it is a huge sacrifice. Huge sacrifice. But that’s only for the time being, you know?” he said.

“Every fight that I get, I have to make sure that I am the most well-prepared, so there’s no excuses every single time, win or lose. It’s the example I want to set for my family and my kids as well.”

To make it truly worthwhile, however, Nguyen will have to get past one of the best grapplers in MMA today – Garry Tonon.

The winner of the high-stakes battle is all but assured the next crack at the winner of the ONE featherweight MMA world title unification rematch on March 1 at ONE 166: Qatar between returning divisional king Tang Kai and interim champion Thanh Le.

Third-ranked Nguyen knows that while a win puts him within touching distance of his ultimate goal, a slip-up could see him swallowed up by the talent-laden featherweight MMA pack.

But the ONE legend’s confidence in climbing back to the top of the mountain has never wavered, and he plans to do it in style with the ninth knockout of his promotional tenure that began way back in 2014.

“(The Tonon fight) wasn’t necessarily on my bucket list, but it was just the right fight to make to get me back to title contention. That was the reason why Garry’s name came up. Other than that, if he was ranked behind me, his name wouldn’t come up at all,” he said.

“We’re both the next step forward in terms of getting that title shot, so it’s a fight that had to happen. It’s been almost a year in the making. So, on January 28 in Tokyo, we get to duel it out and see who the better man is and who steps forward in getting that title shot. (With) a win against Garry Tonon, whether it be the most boring match, whether it be the most exciting match, I’m definitely the next contender.

“How does (the fight) play out? Garry gets slept within two rounds.”

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