There’s actually not that much difference between the career trajectories of Marat Gafurov and Martin Nguyen. Both were champions before they signed with ONE Championship and both made a winning start to their careers with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
Nguyen lost the fifth fight of his professional career when he was thrown in with Gafurov at very late notice. Coincidentally, the Russian won fight number five with a split decision. In MMA, the margins can be very thin and the Australian is entitled to believe that the gulf between him and the reigning featherweight champion is nowhere near as wide as some would like to believe.
So is Nguyen a truly elite featherweight who was unfortunate to come up against the very best in the division at a relatively early stage of his career? Or is he simply not in the same class as Gafurov, the undefeated multiple-promotion champion who submitted him in 41 seconds?
These are questions that will be answered definitively at ONE: Quest for Greatness on Friday night. Nguyen says he learned valuable lessons from his first and only defeat.
“My first fight with Marat, I remember every single moment of it from walking into the cage to walking out of the cage. It was by far the worst day of my MMA career. He capitalized on my mistake and the rest is history. But coming out of that fight it just motivated me more to be where I want to be.”
The results that Nguyen has registered since that loss speak for themselves. He has beaten both the top prospect at featherweight and the most experienced former champion in the division, both via stoppage in the very first round.
In fact, since losing to Gafurov, he’s finished every single fight in the first round, and every victory has come at the expense of a very well respected featherweight. He feels he’s a completely different fighter today, and believes the outcome will be very different as a result.
“The big difference is you’ll see a different fighter. Someone who’s prepared for everything every single situation living no stones unturned. It will be a much more exciting fight, it will be a longer fight, and, yeah, the crowd will be on their feet. Guaranteed.”
Nguyen has never made it to the end of the third round, let alone fought for 25 minutes. He’s finished every opponent that he has ever faced, except one, but isn’t expecting to overwhelm Gafurov in the early stages.
“I think everyone has a weakness. However they hide it, it will come out in a fight eventually. Everyone has their weaknesses, everyone has their downfalls when it comes to martial arts, but it’s all about exposing him and eventually one of his weaknesses will come out.”
When Nguyen fought Gafurov the first time, he had been preparing for an undercard match-up with Bashir Ahmed. It was scheduled to be the first fight of the night. Instead he found himself facing the champion in the main event, a match-up he accepted as “a favor to ONE Championship.”
Perhaps the promotion has returned the favor by offering him a rematch. But after four first-round stoppage wins in succession it is impossible to argue that Nguyen hasn’t earned an opportunity to challenge for the title again.
This time he has had plenty of time to prepare for Gafurov. And Nguyen believes this will make all the difference.
“What makes me confident in this fight is the preparation. Everyone that I’ve had in for this came, everywhere that I’ve traveled before this game, everything that I have done had been right. I’m leaving no stones unturned. I’m doing everything right. I’m not leaving anything out. And as long as I do that I can walk in confident.”
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