The 28-year-old Australian standout knocked out the previously unbeaten Marat “Cobra” Gafurov in their rematch and laid claim to the featherweight crown in the main event of ONE: QUEST FOR GREATNESS last Friday, 18 August at the iconic Stadium Negara in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Recognizing an opening, Nguyen countered Gafurov’s low kick with an overhand right that knocked out the Dagestani grappler at the center of the ONE Championship cage.
The newly-minted ONE Featherweight World Champion achieved one of his dreams by becoming a world champion in astounding fashion.
However, the sweet victory was about more than just the belt for Nguyen, instead it was all for his family.
Nguyen may have been a menace during his adolescence, but he never had to look far to find inspiration and set himself on the right path. For him, it was right at home and came in the form of the man he called “dad.”
“My dad worked hard just for us to get by. We were not the richest family, and we were not as poor as other people out here, but we got by. He was my sole inspiration to work hard, just the way he was able to provide for his family,” he said.
While Nguyen’s father was not particularly fond of his son stepping into the cage, he watched with a keen eye and supported him nonetheless.
In July 2012, Nguyen made his professional debut and proved to be quite the talent as soon as the bell rang.
Nguyen was flawless, winning every bout en route to capturing the BRACE featherweight championship belt in November 2013. Like a good son, he brought the belt to his father shortly after winning it.
“My dad looked at it. He was all happy and taking pictures with it. It was awesome,” he recalled. “And then he said, ‘Alright, you got the belt now. Enough. Just call it quits.’ No parent likes to see their child getting injured in a match or anything like that, so he said, ‘Enough now. No more.’”
Sadly, it was the last thing Nguyen’s father said to him with regard to his professional martial arts career as his dad tragically passed away just a few weeks later.
His father had undergone a bone marrow transplant so he could get more white blood cells into his body. The procedure was initially a success, but the healing process taking longer than usual.
As doctors were preparing to do more testing, Nguyen’s father contracted the flu, and that eventually turned into pneumonia and took his life.
“I never experienced any hardship or heartbreak until then, and I will never forget that day. He was in Melbourne at that time, so I flew into Melbourne to see him. Everything was happening so fast, and then he was gone. I did not even get to speak to him, and there are a lot of things I wish I could have said to him. It was heartbreaking,” Nguyen shared.
Nearly four years later, Nguyen still carries the loss of his father like an anchor around his neck.
Even though Nguyen is constantly reminded of his dad, he knows that his world-title winning performance was a fitting way to pay tribute to him.
With tears streaming from his eyes, Nguyen kneeled at the center of the ONE Championship cage, basking in the adulation poured upon him.
While the sought-after belt is draped over his shoulder, Nguyen expressed a wondrous rhetoric in his post-bout interview.
“This is for my dad. He was my inspiration for the whole camp when I mentally broke. (He and) the boys kept me together,” he stated.
Two days after accomplishing the monumental victory and claiming the No. 1 status in ONE Championship’s stacked featherweight division, Nguyen visited his grave with the belt.
“I am doing this all for him. One big title to put the icing on the cake,” he said. “It’s the only thing I wanted to do once I got home. I hope he is so proud right now.”