Reigning ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin “The Situ-Asian” Nguyen may not have been familiar with Koyomi Matsushima, his upcoming challenger at ONE: DAWN OF HEROES until late last year, but he was quickly forced to sit up and pay attention to the Japanese prodigy.
"The Situ-Asian" hadn’t seen Matsushima in full flight until the night of the Japanese fighter's promotional debut at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES back in September of 2018, where the manner in which he dealt with the always-dangerous former titleholder Marat Gafurov instantly put him on Nguyen's radar.
"I thought he was pretty decent. The way he was forcing Gafurov to chase him using his movement was pretty impressive," said Nguyen.
The 30-year-old is better qualified than most to judge, having gone through two tough bouts of his own against Gafurov, who’s been firmly established as one of the division's elite and one of its toughest customers.
"Gafurov was getting frustrated, and I know for a fact that when he gets frustrated he comes forward recklessly and it was just a matter of time before Matsushima landed a clean shot on him which eventually put him out,” Nguyen claimed.
"That's when I first heard of him and thought he could possibly be a contender and that our paths may well cross later,” Nguyen added.
If Nguyen had any doubts of their potential match-up, they were soon dispelled after Matsushima's second bout with ONE Championship at ONE: LEGENDARY QUEST back in June, when he snapped Kwon Won Il's winning run to put himself firmly in the frame for a title shot that Nguyen says is fully warranted.
"I kept an eye on him and when he fought Kwon Won Il he dominated. Congrats to him, he deserves a title shot after that,” Nguyen shared.
Conducting his training camp with his new team at Hard Knocks 365 in Florida, Nguyen believes the change of environment has helped his game grow in leaps and bounds.
Learning under former world champion kickboxer Henri Hooft, he's confident that his striking, in particular, has reached new heights - heights Matsushima won’t be able to handle.
"Here in Florida we've got people coming in and out of the gym, world-class champions from different organizations and you're constantly mixing it up with different types of athletes."
"I feel like my game has gone up and beyond what it was. I'm training with lions to become a lion,” Nguyen said.
Their bout will be one of a handful of blockbuster matchups in the Philippines’ capital, which also includes American lightweight great Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez against former two-time ONE Lightweight World Champion Eduard “Landslide” Folayang in the semi-final of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix, and all-time legend Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson against Tatsumitsu “The Sweeper” Wada in the semi-final of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix.Published 26 Jul 2019, 07:24 IST