There’s something universally relatable about an underdog. The concept forms the basis of the ‘American Dream’ and holds much significance in the world of combat sports. Events like Henry Cooper’s knockdown of Ali and Matt Serra’s unthinkable win over the indomitable Georges St Pierre remind us that outcomes are far from finite and those who can persevere, can achieve great things.
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After several ups and downs in the United States, atomweight Bi Nguyen will now be competing in Asia. And she’s come to take over…
Return to the Jungle
After an impressive run in her beginnings as a Muay Thai fighter, Bi Nguyen tore into the MMA scene amassing a 5-1 amateur record in promotions like Fury FC, 559 Fights, and Legacy FC. A 3-0 record as professional soon followed, establishing her as one of the hottest female MMA prospects. Now, following injury troubles and recent losses to Lindsey Van Zandt and Jayme Hinshaw, ‘Kill Her’ Bi is going back to her roots in preparation for her long-awaited come-back, cutting her teeth in the shark-infested waters of Tiger Muay Thai.
Speaking to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock, Bi is revelling in the opportunity to train in one of the world’s best striking camps and believes that the relentless pace in camp will mean nothing but good things for her return to the cage.
“I’m a whole-hearted believer in train tough, fight easy. I’m getting beat up and getting better so I know that coming into this fight, nothing is going to surprise me.”
Her opponent, Indonesian striker Dwi ani Retno Wulan is also a newcomer to ONE Championship, winning her debut with the promotion last November, outpointing respected Muay Thai practitioner Putri Padmi in a unanimous decision. For Nguyen, this has all the makings of a statement fight, an opportunity she is relishing.
“I’m going to be fast, I’m going to be strong, it’s in a big stage… If you can feel my excitement right now, that’s how this fight is going to be.”
The camp, run by George Hickman, is a frequent stop-over for the combat sports world’s best, and this year is no exception, hosting current UFC women’s flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko and her sister Antonina as they prepare for bouts in June and April respectively. For Bi, however, the move east is providing opportunities that were hard to come by back in the US.
“In Asia, you get smaller guys to work with. In American gyms, there’s a lot of big guys and not many people for me to work with. Here, they can push me hard and not baby me like the big guys would but also not injure you, it’s just so beneficial”.
Despite time away from the sport, Nguyen’s following has exploded in recent months, having starred in CBS’ Survivor: David vs. Goliath, a show recruiting contestants representing underdogs and overachievers, a la the biblical tale. In the wake of some tough contest, the opportunity to temporarily step away from MMA and re-group was a welcome one for Nguyen and she believes that starring on the most successful reality show in television history (averaging 10 million viewers an episode) was beneficial for both her and the viewing public.
“I don’t watch TV, so it’s opened my eyes to a whole new world” she jokes, “my popularity rose in a different demographic, which is great, and I’m really proud of showing MMA to them as well.”
She also hopes that sharing her ups and downs both personally and professionally can provide some comfort to those going through tough times.
“Sometimes I think that people feel like they need to be a certain character to get accepted, to get liked and change themselves. But what I really learned through this is just be yourself, there’s no need to fake who you are”.
Despite having to leave the show after four episodes to prevent further damaging an existing MCL injury, the show gave her new perspectives on life, her career as a mixed martial artist and an attitude to carry with her as she starts her new chapter in Asia.
“I think I had a more personal experience [than most], they recruited me the same week my dad passed away. So that, as well as the challenges and making that tough decision when I had to leave, it just changed me for the better and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Now, fully rested and recuperated, her focus is entirely turned towards a dominant performance next month, a fight echoing similarities of her days on the show as a David against Goliath.
“She’s coming down from strawweight, so I would imagine she’s bigger, but what’s new for me, right? I don’t even know who she is. I don’t care. I’m going to show ONE FC I deserve to be here and I’m going to show them that I deserve to fight for the belt.”
To further add to her confidence, ONE FC employs the progressive policy of making fighters compete at their walk-around weights, a fact that Nguyen, echoing many voices in the sport, considers of the utmost importance.
“Previously, I’ve had to cut so much water weight that sometimes I think that I take hits and they affect me a lot more because I’m dehydrated. I have always said, I wish I could just step in fight and that’s what I’m able to do here. I’m finally going to be able to see my full potential.”
The future is certainly bright for Nguyen. A fresh start in the promotion on everyone’s lips gives her stock the platform to rise higher than ever before and the opportunity to realise a life-long dream, following the announcement of a card in her native Vietnam in September.
“It’s crazy because life has a way of giving you what you want, but not exactly how you would see it. When I started fighting, living in Houston I was like, if I could just debut in the UFC and Houston, that would be amazing, but now it’s bigger than I could ever imagine. I get to debut in my country… I hope that I can keep it together!”
April 12 is set for the re-birth of a winning record for Bi Nguyen and when the cage door closes, all the hardship, toil and setbacks in recent months will be in there with her as fuel for the fire. Mark your calendars, “Kill Her” is coming to Manila…
View Bi Nguyen’s full interview with John Hyon Ko on Kumite TV below, and subscribe for more ONE Championship interviews:
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.