Ben Nguyen was one of the many victims of the UFC’s purging of the flyweight division.
“Ben 10” started his UFC tenure by compiling a promising 4-1 record, with three of his wins coming by stoppage. But after two straight losses in 2018, including a loss in December just over a month after the Demetrious Johnson-for-Ben Askren trade that put the 125-pound division’s status in jeopardy, Nguyen received the news that he was no longer a part of the UFC roster.
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Nguyen landed on his feet with RIZIN and will make his debut at RIZIN 15 on April 21 against Kyoji Horiguchi in a non-title, catchweight fight. He spoke with John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock to discuss the bout as well as his departure from the UFC.
“Give us an answer”
Going into what would be his final UFC bout, Nguyen was aware of what was at stake. He had seen other fighters in his division coming off losses such as Jose Torres and Justin Scoggins get released after the UFC-ONE Championship deal.
Knowing the fates of others only added to the strain of preparing for his fight against Wilson Reis.
“I just knew it was in the back of my head the whole time,” Nguyen said. “I felt like it did affect me mentally because I knew it was like, this is it, make or break.”
Nguyen succumbed to the pressure. He lost the fight and was released shortly after.
Though he is no longer with the UFC, Nguyen is frustrated by the company’s treatment of other fighters still competing in its flyweight division.
“They’re just slowly kind of sweeping it under the rug, and I don’t agree with that,” Nguyen said. “I don’t like confrontation that much, so I’m not gonna like bad mouth the UFC about it, but yeah, man, I don’t think they should handle it that way. Or at least give us an answer, where are we going to go? Like, what’s going to happen?”
Weighing his options
Following his release from the UFC, Nguyen had a decision to make.
“We spoke to a few other promotions, you know. We spoke to ONE, we spoke to even Bare Knuckle,” Nguyen said. “There was a lot of options for us leaving the UFC, and RIZIN just stood out and they just really, really wanted me.”
While the Bare Knuckle FC inclusion may seem out of left field, Nguyen explained the connection. His wife, April Adams, is a professional boxer training under John Bastable. Bastable also trains Bec Rawlings, who has competed for the promotion three times, winning all three.
While Nguyen ultimately picked RIZIN, he’s not ruling out a future fight without the gloves.
The decision to go to RIZIN was all but made when Nguyen went to Japan for RIZIN 14.
“When I was there, I felt this type of energy like, oh man, I want to be in that ring with the whole lights, the whole fireworks, and the walkouts and just the music,” Nguyen said. “Just being there really got me pumped up, and then when I left I almost had made up my mind like, I really want to fight in that ring. I want to fight in the RIZIN ring.”
Fighting Kyoji Horiguchi
Nguyen knew that his departure from the UFC meant the chance to compete against the best in the world outside of the promotion. When RIZIN called and offered a fight with Kyoji Horiguchi, “Ben 10” was quick to say yes.
“That’s one of the top five, if not like one of the top three flyweights or fighters, flyweights, bantamweights, whatever you want to call it now, in the world,” Nguyen said. “Definitely a huge challenge ahead of me, and I really enjoy being an underdog and try and do my best to knock down the king off his throne.”
Horiguchi earned the inaugural RIZIN bantamweight strap after defeating Darrion Caldwell by submission at RIZIN 14, but his title will not be on the line in the fight with Nguyen. Though both fighters have plenty of experience at both 125 and 135 pounds, this will be a catchweight bout at 132 pounds.
“It’s really confusing,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t quite know until they announced it that it was a non-title fight.”
Nguyen believes he has an idea as to why he’s not getting a title shot.
“My guess is that they want to protect him because I believe he’s got to fight Caldwell again in Bellator,” Nguyen said. “In Japan, I guess you can fight, you can be the champion and not have to fight for the belt, not have to defend your belt.”
Not having the title on the line could provide an interesting conundrum for RIZIN matchmakers.
“When I win, what do I do to fight for the belt? Like, fight Horiguchi again?” Nguyen asked.
Thoughts on the best in the world
Nguyen took the opportunity RIZIN offered him to show he’s one of the best fighters in the game today. He believes a win over Horiguchi will “put [him] at the top of the flyweight division” worldwide.
Even after all that has happened to Johnson in the past year though, from losing his UFC flyweight title to leaving the promotion for ONE Championship, Nguyen still admires the resume and abilities of “Mighty Mouse.”
“I feel like DJ is still [at the top],” Nguyen said. “I know he lost his last fight, which I don’t really agree with. I don’t think he lost to Cejudo.”
In Nguyen’s mind, Cejudo is not on the same level as Johnson and Horiguchi.
“I don’t feel like he did enough to prove that he was the champ when he fought DJ. I don’t think he did enough to dominate and to defeat DJ, who’s the best” Nguyen said. “He is very good, and he does get better every time. But, you know, I think we all wish there was a rematch between Cejudo and DJ.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.