Steven Nguyen gets his chance to show the world that he is UFC caliber when he competes at Dana White’s Contender Series on July 30.
“The Ninja” is the current EFC featherweight champion and is now potentially just one fight away joining the UFC.
He spoke to John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock about his upcoming Contender Series bout, his opponent Aalon Cruz, and representing Vietnam.
Relocating to Texas
For Steven Nguyen (6-0), a call up to the Contender Series could not have come at a better time. The 26-year-old recently completed his degree at Wichita State University while balancing a fighting career as well as a job.
He opened up as to how difficult it was remaining a successful pro athlete and why he chose to stay in education in the first place.
“My whole life I’ve been going to school and I knew I was never going to 100 percent drop out and pursue fighting because I come from a traditional Asian background – I always had to have a plan B. I stuck with school and honestly it’s paid off, now I have a degree, and I’m in a position to fight professionally, hopefully forever for the UFC,” Nguyen told John Hyon Ko.
“But it was hard man, just trying to balance school and training and work on top of that, but everything still revolved around MMA. I was able to schedule everything, work, school, around it and it all worked out, so I’m happy that it’s here.”
Nguyen found it difficult to convince both parents that professional fighting was the route he would like to go down. Although his parents were initially not supportive, “The Ninja” let his hard work do the talking.
“In the very beginning, my parents were not supportive at all. My dad’s actually a pharmacist, and he’s trained in the medical field, so he was like ‘if you ever hurt your arm or something don’t come to me.’ But now, not just with the degree, but they’ve seen just how much hard work I’ve put into this sport,” he revealed. “They are very happy that I got the degree, that’s for sure, but now they’re like my biggest fans, man. I’m blessed.”
Since earning his college degree, Nguyen has been able to take his passion to the next level and begin training like a professional fighter. Earlier this year he relocated to Fortis MMA in Dallas, Texas – a gym widely recognized for its high-level of talent and coaching abilities.
“Fortis MMA is one of the best gyms in the world. I think they’re like second right now in camp standings for most wins and we have a lot of guys that go through the contender series and win.”
The fact that Fortis MMA has had other members of the gym go through the Contender Series and earn UFC contracts has given the 26-year-old that extra push needed to be ready come fight night.
Originally, Nguyen was invited down as a training partner by teammate Miles Johns, who picked up a UFC contract on the Contender Series a few weeks ago. He explained why he decided to stay in Dallas and train full-time with the gym.
“Basically one of my teammates Miles [Johns], from my hometown Kansas, started training out there and just got a UFC contract. He invited me out here to train and I connected with the team, I connected with the coach, and I love the city and everything worked out so I got this amazing chance to train with this team.”
Steven Nguyen is closer to his goal than ever, and training with some of the best in the world day-to-day has prepared him fully for the challenge that awaits him.
Currently, the featherweight is unemployed and is devoting every ounce of energy into reaching the UFC.
“This is everything I wanted: this is my dream. I’m living, eating, sleeping, training – that’s all I’m doing. I don’t have a job right now, I moved away from home, I’m in Dallas, Texas right now training out of Fortis MMA, and I’m dedicating 150 percent of my time into training, dieting – my whole life right now is revolved around this upcoming fight which is the biggest fight of my life. I’m excited I get to train like a professional fighter for the first time.”
He’s out to show the world that dreams do indeed come true – you just have to put your mind to it.
In his last outing, Nguyen defended the EFC Featherweight Championship. After three grueling rounds, he was able to knock out his opponent late in the fourth, keep the title and most importantly remain an undefeated prospect.
This marked the first time “The Ninja” had visited the dreaded championship rounds, yet he remained calm and composed.
“He was definitely one of my most game opponents and in that fourth round I think I got a second wind man, I think I got a second wind,” said Nguyen. “It showed a lot to myself and it showed a lot that I can hang in there and pull out a wind if I have too. Even since that fight I’ve improved double, so, I’m excited to get into this fight and show you guys even more.”
He will be facing Aalon Cruz, a tall and lengthy southpaw. Nguyen welcomes this challenge with two fists and is excited to prove that he can compete against bigger opposition.
What’s the game plan? Simplicity, by the sounds of it.
“At first I didn’t know who he was, he’s a very tough opponent though. Good grappler, I think he’s a jiu-jitsu brown belt. Long, six-foot guy, southpaw. I’ve been training exactly for this fight, everything that I need. He’s a tough opponent and I feel like he’s going to try and take me to the ground but, what am I gonna do? I’m going to stuff his takedowns, stay in his face and beat him up and win this fight. It’s as simple as that.”
“I knew when I took the fight for the Contender Series [that it wouldn’t] matter who it was gonna be, you already know it’s gonna be a tough fight. I like this challenge and I think I have the skillset to beat him so when the time comes you guys will see,” stated Nguyen. “I don’t see Aalon Cruz as a personality, as a person, I just see him as another person across the cage from me that I need to destroy. That’s it.”
Since starting at Fortis MMA, the undefeated featherweight has been making the most of the world-class equipment and bodies that engulf him. The stars have finally aligned for Steven Nguyen, and to say he would be ready is an understatement.
“I’ve been putting in extra hours man, like even after training and now that I don’t have any other distractions and nothing else holding me back I am putting 150 percent of my time into it. Mentally, physically, everything man. I feel better than I ever have before and like you said, this is the perfect time frame, and it’s going to be the perfect time for me to shine. And the perfect time for me to get signed with the UFC. The whole world will see it, July 30.”
Reaching the UFC is the goal, but Nguyen has the expectations of a nation on his shoulders.
“The Ninja” wants to be more than ‘the only Vietnamese athlete in the UFC’ – he wants to represent his nation with pride and be a role model his country can look up to, as well.
“I want them [Vietnamese] to have somebody to look up to. I want them to have a role model.”
“I do have a responsibility and priority to represent my nation and represent my people when I step out there. So yeah, I’m excited that I have that opportunity and that platform to represent my people. I’m going to go out there and do it to my fullest ability.”
Steven specialises in MMA and Lethwei. He loves a good 1-2 down the middle.