The 27-year-old Vietnamese-Australian from Narellan Vale, NSW and young father of three, says that people have the wrong idea about cage fighting.
“They just see people punching each other and say it’s barbaric,” says Nguyen, better known by his cage name, ‘The Situ-Asian’.
Nguyen is one of three very different young Aussies featured in the upcoming documentary Caged, airing on SBS this month, who all passionately pursue the extreme sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) popularly known as cage fighting.
“I wanted to be a part of this whole documentary to change everyone’s perspective basically. To all the newcomers and everyone’s perspective who criticises us and accuses us of being ‘thuggish’,” Nguyen told SBS Online this week.
“Other people who see the sport they just think of the actual fighting itself.”
“They don’t see the whole process of what leads up to a fight - the sacrifices and the discipline.”
For the many followers on Nguyen’s growing social media profiles – on Twitter and Facebook, his discipline is something they’re well aware of, as he documents his rigorous training and careful diet regime in photos he shares.
Much of his healthy lifestyle is down to his wife Brooke, who supports him with healthy meals and encouragement as he balances a gruelling schedule of ten-hour shifts as a car mechanic, six days a week, followed by long training sessions at the gym.
“I’ve got a pretty good wife,” admits Nguyen.
“She does everything for me. She supports me and keeps me level headed.”
He admits that Brooke is not without her reservations too though.
“She doesn’t like it,” explains Nguyen. “She doesn’t like the fact that I could be hurt. One day I might not be able to be myself when I come home to my family. So that’s the thing she hates about it, but she supports me 100%.”
“She just wants me to know that when it comes time to give up, it’s time to give up. I can’t just keep holding onto it. So she supports me up to that point.”
Loved ones’ trepidations are nothing new for Nguyen though, who’s spent years copping it from his mum, a Vietnamese immigrant who came to Australia in the 70s after fleeing the war with his dad, as refugees.
“Yeah she doesn’t really like it!” laughs Nguyen. “Even to this day she still tells me to stop! But at the end of the day, she can only support me.”
Nguyen’s sport is particularly unusual as part of the Australian Vietnamese community too.
“Cage fighting is really, really unusual,” says Nguyen. “If it doesn’t involve books and pens and going to university then it’s really unusual.”
“In terms of it being part of the culture, it’s not. I think it’s still illegal in Vietnam.”
“We were meant to have an event in Vietnam just last month but it ended up getting cancelled because it wasn’t legalised yet.”
Nguyen’s mum knows how much he puts into the sport though. The brutal training regimen, long hours at the gym and of course the strict diet and ‘weight-cutting’ all have to happen in the build-up up to a fight.
“The whole point of me wanting to be involved in this documentary was to show everyone the lead-up into the fight,” says Nguyen.
“Hopefully, that will change the outsider’s view of what goes on.”
While outsiders often perceive the sport as violent or brutish, Nguyen emphasised it’s not about aggression.
“It’s not like me to get all angry,” he says. “It’s not all barbaric.”
“A lot of people say to me ‘oh! You’re a cage fighter, I wouldn’t want to mess with you!’ But really, I wouldn’t touch you! Unless you get in the cage- it’s all professional.”
So as the father of three young children, would he ever want to see any of them in the cage?
“Look, I definitely wouldn’t stop them from learning martial arts in general. In terms of jumping in the cage, if that’s a decision they make, then I can only support them.”
Whatever happens, Nguyen’s future in the cage looks bright.
“Thinking about retirement is not an option at the moment,” he says.
“I know that in the future it might come - it will come. I think I’ll just deal with it then.”
But at the moment I feel good, I want to be at the next level where I am internationally exposed. It’s just about being a champion. So I’ll just keep working at it.”