Rise to the Top: Interview with Pro MMA Fighter Steven “The Ninja” Nguyen
Sweat drenched cage. Blood smeared face. Ear drums bursting from the roar of the arena. Adrenaline rushing through your veins at 100mph. This is MMA. These are the Gladiators of our Century!
Mixed Martial Arts, more commonly referred to as MMA, is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, with athletes such as Ronda Rousey and Connor McGregor becoming household names. MMA requires athletic ability across multiple sports including boxing, wrestling, kickboxing, judo and jiu jitsu, as well as an insane amount of strength, endurance and a whole lotta balls.
While the leading MMA organization UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) are taking over the world show casing their top-class athletes and making profits of hundreds of millions annually, there are plenty other MMA organizations brimming with up-and-coming athletes ready to break their way, and bones, into the UFC.
Now known as Steven “the ninja” Nguyen (pronounced win), and recent signee with Iridium Sports Agency, Steven has not only begun his professional career as an MMA fighter in the EFC, but is smashing his way to the top. Currently holding a professional record of 4-0-0. I personally witnessed Steven knock his opponent out in 13 SECONDS during his professional debut. This immense success continued, with him winning the Featherweight Champion Title with a 16 second knock out… Yeah he’s a badass!
Fortunately for me I am friends with this badass, so I got to catch up with Steven and talk a little more about his rise to the top, his training and how he remains so humble throughout this journey.
How did you get involved in MMA? And when did you realise you wanted to take it from recreational sport into a professional career?
I started doing martial arts when I was five years old. My Mom sent me and my younger sister to Karate and Taekwondo classes, not realising it would actually lead to anything more than burning off some energy. My Sister didn’t really take to it and dropped out for ballet and that kind of thing, but I loved it. I went on to do a lot of Karate tournaments growing up and that’s where it all started for me.
I went to my first MMA gym when I was 14 years old. It had this big ass boxing ring which I thought was incredible and super legit like I had seen on TV. I walked in and thought ‘This is f***ing awesome’.
I had my first sparring session at 15. I was the skinny 15 year old Asian kid with long hair. I knew karate well by now so I felt confident going in to the ring to spar for the first time… and I got absolutely pummeled. That was my first lesson in being humble. I then went on to get my ass kicked fighting on the ground as well. So I learnt how to wrestle.
(I imagine the theme tune to Stevens teen years was I GET KNOCKED DOWN BUT I GET UP GAIN YOU AINT NEVER GONNA KEEP ME DOWN)
I then had my first smoker fight at 15 against a 21 year old and won. Actually, I won all 7 of my smoker fights.
(What do you mean you don’t know what a smoker fight is?! Who doesn’t know what a smoker fight is!? Oh… wait… I had no idea and shamefully had to ask what he was talking about.)
Oh a smoker fight is basically amateur fighting that doesn’t go on your record. My Coach told me to do as many of these as possible for experience, because if you lose, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t show on your record.
(Ahhh it makes sense now, duhh)
I started taking MMA more serious when I became undefeated as an amateur and realized I was winning everything. I was beating everyone. That’s when I saw I had a real future in this.
Is it a sport you would recommend anyone to give a go, or does it take a certain type of individual to succeed at MMA?
Anyone can try it and train, maybe take a few classes. It is a great mental and physical challenge and a great way to get in shape. So yeah, anyone can do it.
But competing is a whole different level. Getting in that cage, you have got to be tough. It is all about mental strength at that level. It is an individual sport, it is all about you. You can’t blame anyone else when things go wrong.
(I have only had one boxing fight in my life, but IT WAS THE MOST TERRIFUCKINGFYING thing I have EVER done! So to repeatedly put yourself into a cage with another human wanting to rip your limbs off… that takes some a lot of balls)
What or who has been the biggest influence and inspiration in the success of your fighting career so far?
My Coach, Andy Zerger. He has been like a father figure to me since I was 15. Always there for advice and support, in and out of training. He is still my coach now 9 years later. Also my parents are a big inspiration and are extremely supportive.
I would also like to add Vietnam, my home country. Every time I fight I am representing the Vietnamese and always fighting for my country. I am breaking that Asian stereotype that we are only good academically and are all doctors and surgeons. We are athletic too. I get a lot of fan mail from Vietnamese people and that is a huge motivation for me. I never feel like I am fighting alone in that cage.
Are there any athletes/ fighters you look up to?
I respect anyone who gets in the cage. I look up to anyone in the UFC, they all have different styles of fighting, different backgrounds and stories, so they all motivate me. I don’t have a specific fighter I am fanatic over as they all have my respect. (Guess I’m the only one with a Ronda Rousey poster above my bed then…)
If you could have one dream fight, who would it be with and where?
It would be Saitiwama arena in japan. I would fight Connor McGregor, he is the best.
(We couldn’t mention Mcgregor and not talk about the up and coming controversial fight of the century against Floyd Mayweather, now could we?!)
There are lots of variables that will come in to play, age, styles, knowledge. But I think the fight is a good idea, everyone wants to watch it so it is good for both sports. Good talk or bad talk it has started a fire and everyone is talking. Of course I want Mcgregor to win, that would be amazing, one of ours beating one of theirs without any professional boxing. But honestly, I think Maywether will win. Not easily though.
(Check out the Mcgregor v Mayweather Fight Saturday August 26th)
(Ok less chit chat about Irish men and the weather, lets get back to Steven and his training)
What is your weekly/ daily training schedule like? How does this differ leading up to a fight?
At the beginning of a training camp that’s when I use heavier weights and work on my strength. Then I do a lot of sparring around the middle of a camp. By about 3 weeks out is when I am at my PEAK fitness. If you’re not already fit by now, then you better bust your ass. I take my training down a notch the last 3 weeks, using lighter weights, more fight specific training, less sparring, but still training twice a day and more focus on the diet.
(Wait… so training twice a day is taking it down a notch? Gotchya)
One week out, I will drop to training just once a day and then fight week maybe not even once a day depending on my weight.
Stevens Typical Training Week
|Monday||Strength & Conditioning||MMA Striking|
|Tuesday||Run stadiums||Jui Jitsu|
|Wednesday||Strength & Conditioning||Karate/ Boxing|
|Thursday||Hill sprints or swim||MMA Sparring|
|Friday||Strength & Conditioning||Wrestling|
|Saturday||Light MMA drills|
|Sunday||Light run or swim|
Strength and conditioning sessions will include a lot of explosive work, resistance training, footwork, calisthenics, Olympic lifts for strength and power, lots of body weight exercises as well as MMA specific drills/ circuits. (Think, tire flipping, bag punching, fireman carrying people around the room type exercises)
Training is different every single day. When I have a fight coming up we then have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of my opponent and what it is I need to work on to defeat him. I always do conditioning 3-4 times a week with endurance training such as running or swimming every day.
I have a different coach for each specialized area, strength and conditioning, boxing, jui jitsu and I go to Newman University for wrestling. On fight night, I always have one ground guy, one standing guy, and an all-round MMA guy in my corner.
What is your favourite style of MMA to use?
Oh I love all of it. But you can’t beat a stand up. Boxing, kick boxing, hooks, elbows, kicks…
Do you have a favourite ninja move?
He laughs and says with a cheeky wink, I don’t want to reveal too much, but lets just say the spinning stuff. Spinning kicks, spinning elbows, the flashy cool stuff that wows the crowd.
How do you track your nutrition and does it change leading up to a fight? Any no-go foods for a fighter?
No fast food, no alcohol, no smoking and no pop (no brainer for any athlete!)
I make sure it is all clean with good, lean, white meat Lots of chicken, fish, veggies and brown rice. I might have a steak now and then but red meat is too heavy later in a training camp. I have a new sponsor, 316 fit meal prep, who are providing me with a nutritionist, so all my macros will be weighed out specifically to me and all the food will be cooked and delivered. All I have to do is eat! (The REAL American dream!)
Supplements also play a key role in Stevens diet plan, consuming enough protein everyday with the help of Nutrithority whey protein as well as his vitamins and Nutrithority BCAA’S for muscle recovery.
What thoughts are going through your mind as you walk out towards the cage? (I’m gonna F this guy up… this guy is toast… oh im gonna woop his ass… oh its going downnnnn yoooo… cant touch this da da da daaa cant touch this…)
I don’t think much. (Hm. Bit of a let down…) Or if I think anything at all it is very basic. Follow the game plan and breathe. I have no doubts and remind myself I trained hard, I got this. I’m just walking straight, on auto-pilot.
How does your family feel watching your fights? I imagine your Mum watches through her fingers!
My Dad is in the medical world, initially he was not as supportive of my fighting as he was scared I was going to get hurt. “Why would you fight? Why are you doing this?” he would ask me. But his worries and doubts made me even more motivated to win and go undefeated. Now they see that fighting is my real passion and that I am successful for it, inspiring people and not being a trouble maker any more. But they understand now and see that my fighting is productive so they go to every single fight and are right behind me. Of course it is always nerve racking to watch someone you know fight, it’s the emotional investment in that person that can make it hard to watch.
Everyone would agree that you are an extremely kind and humble guy. In a sport fuelled by testosterone, savage beatings and on-screen cockiness, how do you keep yourself grounded?
The cockiness is all for show, it’s the sport and I just know when to promote myself. I would never be cocky with anyone other than my opponent. I know when the right time to do it is and when to just chill.
I train and fight against big guys every single day, the last thing I’m thinking about is looking for another fight.
What are your goals for the near and distant future?
I just signed with Iridium Sports Agency and we have some big things coming up here soon. I can’t say too much yet, but my next fight is November 4th defending my title in my hometown of Wichita. And I am keeping that belt.
(Can’t say too much? Big things? Title fights? Belts? Arghhhh)
Looking to the future you know the UFC is the place every professional fighter wants to be at. On national TV, making big money, fighting big names and being successful in the sport you love. That’s real Pro MMA to me.
When do you think you will have to retire from MMA?
Everybody has a different time. I want to go until I’m about 40. I’m young in the game so I’m not thinking about it too much, but I am going to go until I cant go any more. I’m going to be smart about it though, I won’t go in to a fight unhealthy.
But like… aren’t you scared of serious, life-threatening injuries?
Any sport has injuries. Soccer has the most injuries in the world with ACL tears left and right. (Well damn… he told me!) We have a referee. I know the risk of being hurt but that’s the risk I’m going to take for the glory of winning.
Any advice for young athletes looking to get into MMA? Anything you wish you had been told before venturing down the fighter career path?
Be respectful and have a humble mindset. When you go into the gym be respectful of everyone in there and don’t go in with a big head. You want the mentality to learn not that you think you’re a badass tough guy who already knows everything. The MMA gyms are very welcoming; it isn’t as scary as it looks. (Yeah… that guy over there T-bagging Rocky looks real welcoming) They are there to teach fighting, but also discipline, humility and other life lessons. Be open minded and have fun. Maybe fighting isn’t for you, but the training is, so enjoy it. Not everybody needs to fight.
So as you can see it takes a LOT of hard work and discipline to make it in the warrior world of MMA. It isn’t just two big guys brawling after a few pints over the Arsenal v Tottenham game. It also doesn’t require a class A douchebag with a bad attitude. These athletes are humble and they work hard and I have every respect for anyone who has the kahunas to get inside that Lions den. (Click here to see Stevens promo video)
We concluded with the agreement that when I visit Kansas in May 2018, Steven will show me his MMA gyms and let his coaching team give me a right good battering. BRING IT ON!!!! *gulppppppp