Long way from home

Houston fighter Bi Nguyen takes shot with ONE Championship promotion; has bout in Kuala Lumpur on Friday

Houston fighter Bi Nguyen has this week travelled more than 9,800 miles from home in pursuit of her mixed martial arts dream.

Still, the 29-year-old believes the real journey has only just begun.

"You have to just keep moving forward, step by step," says Nguyen. "You have to grab each opportunity put in front of you and for me this is just another beginning."

Nguyen joined the Singapore-based ONE Championship martial arts promotion last December, following the lead of former UFC champions in flyweight Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson and lightweight Eddie "The Underground King" Alvarez.

Rumors are that more US-based fighters will soon follow suit, and that ONE even has designs on staging events Stateside.

"The plans ONE have are big," says Nguyen. "There's a reason we have all signed on and it's because there are exciting things happening, and on the horizon."

On Friday night in Kuala Lumpur, Nguyen (5-3) takes on Myanmar's Bozhena "Toto" Antoniya (2-1) in an atomweight MMA contest that's part of ONE's Masters of Destiny card.

Later on inside the Malaysian capital's Axiata Arena there will be appearances by the likes of Hawaii's ONE atomweight MMA champion Angela "Unstoppable" Lee (9-1), the undisputed star of Asian MMA. There's also the man many consider to be the greatest living kickboxer in Itay's Giorgio "The Doctor" Petrosyan.

But for fighters such as Nguyen – or "Killer Bee" as she is known inside the cage – such events are where reputations are forged, and rankings improved, against other fighters from Asia and beyond.

ONE fighting

"I have the skills and I know what I want to do," says Nguyen. "I want to shoot for that title but I know first I have to show what I can do and I have to keep winning, so that's what I am here to do on Friday."

Nguyen, who fights out of and coaches at Savarese Fight Fit in West University Place, signed on with ONE fresh from an appearance in the 37th series of the Survivor reality TV show that ended when she strained her knee.

Nguyen had lasted four episodes before that particular setback struck but had already established herself a firm fan favourite, through sheer force of her personality.

Audiences were also taken by the Nguyen origin story, one that's worth revisiting here. It had seen Nguyen escape Vietnam to California as an eight-year-old with a father who had fought with the South Vietnamese army alongside American forces in the war that ravaged that country from 1955 to 1975.

Coping with a new land, and a new life, proved difficult for the young Nguyen, and she had run away from home – to Houston – as a teenager, before falling into an abusive relationship, that only ended when her partner was hauled off to jail.

By chance, at age 22, Nguyen found the 4oz Fight Club and started training in the ancient martial art of Muay Thai. It changed Nguyen's life, gave her purpose and a sense of belonging, and she later expanded her skills set to MMA as that sport continued to grow in popularity.

Initially part of the domestic circuits back home, Nguyen had fought for the King of the Cage atomweight title in July last year, but lost via second-round submission (rear naked choke) to American Jayme "Atombomb" Hinshaw (4-3). She then decided to take a break from the sport to reconsider her life options.

The call-in from the Survivor team came out of the blue, on ther day she learned her father had died after a battle with cancer. Nguyen then went on to make a winning debut with ONE, announcing herself with a first-round TKO of Indonesia's Dwi Ani Retno Wulan (1-1), and capping a tumultuous year that Nguyen admits still has her head spinning.

"It was such a battle of a year but I couldn't have asked for anything else," says Nguyen. "I wanted to prove that I belong and I did that. Now I want more. It's an amazing place that this sport takes you. Part-time I teach boxing and teaching mostly housewives or women who haven't really done sport or MMA before is so rewarding. To see the empowerment they gain is so rewarding and I know exactly how that feels. Your eyes are brighter, your head is held higher."

So now it's to Friday night, fresh from a fight camp at with the Tiger Muay Thai team on the Thai island of Phuket that Nguyen took alone, still not being able to afford the kind of support crew favored by the champions.

The 24-year-old Antoniya is a former exponent of the often brutal Burmese martial art of lethwei, where head-butts are allowed, indeed expected, and fighters rarely, if ever, take a backward step. Her punching power was on display in her first turn out for ONE, a 24-second knockout of MMA debutant and compatriot Shwe Sin (0-1) that was the fastest ever in the promotions women's divisions.

But Nguyen knows exactly where she wants to be.

"I go alone for now but one day I hope I can bring my coaches from home," says Nguyen. "But I think that I thrive off challenges. To be a alone, to overcome the adversities that come up at fight camp on my own, it definitely strengthens me as an athlete and as a person. Come fight night I know I'll feel like nothing can stop me."

ONE Championship events are available live – and free – via the super app found via https://www.onefc.com/download-app/


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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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