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Ben Nguyen: ‘Flyweights have been kept in the dark’ about division’s fate

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Auckland Elliott vs Nguyen
Ben Nguyen (pictured) fights Wilson Reis in a flyweight bout Saturday at UFC Adelaide
Simon Watts-USA TODAY Sports

A win over Wilson Reis on Saturday will get Ben Nguyen back on the path to a flyweight title shot.

The question is whether there will even be a flyweight title to fight for next year.

When Nguyen meets Reis on the preliminary portion of UFC Adelaide, it will be a meeting between one of the division’s proven fight finishers and a one-time title challenger. It could also be one of the last 125-pound bouts that the UFC schedules if rumors of the promotion closing down the weight class are true.

Nguyen recently spoke to MMA Fighting and he laughed when asked if he had any updates on the fate of the flyweight division.

“I don’t. I don’t know more than you,” Nguyen said. “All the flyweights have been kept in the dark. We don’t know what’s going on. I pretty much wake up and I go onto the MMA subreddit on Reddit and look to see if there’s any news on the flyweights, to see if I’m going to have a job or not.

“So that’s how I find out my news. You probably know more than I do.”

It’s a grim assessment by the 30-year-old Australia resident, who is currently 10th in the UFC’s official flyweight rankings. Nguyen has shown promise with four wins in six UFC appearances, three of those victories coming in round one. But he’s also suffered losses that have halted his progress and now there’s no way of knowing how a win in his next fight will affect his standing with the company.

Before debuting with the UFC back in 2015, Nguyen had success competing at 135 pounds and he sees a move back up to that weight as a distinct possibility should that be necessary for him to stick around with the promotion.

Bantamweight, I’m happy to move up to bantamweight,” Nguyen said. “When I fought at bantamweight, I was freakin’ strong, I was fast, I was well-fed and hydrated. I feel like I’m a bigger flyweight, so fighting at bantamweight wouldn’t be that much of a change.”

On the other hand, he’s also comfortable continuing at flyweight, something that might require him to look outside of the Octagon. Nguyen, a South Dakota native of Vietnamese descent, has made trips to Asia to do commercial work and it’s one of his goals to compete in the region someday.

He inquired about a booking on the UFC’s recent Beijing show before accepting the Reis fight, but a move to the Singapore-based ONE Championship promotion would allow Nguyen to compete in Asia frequently and stay at 125 pounds.

“Absolutely. With DJ joining the ranks at ONE, it would be awesome to go up and fight over in Asia, fighting Demetrious Johnson,” Nguyen said, when asked if ONE was under consideration should he part ways with the UFC. “They’re going to need someone to fight him. The flyweight division over at ONE isn’t very heavy, it’s not a very deep division right now, and I feel like there would be an opportunity there for me if things don’t work out in the UFC. So we’ll just have to see.”

At the moment, Nguyen is focused on bouncing back from his February submission loss to Jussier Formiga, a fighter who sees as having many similarities to Reis. Win or lose, Nguyen will find himself in another confrontation with a top-ranked fighter later this month: Mark Hunt.

The two UFC athletes are taking part in an eFighting League event on Dec. 29, competing against each other in video games like Street Fighter V and Counter-Strike (Hunt’s specialty). Nguyen and Hunt are the latest UFC athletes to dip their toes into the eSports realm, a list that includes Johnson, Sean O’Malley, and Angela Hill among others.

Nguyen isn’t concerned about the gaming skills of his heavyweight counterpart (“I’m going to beat his ass up… digitally,” he said of Hunt), and he’s looking at eSports as another way to broaden his portfolio.

After all, his current situation has reminded him to be prepared for uncertainty.

“After this fight, we’re actually going to be flying over to London for the opening, it’s the end of December and I can’t wait for it,” Nguyen said. “I’ve been a video gamer for pretty much my entire life since the original Nintendo. I’ve been playing games a lot.

“It’s just another career path, another option, and options are great because you never know when your division’s going to get shut down. ... It sucks, but look at the bright side of things and take the positives. One door might shut, but many will open.”

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