Ben Nguyen and his eight-year road back to Sioux Falls

Ben Nguyen is just weeks away from fighting in his home state, something he hasn’t done in eight long years.

[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”52″ bg_color=”#1588db” txt_color=”#ffffff”]H[/mks_dropcap]is return to Sioux Falls on the UFC Fight Night 91 card comes at a timely point in his career, where he’s coming into his own as a true UFC contender. And when he steps into the Octagon this July, the home fans will know that a different “Ben 10” is in town.

It’s been quite a journey for the Vietnamese-American since he left everything in the US to head east and dedicate his life to fighting. Back then, he was slugging it out on small regional shows while juggling his day job, and it wasn’t pretty. Four losses out of six fights turned 2009 to 2011 into a trial by fire for the budding cage fighter. Those loses were tough to swallow and had him contemplating living a normal life, clocking in and clocking out like the average Joe.

Fortunately, Nguyen persevered and pursued his longtime dream. Soon after, all his sacrifices began to pay dividends. He was able to rack up victories and earn a name for himself in the Australian MMA circuit, claiming MMA titles, one of which against a heavily tattooed champ who taunted him at the weigh-ins. Footage of him beating down the weigh-in bully went viral for months after, which served as his ticket to the UFC.

Ben Nguyen and his team at Next Gen Academy of Martial Arts in Sioux Falls. Photo via Nguyen's FB page
Ben Nguyen and his team at Next Gen Academy of Martial Arts in Sioux Falls. Photo via Nguyen’s FB page

Now a full-fledged Octagon fighter, he comes back to his birthplace as a vastly improved fighter in the promotion’s first ever card in the Mount Rushmore state.

“It’s been a crazy last months,” Ben tells Dojo Drifter in a phone interview. “My matchup with Louis Smolka being in my hometown. I’m fighting a really good guy in my backyard pretty much, so I’m really, really excited.”

“Everything’s just come into full circle for me since I left Sioux Falls. I’ve been in Sioux Falls every so often but this will be my first time fighting in Sioux Falls since eight years ago.”

Nguyen is now making the most of his UFC dream. In his first two fights, he logged in an average of 2:27 seconds in the cage, winning by either TKO or submission, to make his case as a legit contender in the 125-pound division.

His next fight will be pivotal for his campaign as he faces number 12-ranked Louis Smolka. The Hawaiian makes his return to the cage after submitting Paddy Holohan last October in Ireland.

Hawaii's Louis Smolka in his battle with Paddy Holohan.  Photo via Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports
Hawaii’s Louis Smolka in his battle with Paddy Holohan. Photo via Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of being the smaller fighter among the two, “Ben 10” believes that his continuously-improving game will be highlighted in a fight against the taller Smolka, who possesses a similar fighting style.

“With every fight that I had, I’ve got better and better,” he shares. “My first fight, I’ve finished it in nine seconds; by my second fight, I’ve finished even faster, half of that. So I feel like I’m just getting exponentially better. And this third fight for me in the UFC is gonna be that much better and [I’ll] be able to put everything a lot better than he can.”

“I feel like we both have similar styles – he’s a scrappy grappler with some striking, but I feel like I’m a bit more well-rounded standing up, with my takedown defense. You don’t see me on the ground too much, but that’s because I’m so well rounded standing up and with my takedown defense, and no one’s been able to take me down.”

Nguyen isn’t looking past Smolka, but he knows that his performance here will be a huge factor if he wants to move further up the rankings. “I guess it will be quite crucial not only if I win but how I win,” he said. “I think if I would get a quick finish that would definitely put me into the top ten. If I just win, it will put me a little bit closer and one more fight after that would definitely put me into the top ten. That’s what I think.”

ben nguyen
Nguyen with his team in Australia.

Nguyen plans to fly to the US in early July to wrap up his training camp and get accustomed to the weather. But it will also serve as homecoming of sorts as arriving early will give him the chance to reconnect with his family, friends, and teammates.

And even now that he lives and fights out of Brisbane, Australia, Ben says he’ll never forget where he came from. Sioux Falls will always have a special place in his heart and he’ll always be proud to represent it wherever he goes.

“Being Vietnamese, I represent Vietnam. Being American, I represent America. Now, I’m living in Australia, some see me as representing Australia so I feel like I’m representing many nations and that’s OK with me,” he explains.

“Now being representing Sioux Falls (this July), I’ve always represented Sioux Falls so that’s been my thing since the beginning. I’ve always had Sioux Falls in my heart.”

Photo courtesy from Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Mike Miguel

If there’s anything MMA related going down in the Philippines, Mike would know about it. With a knack for photography and social media, Mike never misses a beat.
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