The sport of mixed martial arts can send its athletes to a wide variety of places around the globe.

Sioux Falls, S.D., is a long way from Phuket, Thailand, and it’s almost as far away from Brisbane, Australia, where Ben Nguyen is set to fight next. But as the saying goes, “home is where the heart is.”

“I’ve thought about going home a lot,” Nguyen admitted in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “I get pretty homesick. At the same time, though, there is a lot [in Phuket] for me. I do miss home dearly. It’s funny though, because where I come from is a really small little city in South Dakota, and it’s literally in the middle of nowhere. I haven’t been back since November, so it will be good to get home eventually.”

An opportunity to train at an elite facility like Tiger Muay Thai under a scholarship doesn’t come up every day. In fact, it is pretty well a once-a-year opportunity for budding fighters looking to show that they can make the sacrifices that are necessary in order to be a successful professional fighter.

Nguyen (R) (Tiger Muay Thai)

“Through The Underground and YouTube, I saw that the trials were going on for a scholarship. I put in my application and then I got a phone call from Brian Ebersole with an invitation to attend the trials,” Nguyen explained. “It was pretty much a ‘do-or-die’ decision for me to make, and I just couldn’t look back. I got the spot and it’s changed my life. I have gotten a lot sharper from training with such high-level guys like Roger [Huerta] and Brian. There are just so many world-class fighters that come out here to do parts of their camp, so it’s an amazing experience.

“It is great to know that you have coaches that have so much experience. It makes me a better fighter and it pushes me to train harder and get even better.”

The path to a professional career as a mixed martial artist wasn’t always clear-cut for Nguyen. It took the early advice of his mother and a fight he didn’t even want to compete in to show him that this was not only the right path to take, but it was also one at which he could be successful.

“When I was 12, my mom got me to start doing Taekwondo because I was getting hassled at school,” he revealed. “It really helped boost my self-esteem and confidence, and I did that until I was 18. Around that time, MMA was booming and the opportunity came about to step into the cage. I didn’t really want to do it at first, but after I had a fight I thought I could have a go of it. It was pretty much a natural progression for me.”

Nguyen is lucky enough to be able to compete at his natural weight of 125 pounds at the June 29 Adrenalin: Unleashed event. For a lot of fighters who compete at flyweight, opportunities are often few and far between. It’s not uncommon that these fighters are forced to fight well above a weight that they are comfortable with.

Nguyen (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

“It’s a two-way street really,” he explained. “On one hand, there are only a small amount of fighters competing at the weight, so it can be hard to find fights. On the other hand, the chances of getting signed by one of the bigger promotions are a lot higher because there aren’t as many guys who fight at the class.”

The upcoming fight at Adrenalin: Unleashed will mark the third time in a little over two months that Nguyen has fought competitively. After getting a TKO victory at Roshambo 1 in April, he stepped in as a last-minute replacement against Kian Pham on the modified-rules Combat8 card and won via TKO in the second round.

“I’ve been pretty active,” he admitted. “The goal is for me to get over to Australia a bit more for some more fights. I love fighting in Australia and I have a special girl that I’ve met, so it’s good to go over there and see her and spend some time together. It’s a bonus that I get to fight as well.”

Anybody who has traveled far away from their home for an extended period of time will know exactly how it feels to be away from routine, familiarity and loved ones. That’s especially true for those that have undertaken international travel.

On the best days, it can still be tough if you find yourself in the headspace of yearning to be back in your home country. It takes a special kind of competitor to go through so much sacrifice, and it’s only the truly committed who will be able to succeed. For Nguyen, the homesickness will subside over time. With each fight that he takes in the flyweight division, he inches closer and closer to being able to make his new home the one where the heart truly is.

Ben would like to thank his sponsors:Unrivaled and Fighters Against Child Abuse Australia (F.A.C.A.A.). He would also like to thank Tiger Muay Thai and his coaches, Brian Ebersole, Roger Huerta and Fernando Maccachero, as well as Ben Livingstone.

Top Photo: Ben Nguyen (R) (Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog)

About The Author

Staff Writer, Australia

Located in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Neil Rooke has been writing about the sport of MMA since 2011. In the past, Neil has written for Cage Junkies and has written for Fight! Magazine as well as Fist! Fight Magazine. Neil is also a regular contributor to Fight! Magazine Australia and Yahoo! Sports Singapore.