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Steven Nguyen prepares to fight AJ Cunningham in a featherweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week six at UFC APEX on September 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Just The Beginning For Steven Nguyen

DWCS Contract Winner Knows The Real Work Begins Saturday At UFC Fight Night: Ribas vs Namajunas

One might assume that there is no more pressure-filled fight than a UFC debut. Steven Nguyen might have something to say about that.

Unbeaten as a pro, Nguyen stepped into the UFC APEX for the first time in 2019 to face Aalon Cruz on Dana White’s Contender Series, only to leave the building with his first loss. Following a 30-second win in an LFA bout in his return, he got a second call to DWCS in 2021, and this time he left with a decision victory over Theo Rlayang, but no UFC contract.

That’s when the pressure started rising for the Kansas native. 

Steven Nguyen punches AJ Cunningham in a featherweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week six at UFC APEX on September 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Steven Nguyen punches AJ Cunningham in a featherweight fight during Dana White's Contender Series season seven, week six at UFC APEX on September 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“It was definitely tough, especially after the second time around,” said Nguyen. “I went to the Contender fight, I won and I didn't get signed. I felt like I outclassed my opponent all three rounds; he couldn't even touch me. So yeah, it was definitely hard coming back, but my manager, Jason House, and coach (Sayif Saud) were like, ‘Hey, just wait for that last minute call. You might get called up on a week’s notice to fill in.’ So I waited, I trained, I stayed in shape and I stayed on weight. The call came a few times, and then sometimes it just fell out. I was either injured or the fight didn't go through, or they picked somebody else to step up to fight the guy. Everything happens for a reason, though, and during that time, I just got better, I focused on things I needed to work on, and I knew my time was going to come. I knew I had the skills, I believed in myself, and then I got the call for the last Contender fight.”

September 12, 2023. Nguyen against fellow prospect AJ Cunningham on DWCS.

Saturday's Full Fight Card Preview

“I knew that was going to be my last chance,” Nguyen said. “I was like, I'm not going to get another call after this.”

Nguyen trained accordingly, knowing that yes, despite an impressive 8-1 record, legit talent, and Saud and the Fortis MMA team in his corner, he probably wasn’t getting another call anytime soon if he didn’t hit his mark the third time.

Steven Nguyen reacts after defeating Theo Rlayang in a featherweight bout during Dana White's Contender Series season five week four at UFC APEX on September 21, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Steven Nguyen reacts after defeating Theo Rlayang in a featherweight bout during Dana White's Contender Series season five week four at UFC APEX on September 21, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

But he did, stopping Cunningham at 4:06 of the second round. Then came the real news. He got his UFC contract. Time to breathe a sigh of relief? Not quite.

“I'm all the way here now, but this is just the beginning,” he said. “This is my UFC debut, and I didn't come all the way here just to BS around. I still feel that I need to prove myself. So here we are.”

Main Event Spotlight: UFC Fight Night: Ribas vs Namajunas

On Saturday, the 30-year-old featherweight makes his first walk with the UFC gloves on to face Jarno Errens. And though Errens has the two-fight UFC experience edge, it’s Nguyen who will be competing in the APEX for the fourth time, making this a second home for “The Ninja.”

“Everybody reacts differently to the UFC fights and, you never know, I might go in there and it will feel different, but one thing I'll say is I fought at the APEX three times already, and I feel like I kind of grew up in the APEX. Obviously, this time it's going to be for the UFC, but I know what it's like. I've been around the people, I know the staff and obviously it's a huge fight; anybody that tells you that they're not nervous for a UFC fight is lying, but I'm excited and that's what's going to bring the best out of me.”

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Getting to compete on the sport’s biggest stage is every fighter’s goal. And it’s not something that happens overnight. In Nguyen’s case, he’s been chasing this in one way, shape or form since he began training in taekwondo and karate at the age of five, with the dream growing even stronger when he was a teenager.

“How long have I been waiting for this fight?” he laughs. “Honestly, my whole life since I was a kid. This has been my dream since I was 15 years old. When I walked into my first gym, watching the old UFCs, watching Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and all those guys, I got hooked immediately. I never thought I would be here right now, but through all the hard work, all the years and the Contender fights and all the ups and downs, I'm here and it feels amazing. So I'm ready.”

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Pressure? Nah. Steven Nguyen has been through all that. Now it’s time to chase after his next dream.

“My motto is kill or be killed for every fight,” he said. “But I'm not going to take my foot off the pedal. My dream was to get the UFC contract, but my real dream since I was 15 years old is to win a UFC fight. So this will fulfill my destiny and my actual dream that I had since I was 15 years old.”

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UFC Fight Night: Ribas vs Namajunas took place on March 23, 2024 live from UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. See the final Prelim and Main Card Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass