Andy Nguyen likens being punched in the face to drinking a cup of coffee.
“It’s like my espresso shot, it wakes me up,” she said. “When I get punched I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m in a fight.’ I don’t mind it.
“But it’s not for everybody.”
Despite her willingness to take a punch, the nearly eight-year resident of Myrtle Beach much prefers administering punishment and has been doing quite a bit of it in her two years as a professional mixed martial arts fighter.
Nguyen is the King of the Cage organization’s reigning women’s atomweight champion (105 pounds).
She’s 5-3 as a pro with three consecutive victories, including two title defenses, and has three wins by technical knockout, one by submission and one by decision.
Her wins have come around the world, including in Trinidad and Japan.
All three of her losses have come by decision, and all came in her opponents’ hometown areas against fighters who were either more experienced or heavier. “Nobody has been able to finish me,” Nguyen said.
Her penchant for punches falls in line with her fighting nickname, “The CrAsian,” which was coined by a sponsor. “I’m fun crazy. I’m not like crazy crazy,” she explained.
Upon being announced at fights in the cage, Nguyen now circles her index finger around the side of her head. “I go, ‘cuckoo, cuckoo’ that’s like my new little signature move,” she said.
My nose is flat so it doesn’t break. That works really well. I’ve been punched in my nose a lot.
In addition to making a name with her fighting, Nguyen has become known throughout MMA for her beauty and marketing. She has a 2017 calendar with training partner Andrea “KGB” Lee, models for numerous sponsors, and often finds herself front and center on event-promoting posters.
“It sells tickets. Sex sells, even with a black eye,” said Nguyen, referencing a modeling shoot she did with a discolored eye.
“I got a black eye from a fight, then I called up my photographer,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God; I’ve got a black eye. We have to do a photo shoot before it goes away,’ because usually it goes away pretty fast.
“. . . I like to promote my advertisers’ gear. I take advantage of that because I’m not going to look like this for ever so I’m going to do it as much as I can.”
Nguyen, 35, is 5-foot-4 and got into the game late, at the age of 27.
She was born and lived in Los Angeles until her mother moved to Greenville when Nguyen was 13 and opened a nail salon. Nguyen owned her own Greenville salon before selling it and moving to Myrtle Beach late in 2009 to bring her son – Sebastian Miller, now 14 – closer to his father, who had previously moved to Myrtle Beach for work.
“I wanted to move to Florida, but at that age he needed to be more around his dad,” Nguyen said.
Her first live exposure to MMA came at the first MMA event held in Myrtle Beach in January 2010 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center shortly after MMA fights became legal in South Carolina and shortly after she moved to Myrtle Beach. She was given a ticket by the father of her son.
“I didn’t really want to go but it was a free ticket,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t pay attention to the guy fights until they called out these females. I was just drinking and mingling. Two girls came out at 115 pounds and it was like a calling. I got really excited.
“That’s when I ran over to my son’s father and his fiancée and was like, ‘I’ve got to do this. Oh my God; I’ve got to do this.’ ”
Nguyen immediately joined a gym and won an amateur fight within three months. “I’ve been hooked ever since,” she said.
Her trainer in Myrtle Beach, Tomar ‘T-Bo’ Washington, 38, who is 9-4-1 as a light heavyweight and heavyweight pro, recalls the first time he met Nguyen at the Fitness Edge MMA gym in Conway, where she now regularly trains.
“It was funny because she was like, ‘I want to show you what I’ve got.’ She was so flamboyant wanting to show it,” Washington said. “I was like, ‘Calm down little Tiger, let it come.’ She wanted to get all the fights she could. I told her she needed to practice and train first.
“… That hunger in the beginning, I can see it now, she’s just disciplined with the hunger now. I had to teach her to calm down and relax. It’s okay to be chaotic but it has to be controlled chaos. We still say that to this day.”
She kind of suckered me to be honest with you when she first got here. She was bringing me plates of dinner, and she cooked really good. I said, ‘Sure, I’ll train you if you keep bringing me plates like that.’ I was really cheap, you know. Then she stopped bringing me food. I don’t get anything now. We need to talk about that.
Andy Nguyen’s trainer Tomar ‘T-Bo’ Washington
Nguyen worked as a nail technician and liquor promoter while training part-time and fighting as an amateur, including at least a couple times in Myrtle Beach, then turned pro in August 2015 and has since been training 30 hours per week.
“It was a hobby and it was fun, then I decided I wanted to turn pro before I died, and now I’m stuck. Now I’m having way too much fun,” Nguyen said.
She had no martial arts experience before 2010, yet had more than 30 amateur fights thereafter in either boxing, kick boxing, Muay Thai or MMA, and she has also learned the Jiu-Jitsu discipline.
To further her career, Nguyen now splits time between Myrtle Beach and Bossier City, La., where she regularly trains at the Karate Mafia gym.
“She trains with mostly guys here, and she’ll beat the crap out of them. That’s a true story,” Washington said. “But she needed to train with girls who would push her the way some guys won’t.”
So Nguyen headed to Louisiana to join Lee, whom she had conversed with only on Facebook, and her husband and trainer Donny Aaron, a former undefeated kick boxer. Lee fights at 125 pounds and is a skilled fighter.
“I was the best female here so I wasn’t growing,” Nguyen said. “I lost to a girl (Ashley Samples) that she beat and I was like, ‘I need to figure out what I did wrong,’ and that’s when I bought a plane ticket and just went.”
Nguyen trains over six days, giving her body one day of rest. The training regimen generally begins with an early-morning run of 2 to 3 miles and includes sprints, weight lifting, some yoga, learning and refining technique, and sparring.
“I really don’t have to push her because she’s really on point,” Washington said. “A lot of fighters think you just go take the test. But it’s not only about the test, it’s about the homework and the studying, and she does her homework and the studying. She’s a very humble person.”
Nguyen will bulk up to 125 pounds between fights, then gets to 120 within six weeks of a fight and weans her weight down from there to 105, cutting a lot of weight just before a weigh-in. She said she’ll be approximately 119 pounds when she enters the ring for a fight a day after weighing in.
Nguyen has limited opponents in the U.S., which is part of the reason she has traveled abroad for a couple fights. “The pool is so much deeper with males,” Nguyen said.
Nguyen won the KOTC title over Elane Santiago in Sloan, Iowa, last April and has defended it in Sloan, Iowa and in California – the latter being her first successful decision on May 6 that avenged a previous loss to Bi Nguyen.
This past New Year’s Eve, Nguyen represented King of the Cage against world wrestling champion Miyuu Yamamoto in the Rizin 4 Fighting World Grand Prix. Nguyen won on submission with an arm bar she now calls the “Crandy Bar.”
“She has beaten people she was not supposed to beat,” said Washington, who traveled with Nguyen to Japan. “They don’t bring an American to Japan to win. The girl she beat is very well known, very wealthy, she’s like royalty there. They’re not going to bring anybody to beat royalty. But she beat her.”
Nguyen’s next defense is Aug. 12 in Niagara Falls, N.Y., followed by a second fight in Tokyo in October.
Previous King of the Cage fighters include former UFC champions Ronda Rousey, Urijah Faber and Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson.
You won’t see Nguyen in the sport’s most high-profile organization anytime soon, however. UFC currently has women’s divisions only at 115 and 135 pounds and announced it is adding a 125-pound division, so Nguyen can’t aspire to reach UFC at this point.
I have to stay active. It’s an addiction. I like to look good in pictures, you know.
She plans to fight “until my body says no more,” Nguyen said.
She wants to train other female fighters and promote women’s mixed martial arts, and might begin another career.
“I’m an entertainer. I love to entertain people,” Nguyen said. “After this, I kind of like stand-up comedy so I have to work on my stand-up routine. I might get nervous. I’ll get more nervous in front of a microphone than I will getting punched in the face in front of 40,000 people.”
Though for Nguyen, that’s like sipping coffee in front of a large audience.