A fast-rising fan favorite, Nam Phan hasn’t had the best cards dealt to him since entering the UFC on the heels of his impressive stint on The Ultimate Fighter 12, where he made it to the semifinals of the lightweight bracket.
The quirky Vietnamese fighter was matched up with former world title challenger Leonard Garcia last December for the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale in what turned out to be an exciting fifteen-minute battle that seemed to lean towards Phan, who displayed his impressive boxing acumen. However, only one judge had it in favor for Nam, who lost a highly controversial split-decision.
UFC President Dana White made it clear that he felt that Phan had done more than enough to earn the win, so not only did he award him with his win bonus and thirty grand more for “Fight of the Night” honors, but White along with matchmaker Joe Silva rescheduled the two featherweights to fight once again to settle the score.
This is when things start to get bad.
“One week before I was supposed to leave to Las Vegas, I fought my sparring partner and I front kicked him in the gut, but then he blocked and I kicked his elbow and I broke my foot”, said the 28-year-old Nam. “I thought I would be able to continue to fight, but my foot was too broken.”
While admittedly frustrated with the results of their first encounter, Nam has set aside his ambitions for a rematch, but should the fight present itself again in the future, he would be open to it nonetheless.
“It’s whatever, it’s behind me, it is what it is,” said the California native.
“I’ve moved on since then, it’s not a big deal to me. If the UFC wants to make it happen then I’m all for it. It’s not a big deal.”
Now having recovered from injuries, Phan was hoping to have eased himself back into competition with a relatively easy opponent.
This is where things get worse.
Nam will next face former world champion Mike Brown come August 6th at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for UFC 133. Though excited for the opportunity, Phan is not sure how the promotion views him at this point: a prized commodity or a scrub?
“Either they think that ‘Nam Phan, he’s not that bad, let’s throw him up against some big sharks’, or ‘let’s see if we can get him beat, let’s throw him up against some big sharks,” says Nam with an unfiltered laugh.
“The Brown fight, after I broke my foot, I talked to the matchmaker Sean Shelby and he goes, ‘Alright Nam, I’ve got a fight for you,’ and I go ‘Oh, awesome, who is it?’ He says ‘Mike Brown’, and I’m like ‘Mike Brown? Dude, come on! That’s kind of a tough fight. You couldn’t give me a warm-up or something?””
In recent years, Nam has primarily relied on the assistance of fellow students in order to prepare for his upcoming bouts. An obvious talent, Phan has caught flack for not having afforded himself the opportunity to train with high caliber fighters in order to progress his career where need be, though he has since taken it upon himself to do so in a continued effort to align himself for growth.
“Mostly for my training I stay at my own academy, I train with my own guys, my own students, and I train at a boxing gym in Anaheim with my boxing coach Art James – but for this one I actually did go up to American Kickboxing Academy with some of the guys up there, and I also trained with Gilbert Melendez.”
He modestly admits that training with Melendez, the Strikeforce lightweight champion, was “just a beatdown” though still the kind of humbling experience that he needs in order to prepare for what he considers to be the most significant moment of his career.
“It is the biggest fight of my career,” reflected Phan.
“Each fight is important, but this is the most prestigious fight of my career because Brown being a former world champion that he is, and fighting in the UFC, and both of us are coming off of a loss, so each guy, we have to win.”
Brown has lost three of his last four bouts under the Zuffa umbrella, and is currently 0-2 in his return to the UFC (following the merge with the WEC), suffering losses to Brazilian standouts Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya, respectively. Some may think that Brown, 35, has hit the peak of his career and is beginning a descent towards obscurity, but not the happy-go-lucky Californian.
“I expect Brown the champion that beat Urijah Faber – I definitely expect the best of each opponent, you can’t train for the worst; you expect the worst and hope for the best. You have to train for the best fighter that you’re about to fight and I just hope that things work out for me.”
It’s a tough bout for both men who are still looking to build a niche in the budding 145-pound division, but with a dominant performance, either man could quickly regain footing in the stacked weight class. Both are touted strikers, so naturally Nam predicted only one likely outcome: “High intensity and I think a lot of punches will be thrown.”
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC