Nam Phan was happy with the post we did earlier on how he fought his way into The Ultimate Fighter reality show, so we managed to arrange this interview with him. We talk about such diverse subjects as the difficulties of cutting weight in an Asian American Family, the WEC/UFC merger, and advice for kids wanting to get into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Here are some highlights:
What lessons you learned from other Asian Americans on the show like Phillipe Nover or Andy Wang? I have read that you know Andy Wang – did you get any particular advice from him?
I was supposed be on that season, but something came up, so I told Andy to take the spot for me. He became the first Asian American on The Ultimate Fighter. I asked him for any tips, and he said just be yourself.
You wrestled in high school, I understand.
I wrestled in high school, and I wrestled one year in college.
How was it making weight as part of an Asian American family?
It was tough. Back in the motherland, food is scarce. You get to America, there is a lot of food, they want you to eat and eat and get plump. They want you to eat, but you can’t eat. My mother got scared [when I cut weight]:
“What are you doing? Are you on drugs or something?”
“No Mom, I’m in wrestling! Ma, it’s nothing – just wrestling.”
“I want you to eat! You’re too skinny!”
You have your own school. What kinds of skills and arts you teaching there?
I teach kickboxing, jiujitsu, and mixed martial arts.
Do you workout at other gyms to get more variety in opponents?
Sure. Most of the training is at the academy, I try to get most of my students in as much as possible. I teach them everything. I show them how to get tapped them and how to tap me. Some of the students tap me. [This way] they improve faster, and they won’t lose quickly.
I also go to a boxing gym in Anaheim with my boxing coach. When I can, I have my black belt buddies come down and help me train.
Who would you say are some up and coming Asian-American fighters that we may not have heard of?
Bao Quach. That guy’s the man. He recently got a silver medal at the nogi world championships [jiu jitsu without the typical uniform or “Gi”].
Does he train with you?
We have trained together before. He trains at his own place, so we don’t always have time to train with each other, but we are good friends. Very good fighter. Obviously very good jiu jitsu.
On The Ultimate Fighter show, you seem to be one of the smaller fighters. Are you going to continue to fight at both lightweight and featherweight?
I am actually the smallest guy in the house. Not one of the smallest guys in the house, but the smallest guy. I’m 5-6. No matter how well or poorly I do on the show, I plan to drop down to featherweight which is 145.
What do you think of the WEC/UFC merger? Does this affect any of your plans or goals?
It does affect it in a very positive way. Now that the 145 weight class is in the UFC, fighters such as myself can make more money, get more exposure, and get more sponsors. Only good things to come.
Rosters is now higher, as a result, you can get cut faster, so I’m going have to stay on my toes. I thought it was very positive.
It didn’t seem fair that the WEC fighters got paid a lot less than the UFC guys.
Now there is the opportunity for us to make more money in the UFC and get some recognition as well.
Did it bother you when Dana White said that you are the worst cornerman that he has ever seen and especially since your guy won?
My guy won. I’m a black belt. I know how defend against submissions. I know how to apply submissions. I know what to do. I have a lot of experience in mixed martial arts and in cornering and I have my own stable of fighters. I have never cornered Aaron Wilkinson before, so I don’t know how his mentality is. So I was thinking “stay positive.” What am supposed to say? If it was my own guy, but I could tell him to hustle more, but I had to have him stay positive. I don’t care what people say – everyone has his own opinion. In the end, results speak for themselves – my guy won.
Chuck Liddell came on the show and talked about ending his career. When do you think you will hang it up and move into something else, may be become a business man like your father said?
30 or 33. I have been fighting since I was 13 years old. I have been competing in stuff since I was 17 or 18, since high school I love it, so it will be hard to walk away from it. I also want to get back to my family and my friends. I lost a lot of time with them since I have been focusing so much on my career and passion. When I hang it up, I want to spend more time with my family.
Any advice for kids, and Asian-American kids in particular whose dad might want them to be an engineer or an accountant, who want to get into MMA?
My suggestion is if you don’t know what to do in life, you had better go to school. If you want to be a fighter or you want to take an alternative route; like I’m a fighter and those guys in the Far East Movement, they are musicians – whatever it may be, you should plan on how you will execute your life and goals. If you are passionate about it – go for it. If you do it, do it for the love and passion – no money when you start out. There is no money now!
Thanks for talking time to talk to us. Good luck with your career!
Thank you very much for the opportunity.