Spend 10 minutes talking to Nam Phan, and it’s clear the UFC featherweight is in a good place.
The California-based fighter has trained in multiple disciplines, boxed professionally, plied his MMA skills across the globe, and after years of hard work, he’s now cemented his place in the sport’s big show.
Now, just days before a UFC 141 fight with undefeated Jim Hettes (9-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC), Phan (17-9 MMA, 1-2 UFC) admits life is pretty damn good.
“For me, making it to the UFC is like making the NFL,” the featherweight recently told MMAjunkie.com Radio (www.mmajunkie.com/radio). “All the years, all the shows – I fought in Sengoku in Japan, and I fought K-1 – all the shows, all these years, it’s all been worth it. I finally made it.”
Phan, who first joined the UFC after a semifinal finish on “The Ultimate Fighter 12,” now gets a pay-per-view main-card slot at Friday’s UFC 141 event, which takes place at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena. Phan clashes with fast-rising jiu-jitsu ace Hettes, who tapped out Alex Cacaeres at UFC on Versus 6 for his ninth submission win in nine career victories.
For Phan, who recently topped Leonard Garcia in a rematch at UFC 136, it’s a quick turnaround and marks his third fight in fewer than six months. But when the UFC comes calling, he said, you have to answer.
“I was going to take a little bit of a break and planned to fight next year,” he said. “But then the UFC called me. I was like, ‘OK, if you want me to fight, I’m going to fight then.’ There are guys in the UFC who want fights who aren’t getting fights. So when the UFC calls, you’ve got to answer. So here I am.”
Besides, simply being at this point – in the world’s top MMA promotion and with a little bit of job security – is still somewhat surreal for a fighter who takes pride in his Vietnamese heritage.
“(But) now I’ve got to win,” he said. “But I get bonuses. I fight all over the world. I’m living the dream. It’s like, ‘Wow, Asians can fight. We’re not just accountants.’
“Still, I was a little tired because I fought only six weeks ago. But I’m ready.”
(Phan actually fought 12 weeks ago, so yeah, so much for that accounting thing.)
Still, for a fighter who’s slow to embrace his celebrity status and would rather use his notoriety to benefit his Ma Du Academy in Garden Grove, Calif., being a UFC fighter has paid dividends.
“It definitely helps me out financially with my academy,” he said. “It’s helped out with the popularity, which is always a good thing. And I get to do things like come on MMAjunkie.com Radio, which is pretty cool.”
That’s why Phan’s one extravagance has been a new Honda Civic. There’s no booming sound system, no flashy rims, no sooped-up engine. He’s adorned his base-model sedan with just one thing: a vanity license plate promoting his academy: “MADU 1.”
And as for the ladies? He’s admittedly no stud, but he’s picked up a few tricks along the way.
“I don’t even use my name,” he joked. “I’m like, ‘You’ve heard of the UFC, right?’ They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re much more attractive now.’ I’ll go on dates and have my students come up and act like they’re fans. That sometimes works.”
In all seriousness, though, Phan couldn’t be more content. The life he envisioned for himself has come to fruition. Sure, it could be set back by a single bad performance in the octagon, but for now, he’s thankful for what the year 2011 has brought him.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “Actually, I feel great. I feel good in the morning. I eat clean. I work hard.