The Ultimate Fighter’s Nam Phan
Phan really is a great role model for kids, adults and anyone with a dream—and not just dreams of making it in the MMA world. He’s living proof that if you really want something, you just have to go for it, and it takes dedication and commitment to make it big in any line of work, including MMA. If there’s a kid out there thinking, “I want to be an astronaut!” but does some research and finds there are no Vietnamese astronauts—he can relate to Phan and think, “There were no Vietnamese mixed martial artists on the radar, but now Phan’s out there giving his all. I really want to do this, and if I want to be the best and be the first, I can do it, too.” That’s not just my personal opinion; I know others would agree with me as well, Phan really is a fantastic role model for young Vietnamese-Americans.
Phan built his gym in Garden Grove, when he could have had it anywhere, including the bustling area of Little Saigon. Why did he choose to build his gym in Garden Grove?—one word: accessibility. He wants to reach out to younger Vietnamese and give them a place to go. I tell him he’s become a great role model and a lot of kids look up to him and he responds, “I don’t force kids to look up to me. I just want them to have the option if they need someone.”
I came to his academy just about halfway through his children’s class, and watching him teach the adorable little tykes was awesome. He’s a natural with kids, a natural at teaching—and it isn’t just passion for the sport that makes him so, but it sure does help.
Nam Phan’s a role model many look up to, so who are his heroes? It’s his parents who inspire him the most. Through all their struggles just so they can be free, so their children can free, is really inspiring to him. When times get tough, he just thinks, “No matter how hard I think it might be for me in this moment, I know my parents had it worse—beyond what we can imagine, so I just continue to work hard because I know, if they can make it, I can make it.” They play a huge role in his success, but it’s not solely his parents whom he admires—it’s the entire Vietnamese community. Vietnamese people have only been in The United States since 1975, and look at all the accomplishments we have done as a community in such a short amount of time. There’s living proof surrounding you, right here, in Little Saigon, Westminster, Orange County, The United States—the American dream is real.
Beyond MMA, Phan makes time to contribute to the Vietnamese communities by stopping by colleges nearby, such as Orange Coast College, UCI and Cal State Fullerton, to speak with students who are interested in the mixed martial arts industry. He also makes time to attend Vietnamese newspaper events and of course, the most important annual event of all—the Tet Festival! He’s also supported those running for office at political rallies, the most recent—Bruce Tran who is challenging Margie Rice for her position as the Mayor of Westminster this November 2010.
I asked Phan, “Did you know there’s someone with a similar name running for political office?” I was getting off the freeway one day with my dad and saw a political yard sign that said to vote for Nam Phan. I had turned to my dad asked him, “Nam Phan’s running for office!? He’s got my vote—whatever he’s running for!” My dad told me, “No, no, it’s a different guy, that’s Nam Pham, not Nam Phan.” Phan tells me, “Yeah, I’ve been getting a lot of people asking me if I’m running for office.” He chuckles, “No, that’s not me.” I responded saying, “I wonder how many voters are going to go into the voting booth see the name, and be unaware that that person is not you, but will vote for that candidate because they’re excited as I was when I first saw that sign thinking you were running for office.”