I was ecstatic when mixed martial artist Nam Phan invited me to come to his academy, Ma Du Academy, in Garden Grove, California to do an interview for One Vietnam Network. When I first thought I’d ask him for an interview, some of my friends who religiously train mixed martial arts (MMA) laughed and told me, “Good luck!” With Phan’s busy schedule: training, teaching at his academy and running his own business along with his quick rising success and his current fame from being on “The Ultimate Fighter,” —everyone wants to get to know him and I had to get in line.

Phan teaching grappling/wrestling techniques to his students during his Youth Brazillian Jiu Jitsu Class. (ages 4-14, MWF 5-6pm)

I had to think critically—how can I get in touch with Nam Phan? I needed a connection and was lucky enough to find one through a mutual friend. After I got in touch with him and he learned I wanted to do an article for One Vietnam Network, he was more than willing to make time because he has always been known for being a proud Vietnamese athlete always looking to give back to the Vietnamese community and to connect with other Vietnamese people.

Let me tell you about this guy—he is the kindest, sweetest guy you will ever meet. Despite how tough, hardcore MMA training, like boxing and rough grappling, may seem—he’s a sweetheart… really. I had such a great time getting to know him, my 45-minute Q&A had turned into a 6-hour conversation.

Only a handful of Vietnamese people are well-known and in the spotlight beyond the Vietnamese community. Phan’s an idol to young Vietnamese men and women because he has broken out of that bubble but still manages to stay connected to his Vietnamese roots. The responsibilities of being a role model is one he takes very seriously. There weren’t many Vietnamese role models in the public eye for him and other kids to look up when he was a kid. He tells me, “It’s a responsibility I take upon myself.” He’s not saying, “Hey, look at me!” He’s just letting kids know that they have an option, and you don’t all have to grow up to be doctors, scientists and lawyers because that’s the Asian stereotype and it’s what you’re “supposed” to do—if you love what you do, you’ll find a way to make it, just like Phan did.

Phan is especially known for his hard body shots in boxing. In MMA, he went to finals at the age of 20 against Razor Rob McCullough for the Pit Fighting Championships light-weight tournament title. It was the moment when the whole MMA world thought, “Whoah! Who is this 20-year old Asian kid fighting McCullough!?” From that moment he was on the MMA radar. He informed me it was an underground fight, and he went through three fights that night—all the way to the quarter-semi finals and won 800 bucks.

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  1. What coach said about supporters and fans are really true. I really appreciate the accessibility that he is willing to offer for the community as well.

  2. I met him, he is very nice, very polite, I am proud of him, I thought that I have to interview for my talk show on radio someday.
    Good luck to him.
    Kieu My Duyen

  3. Awesome job on the article! Very interesting insight into MMA that I didn’t know before, really enjoyed this.

  4. Kimberly Truong,

    First of all, Cung Le was on the MMA radar before Nam Phan, he even got some roles in American movies (which is a shame, he should have put his focus into fighting…).

    As for your comment about “no Vietnamese astronaut”, Pham Tuan was the first Vietnamese AND first Asian cosmonaut in space… http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1512648/Pham-Tuan
    The only reason why you didn’t know about him is because he was a North Vietnamese pilot… Sorry to pop your bubble.

    There’s no doubt Nam Phan is a role model for the young Vietnamese community, but please do some research before you write your opinions on the internet.

    1. Dung– that was Nam Phan’s comment– not my own. I was simply reporting it. Yes, I did know about Cung Le and the first Vietnamese astronaut. Also, beyond casual fans, in the MMA circle, Phan gained notoriety in 2003 after his fight with Razor Rob, Cung Le didn’t even debut until 2006!

  5. Very nice article kimberly, Nam is a good mma fighter and good at jiu jitsu but did you know he was an accomplished high school wrestler too. As one of his wrestling coaches you could see good things were going to happen with him in mma. Just would like to see him use a little more of his wrestling skills in his fights they’re there.

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