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.
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.