If Team GSP vs. Team Koscheck has proved anything in the last two weeks of The Ultimate Fighter, it's that Nam Phan is a much better fighter than he is a cornerman.
Of course, it's hard to argue with his results in the corner. Two weeks ago, he helped guide Aaron Wilkinson to a win over Marc Stevens in the wild card fight, but in the aftermath of that bout, Dana referred to him as the "worst f***ing cornerman in the history of cornermen." Wilkinson quarreled with the assessment, being quite happy with Phan's work in his corner, but there was no quarrel last week when Phan knocked Cody McKenzie out of the competition with a devastating liver shot, moving on to the semifinals.
I had a chance to talk to Phan and get his thoughts on this and other topics. Here's a transcript of that interview:
Before we get to this week's episode and your fight, we've got to talk a little bit about last week. I wanted to get your response to Dana White's comment that you are, and I quote, "The worst f***ing cornerman in the history of cornermen." What were your thoughts on that when you saw it?
I thought it was hilarious. It's cool. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I did the best I could. I thought I gave pretty good instructions and I know that I'm not only talking to Aaron when I corner him, I'm talking to the judges. A lot of times, the judges aren't very well-versed in jiu-jitsu or submissions, so a triangle or a guard, all they know is that the guy on bottom is getting punched. So, at the same time I'm talking to Aaron, I'm talking to the judges, too. Aaron wasn't looking too good and I knew that, but the best thing I can do is stay positive.
Certainly, when I talked to Aaron, he thought you did a good job, but what you're saying about talking to the judges, I was thinking about your fight in the preliminaries with Spencer Paige and how every time he was landing those kicks on you, Georges St-Pierre would say, "Hey!" "Hey!" "Hey!" It's sort of the same thing, emphasizing to the judges, "My guy is hitting him."
He made it a bigger deal than it was, yeah.
You say everyone's entitled to his own opinion. As somebody who's got your own school, and your own students, you corner them. What did they say when they heard Dana say that?
They thought it was hilarious. It was funny. Dana White, at the time, was laughing. Nothing taken to heart.
Didn't think so, but moving on, when you got matched up with Cody, you guys seemed pretty friendly in the house, even before his fight with Marc Stevens. We saw that bit of you guys talking in the house, and all the things that Stevens does better than he did, and you ask him why he's going to win.
So then, it had to put you in a weird position. It's very clear what you're there to do, but when you're matched up with him, was it uncomfortable at all with the business going on between Cody and Josh Koscheck? Cody's one of your best friends in the house and then Koscheck can't stand him. Was there any point where you looked at the two of them and thought, "Man, I don't want to be in the middle of this?"
For sure, always. They're both adults and they can settle their own business. After the fight, I made sure that Cody knew. I went around, I put an arm around him and I told him, "Cody, this fight was between you and me. This was not a redemption match or a revenge match from Koscheck. It's not Koscheck vs. Cody McKenzie, Koscheck vs. GSP, this is two competitors, two martial artists, trying to advance in their careers.
Before you get to that point, how much were you surprised in the first round by the strategy that he came out with, going for the takedowns and spending so much time putting you up against the fence?
I know Cody prefers to go to the ground and try to guillotine me, but I wasn't too overwhelmed by it. I have more grappling experience and more wrestling experience than Cody. If you're not a wrestler, trying to go for a double-leg takedown all the time takes a lot of energy out of you real fast. I wasn't too worried about that. I was ahead, defending the takedown. Plus, drinking every night doesn't add to your cardio.
Good point there. Everybody's different and I know that was something that came up more with Jeff Lentz, but was there any big change that you made in how you were fighting Cody from the first round to the second round or was it just a matter of his cardio giving out and you being able to do more of what you wanted to do?
My gameplan was to come out and put the pressure on him and work my range and work my strikes on him.
The other thing I was wondering about, you mention cardio and, before the first fight, we saw you running around the yard and I know that when I run it's either on a treadmill at the gym with a TV on it or I'm out in a park and seeing different things. Is it tougher to keep your focus to run laps around the yard, like you have to when you're stuck there like that?
It is what it is. You've got to do what you've got to do and some of the guys in the house, like, say, Marc Stevens, had excuses for losing all the time, you know, "I was out of my comfort zone," "the elevation's different," this and that, that and this. You know what? There's 13 other guys in the same exact situation you are. You've got to condition yourself. You've got to make it comfortable. What do I do for that? I run. When you run, you get used to breathing that type of air. If you lose, you've got to be an adult about it and take responsibility for your own actions. Don't blame people. That's the cowardly way out.
So it seems kind of fitting that the two guys who won fights in last week's episode, you and Jonathan Brookins, when people were in the house not necessarily being mature, around the pool table, you and Jonathan are out there talking about, in his words, "bigger questions in the universe."
A lot of this time, I'm one of the only winners on my team and my team started to alienate me and push me away. I got kind of fed up with them. I don't want to hang out with them no more. I just started hanging out with Brookins every night. We'd just talk about life and what we're going to do when we get out.
Was it important for you to be seen that way, again as somebody—you do have your own school and your own students—was it important to compete and put yourself in a position to win the contract, but also make the best impression for your school?
Yeah, for sure. For my school is one thing, but I also see myself as a role model for my community. I want to make an example for the younger generations and represent the mixed martial arts community, the Asian community and my academy positively.