If you look at it from a purely numeric standpoint, Tyson Nam’s road to the UFC has been quite astonishing. Nam has been competing professionally for 13 years, has had 28 pro fights, has done so for 16 different promotions, and has had two other opportunities to make his Octagon debut thwarted by contract disputes.
Finally, Nam gets his opportunity to compete in the UFC.
After Alex Perez was forced out of this Saturday’s UFC Mexico City event with an injury, Nam will make his long-awaited Octagon debut against Sergio Pettis. The event takes place at Arena Ciudad de Mexico and will air on ESPN+.
Nam heads into his UFC debut riding a two-fight winning streak under the X-1 World Events banner and has tasted defeat only once in his last eight appearances. Nam has fought all over the world and has had his fair share of ups and downs in his career. The Kailua, Hawaii native received the call in the early morning hours from his manager Jason House, and it took him a minute to fathom what had occurred.
“I’ve had so many dreams of it, I’ve had so many nightmares of it, it finally feels good — even though I had to pinch myself ten times to make sure it was real,” Nam told The Body Lock. “I’m feeling good, I’m feeling strong, I’m feeling ready, and it’s not a second too soon that they called me but, sometimes, it takes them a little while for them to see the light.”
Standing in front of Nam is Pettis, a perennial contender currently #5 in the UFC’s 125-pound division. The 26-year-old Pettis is looking to get back on track after losing his last two fights and three out of his last four. In his most recent appearance, Pettis jumped up the bantamweight division and took on Rob Font, dropping a unanimous decision.
Oddly enough, as Nam was envisioning his eventual placement on the UFC roster, Pettis was a guy he looked at as someone he could not only compete with, but do so convincingly.
“It’s the perfect opponent for me,” Nam said. “I like the matchup; I like that his ranked fifth in the world, so when I knock him out, I’m going to take that number five spot.
“I’ve always watched him in the UFC and followed his fights. Every time I watch him fight I’m just thinking in the back of my mind, ‘Man, I would punch that guy square in the face. I would dot him up.’ When I get the call that I’m in the UFC, I said, ‘Hey, who am I gonna fight? Sergio Pettis? Perfect!’ I mean, any flyweight can get it. Sergio is just going to be the first in the UFC to get it.”
To add to the impeccable timing of his UFC call, Nam was scheduled to compete this past weekend at X-1 World Events 56 against Federico Vento, so he was already preparing for a fight. With 13 years and nearly 30 fights of experience under his belt, the shift of preparation from Vento to Pettis wasn’t very much.
“I just really needed to change the style that my opponent has,” Nam explained. “That’s the biggest change. Ever since I got released from Fight Nights Global in Russia, I’ve been very active over here in Hawaii. My first fight after my release was in April, I fought again on July 3, and I was getting ready for Sept. 14 over here. So I’ve been really active. I’ve been living clean, eating clean, and practicing a whole lot.
“I’ve been in training camp since before April already. It couldn’t have been a more perfect time than right now.”
One of the big secrets to Nam’s longevity throughout his career has been his durability. Nam has had at least one fight in every year of his MMA career and will fight for the third time in 2019 this weekend. While many fans and MMA pundits may look at Nam’s age is a disqualifying factor in his fight with Pettis — who is nine years younger than Nam — the Hawaii Elite trained fighter feels he is now hitting his athletic prime.
“Let’s get this straight, I’m 35 years young,” Nam said. “I started professionally in 2006, still doing it now, but even though it’s been about 13 years into my career, I haven’t had the injuries that most fighters might have. I’ve never had a surgery or anything of that sort, I’ve been able to stay fairly healthy physically. With all of the wisdom and knowledge I’ve been able to acquire over these 13 years, my body stays healthy and as of, maybe a year or two ago, I’ve really felt myself get my man strength. I’m not the (typical) 35, that’s almost on the way down for a lot of fighters, and I feel like I’m still getting better. I’m actually getting stronger, and when I moved back to Hawaii from Portland, something changed. Maybe it was the water, maybe it was the air, but I just felt better. I was at home, and I was in a comfortable situation. So ever since I got home and dropped down to flyweight, I’ve really just been excelling in this weight class. I’ve made a resurgence all over again.”
Despite not having his opportunity in the UFC until right now, Nam has been in some big fights throughout his career. Nam has shared the cage with former world champions and title challengers throughout his 13-year career, including recent UFC bantamweight title challenger Marlon Moraes in 2013 at the second World Series of Fighting event.
The result of the fight with Moraes was not a good one for Nam, but when two other big challenges came his way on big stages in the sport Internationally, Nam rose to the occasion in impressive fashion. When it comes to nerves, or “Octagon jitters,” Nam is way beyond those feelings.
“I’m past all of that,” Nam explained. “In 2012, I fought Eduardo Dantas in Rio de Janeiro. He was the current Bellator bantamweight champion at that time, and I was a little bit nervous. It was the first time I was on top of a big stage facing a big name, and I finished him in the first round. In 2017, I fought Ali Bagautinov, the former UFC No. 1 contender in Russia, so he was probably doped up on EPO that he got busted for twice in the UFC and I still knocked him out. It was really weird because when I was making my way to the cage to fight Ali Bagautinov, I was just thinking — and I might’ve mentioned i to my coaches and to (friend and training partner) Ricky Simon — ‘Is it weird that I’m not nervous?’ I knew from that point I was past all of that. I’ve been there, I’ve done that tand the UFC is the Super Bowl of MMA.
“Everybody talks about the jitters, but it’s just another day at the office for me. I’m gonna walk out to that cage, I get tunnel vision at that point so all of the lights, the crowd, it all starts to dim down. It’ll be just like me walking out to any other cage and punching any other man in the face.”
As that life-changing phone call arrives for an up and coming fighter to compete in the hallowed Octagon, more times than not, those fighters feel like they have something to prove. It’s one thing to get the call, it’s another to prove that you belong competing with the best the sport that has to offer, and the biggest stage the sport can provide. Nam believes getting the call was proof enough that he belongs in the UFC.
“I have zero pressure right now,” Nam said. “I don’t have a butterfly in my stomach. I’ve proven it twice that I’m one of the best in the world, and come Sept. 21, I finally get to show the US that I should’ve been here for a very long time. It’s been a very long road.
“There’s not a lot of words to explain how perfect the timing is,” Nam continued. “I’m in shape, my weight’s been low, I’m stronger than ever, I’m getting better and there’s nothing more in this timing that could be more perfect for me. It’s the No. 5 guy in the world, I feel like I’ve beaten ten guys better than him already. He’s not going to throw a punch, kick, knee, or elbow that I have not seen 10,000 times before. If I think about it, he better be on the lookout. He’s got the more experienced guy coming in, hungry as ever, I’m just getting better. S**t! F**k him!”
When speaking to The Body Lock, Nam had revealed that he has gotten opportunities to compete in the UFC, but different promotions that he was under contract with would not allow it to happen. After his big win over Bagautinov in 2017 at Fight Nights Global 64, the UFC had inquired about his services, only to be denied. Nam believed he was good enough to compete in the UFC but had begun to believe that his opportunity would never come. Luckily, the proverbial glass wasn’t empty, and it has lead to more appreciation for his moment.
“It was definitely a hard pill to swallow for me,” Nam explained. “Even after me knocking out Ali Bagautinov and I had a contract dispute for the second time and was not be able to fight for the UFC, I had to swallow deep on top of that one, this was probably my fate that I would never fight for the UFC. I guess the third time’s the charm and I get my chance. I’m gonna definitely make the most of it. I’m gonna swing so hard that I’m gonna try to knock someone’s head out into the 20th row in Mexico City.
“It almost feels so much better that I had to walk that road of desperation and despair, hang my head down, have the highest of highs but still have the lowest of lows. And now I get to fight for the No. 1 promotion in the world. It feels so good. They say that Henry Cejudo saved the flyweight division and it’s making a resurgence again. I know a lot of people, they don’t think too much of the flyweight division because we move around fast and we’re really technical, but they don’t see the knockouts like the heavyweights do. If you look at my track record, that’s all I like to do is knock people out, so I’m gonna bring a lot of excitement.”
Tyson Nam has had a tumultuous road to get to Saturday night and the UFC Octagon. For those of you reading this that have not seen him fight, Nam wants to give you a warning when you see his name pop up on your television screens this weekend as he prepares to face Sergio Pettis in Mexico City.
“Do not grab a beer, do not take a bite of your burger because I’m right there on the edge, any second that I’m there, of putting someone to sleep.”