Lightning struck as Nam Phan was destined to be the next best thing. He held a dominant 12-2 record and was on his way to a bout with Josh Thomson for the Strikeforce lightweight championship.

It was the biggest fight up until that point in his career, but Phan couldn’t get the job done. He would fall via unanimous decision, which would prove to be the first step of an uphill battle for Phan.

Needless to say, Phan hit an all-time low as he saw his first shot at gold slip right through his fingers. But it was more than gold that left Phan with a sour taste in his mouth. Fighting was all he knew. It was what he dedicated his life to, as school certainly wasn’t his strong suit.

Phan (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I always hated school,” admitted Phan in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “Coming up through school, I was really pressured to earn a college degree, but I really had no heart or desire for it. I always wanted to be a fighter.”

“You only needed a 2.0 to play sports in high school. For some reason or another, you had these athletes with a 4.0, who were academic all-honors, and had the best looking girlfriends. Talk about a showoff, man. I’m not that guy, but God love those guys, man,” laughed Phan. “You only needed a 2.0 to play, so I was getting by with the bare minimum.”

While Phan was able to get by on the skin of his teeth, he learned very quickly that MMA would require more effort. Much more effort. Following his loss to Thomson, Phan would lose seven of his next 12 fights.

He was on edge with his career in jeopardy. It was time for a change. A much needed change.

“Following my loss to [Jim] Hettes, I joined Team Alpha Male. It was really a personal decision as I needed a fresh start to my career. I hung out with Danny Castillo one night and he threw me an invitation to come and train with him. He was a super nice guy and told me that they’d love to have me,” said Phan. “I decided to take him up on his invitation.”

“Since being there, I’ve found that being able to train against guys my own size has really helped. Urijah [Faber] has showed me a lot of different techniques, but he’s also helped me work on my nutrition. One of the things I struggle in is giving my body a rest. I tend to use every ounce of my body, but I forget to conserve it. Urijah told me that I wear myself out, so I’m learning to settle down and relax. The transition has been great so far.  My best friend only lives 20 minutes away from where I’m training, so it’s been a blessing in disguise,” the 29-year-old said.

Phan will get the chance to earn his first victory as the newest member of Team Alpha Male when he meets Cole Miller at UFC on Fox 4 on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

When action begins in their featherweight showdown, Phan will need to overcome yet another obstacle. Phan, who stands just 5-foot-6, will need to defend against an opponent much larger in Miller, who stands an eye-opening 6-foot-1. Regardless, Phan is ready for whatever is thrown his way.

Phan celebrates (James Law/Heavy MMA)

“This guy is huge, man. He’s like 6-foot-1, right? That’s what the statistics say anyway. I think he’s taller than that. The guy is a giant. I saw him and he’s a lot taller than the six footers,” said Phan. “I don’t know how he’s going to make 146.”

“He’s very well-rounded. When we get in there, I know his length will be tough to handle and defend against. I really need to get on the inside and try to control the pace of the fight. As we mentioned, he has that huge height and range advantage. I need to get by that. I need to keep moving. I want to establish those uppercuts and finish this fight.”

If Phan is able to capture just the second Octagon win of his career, it won’t be the bright lights and fame that satisfy the California native. Instead, it will be the feeling. The feelings of accomplishment. Feelings that only a UFC fighter on the side of victory can understand.

“To get to the UFC is hard in itself. But getting a win, it’s so hard, man. I remember my first win. It was one of the coolest moments of my life. I remember not sleeping an ounce that night. I was just like, ‘Wow.’ I went back to my hotel and laid there. I don’t do any drinking or partying, I just like to relax, man. I guess you could call me an old man,” laughed Phan. “I laid on my bed and took it all in.”

“I can’t wait to feel like that again.”

Top Photo: Nam Phan (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)