Cool Customer

By Doug McKay Jan 16, 2014
Tyson Nam has registered four wins in his past five outings. | Photo: Dave Mandel/

Tyson Nam likes to keep his cool.

A 30-year-old Sports Lab product, Nam will face “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 castoff Cody Bollinger in a bantamweight showcase at World Series of Fighting 8 on Saturday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Fla. The NBC Sports Network will carry the main card at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT, with providing a free stream for the prelims immediately prior.

“Being on national television or in front of thousands of people doesn’t really bother me too much,” Nam told “I really do have tunnel vision to the point that everything is pretty much just me and my corner.”

That kind of mentality made a 21-year-old Nam -- who at the time had never participated in combat sports in his life -- jump into training with cousins of MMA luminaries Enson Inoue and Egan Inoue after he bumped into them lifting weights at his old high school in Honolulu. That same mentality prompted him to take 10 amateur fights within the next year and his first professional MMA bout shortly thereafter.

“It kind of worked out that way because we were at the same place at the same time,” he said of his chance encounter. “Lifting weights and playing basketball got old, and MMA was new and excited me.”

It all seems a bit plucky for a guy who previously had only experienced martial arts while watching his favorite movie star, Jean-Claude Van Damme.

“I used to love Van Damme movies like ‘Kickboxer’ and ‘Bloodsport,’” he said. “I was always like, ‘Man, I wish I could do that.’”

Nam readily admits he did not expect to discover he was a world-class talent in mixed martial arts.

“I was actually very surprised because the first amateur kickboxing match I had, I took literally after a month of training in a muay Thai gym in Chinatown in Hawaii,” he said. “People were getting ready for amateur fights and I would stay around and spar, and they said, ‘Hey what are you doing Friday night?’ All I would have been doing was hanging around drinking alcohol, so I said I’d try it.”

Being on national television
or in front of thousands of
people doesn’t really bother
me too much. I really do have
tunnel vision to the point that
everything is pretty much just
me and my corner.

-- Tyson Nam, WSOF bantamweight

And try it he did. Between 2006 and 2011, Nam earned himself a respectable 12-4 professional record while competing in promotions like King of the Cage and EliteXC. He brought to his new career and sudden status his patented cool mentality, which he credits to his original boxing coach, Tali Kulihaapai.

“[He] was really calm, really mellow,” Nam said. “He’d say ‘Relax before you go into a fight.’ He really molded me into being a calm fighter and being calm preparing for fights.”

He followed that approach in what would amount to be the first major opportunity of his career, taking on current Bellator MMA bantamweight champion Eduardo Dantas at Shooto Brazil 33 on Aug. 25, 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. In the fight, which Bellator allowed because it was held outside the United States and untelevised domestically, Nam shocked the MMA community and propelled himself into the top-10 conversation at 135 pounds by knocking out Dantas in the first round.

“I was calm before,” said Nam, “but I was overjoyed when I won. I couldn’t even sleep more than three hours that night thinking this whole thing was all a dream. The whole experience was like living in a movie.”

After a contract dispute with Bellator, Nam signed a deal with the World Series of Fighting and faced Marlon Moraes at WSOF 2 on March 23. It had been more than two years since Nam had met with defeat in the cage and more than five since he had been stopped in a fight, but 2:55 into the first round, Moraes caught him with a high kick and followed up with punches to end Nam’s winning streak. He handled the defeat with grace and candor.

“I zigged when I should have zagged,” he said. “It’s all good. It’s all in the name of sports.”

In his first appearance since the loss to Moraes, Nam will confront Bollinger, a 22-year-old representative of Joe Stevenson’s Cobra Kai dojo. Bollinger was one of the favorites to win Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter” until he failed to make weight and was disqualified from the competition.

“I know he’s a really good wrestler,” Nam said, “so I’ve been picking up on my wrestling a little bit more. I would rather keep the fight standing, but I’ve been practicing all aspects of the game. It’s mixed martial arts, so you’ve got to be good all the way around.”

In terms of other preparation for the bout, Nam just plans to follow his tried and true methods.

“Nothing too crazy, nothing too ecstatic where I’m yelling and screaming,” he said. “I’m just going to do what I do every day and put on a great performance for the fans.”


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