Tyson Nam could be a top-10 ranked fighter after his next fight and the only thing he’s wondering is what took so long for him to get the opportunity.
The 37-year-old, 32-fight veteran has a major opportunity ahead of him as he seeks his third straight in inside the octagon when he meets Matt Schnell at UFC Vegas 8 on Jan. 20 in Abu Dhabi. Coming off of back-to-back knockout wins, Nam expects himself to be a ranked flyweight if he can get past Schnell, a designation that he hasn’t held in nearly a decade.
Before the UFC even had official rankings, Nam recalls being recognized as a top-10 fighter at 135 pounds by online publications when he scored a shocking first-round KO of then-Bellator champion Eduardo Dantas in a non-title bout at a small show in Rio de Janeiro.
“It means a lot to me that I do have this chance of being a top-10 fighter again after so many years, 2012 and now we’re here in 2021 on the verge of me breaking into the top-10 again,” Nam told MMA Fighting. “It would be a great honor and I always think about it just because I am where I should have been this entire time.”
It took Nam 13 years to make it to the UFC. His career has already been an eventful one, with appearances for promotions such as the World Series of Fighting (now the PFL), Russia’s Fight Nights Global, and even Elite XC. Four and a half years after the Dantas upset, Nam picked up another massive win with a first-round head kick KO of one-time UFC flyweight title challenger Ali Bagautinov in Bagautinov’s first fight after leaving the UFC.
While he’s grateful to be on the biggest stage in MMA, he can’t help but think about the missed opportunities along the way.
“It’s crazy, it’s a little bit upsetting, it’s a little bit of all these sorts of emotions just because when I’m really thinking about it, the types of performances that I have put on internationally, my bank account should be looking a lot larger than it is right now over these years that I should have been in the big show, making this big show money,” Nam said. “But things do happen for a reason and no time better than now.”
That trust in the process has worked out well for Nam in his UFC run. After dropping his first two fights by decision to top-10 contenders Sergio Pettis and Kai Kara-France, Nam took a pair of bantamweight bouts against short-notice opponents and got his groove back. His pairing with Schnell has been slow to actually materialize as the bout has twice been rescheduled, but Nam likes that the matchmakers have stuck with the booking.
“I think things happen for a reason,” Nam said. “Third time’s a charm and usually it always happens on the third time or less. But yeah, I’m excited, it seems like the UFC really wants this fight to happen. The stylistic matchup seems like it’s gonna be an awesome fight.
“I can’t see any which way that it’s not gonna be exciting. He’s a finisher, I’m a finisher. It’s either going to be really exciting or really boring and I can’t picture it being boring at all for a second.”
Nam sees his matchup with Schnell as another banger in an oft-overlooked division that had a banner 2020. The flyweights have rarely proven to be successful when it comes to viewership numbers, but Nam is happy to see the talents in the weight class receiving more recognition.
“I always knew that the flyweight division was exciting,” Nam said. “Maybe that the fans didn’t really see a whole lot of finishes not too long ago, but it just seems as if recent we’ve been knocking each other out left and right. One of the greatest flyweight fights that just happened with Moreno and Figueiredo.
“We’re definitely on the radar for fans and for people to watch to take note of our division, because exciting things do happen in the lighter weight classes. Big things come in small packages and we’re here to entertain the masses.”
One name that has raised eyebrows with his talk of dropping down to compete at 125 pounds is former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. “No Love” was expected to be the first title defense for Deiveson Figueiredo, but was replaced by Alex Perez at UFC 255 after suffering a torn bicep.
Should Garbrandt stick with his plan of challenging Figueiredo, Nam sees him as a welcome addition to the flyweight field.
“Cody brings a big name and a lot of hype wherever he goes, so if he’s going to bring it down to the flyweight division it just adds on to the roomful of sharks that we have going on in the flyweight division,” Nam said. “That sort of publicity really seemed to attract and we just keep on building and growing and I feel like a lot of these upcoming UFC fights should be featuring a lot of the flyweight fighters.”
Nam knows that a successful 2021 campaign starts with beating Schnell and he expects the normally grappling-minded Schnell to utilize his improved standup and engage him on the feet. If that’s the case, Nam thinks they have a chance to steal the show on Jan. 20.
“I’m a steal something,” Nam said. “I’m a steal some hearts, I’m a steal some knockouts, I’m a steal something.”