Hettes is a UFC newcomer with a perfect nine-fight record, closing out each match by submission (six in the first frame). His debut was an exhilarating back and forth scrap with Alex Caceres, in which the pair morphed into a blurry tangle of limbs with Hettes slickly transitioning from one sub to another while Cacares scrambled furiously to escape. In the end, Hettes maintained his signature finishing streak by catching "Bruce Leroy" in a rear-naked choke in the second stanza.
Phan appeared on TUF 12 as a lightweight and progressed to the semifinals where he looked solid in a close decision loss to Michael Johnson. While the reality show served as his mainstream emergence, Phan has been in the trenches with respectable talent all around the globe, competing in the WEC, K-1, Sengoku and Strikeforce against opposition like Josh Thomson, Gesias Cavalcante, Billy Evangelista and Michihiro Omigawa.
Post-TUF, Phan returned to his natural fighting weight and immediately found himself on the wrong end of Sherdog's 2010 "Robbery of the Year" against consummate culprit Leonard Garcia. He would go on to avenge the controversial loss in his last foray but, first, former champion Mike Brown handled him with overwhelming top-control to start Phan off with two straight defeats by decision.
Match up analysis in the full entry.
As we all know, otherworldly submission skills are useless unless one can create the scenario to implement them. The key to Hettes' unblemished roll is his under-rated Judo savvy in the clinch. He was a two-time State Judo Champion in Pennsylvania and has a commanding set of clinch tactics. Hettes also took up boxing and BJJ at an early age, all of which formed a sturdy foundation for MMA.
Phan is highly experienced, a perilous boxer with a pro record (3-1 with 2 KOs), proficient in traditional Vietnamese martial arts, a BJJ black belt and thoroughly well rounded, yet not really known for his wrestling prowess. He did compete in high school but his size and wrestling could be viable aspects for Hettes to exploit. Memories of Mike Brown containing Phan against the cage, driving him to the mat and maintaining a dominant position come to mind. Hettes is also a beefy-sized featherweight at a robust 5'9", and the slightly undersized, 5'6" Phan might struggle to fend off Hettes' strength and persistence in tie-ups.
Where the clever veteran really shines is in piecing together his boxing and kicks in open space. His stance, balance and defense are on point and Phan loves to creep into range with a low center of gravity and plunge left hooks to the body. He excels in employing angles -- both with his footwork and upper-body movement -- to attack with heavy leather from unexpected trajectories.
At a distance, Phan has a wide collection of TMA-type kicks that he integrates seamlessly, such as the chambered side-kick and spinning back-kick. This, in addition to his plethora of boxing tactics at close range, makes Phan a tremendously effective and diverse striker to trade with in the free-movement phase. Hettes has decent boxing but I don't think he can survive with Phan in the stand up unless he can keep him on his heels with the constant threat of clinch encroachments.
Considering Phan's complete game and significant edge in experience, it's not a surprise to see Hettes as the underdog in his first real taste of high-caliber opposition. Phan is definitely the safe bet but Hettes has the size and skill to negate his striking and exploit his strengths. It's a huge test for the 24-year-old but he might have the potential to pull it off.
My Prediction: Nam Phan by TKO.