When we last left our heroes...Some fighters in this sport reflect the proverbial narrative of the common man achieving uncommon glory. We have this image of the professional athlete as some sort of creature moving inexorably towards success. And yet many are just working five to nine, competing because it's what they know how to do; not because it's what they continue dreaming of becoming.
I don't know that Phan and Lee see themselves as perpetual undercarders. It's possible they see themselves as potential champions. It may sound ridiculous to us, but it makes evolutionary sense. You can't doubt yourself. Not in a sport where victory can take the shape of an arm or leg shaped anatomically incorrect.
So here we are in a bout between two guys who will get the opportunity to wow us on the main card. Phan is coming off two consecutive losses, first to Dennis Siver, and then at the Mark Hunt vs. Antonio Silva card against Takeya Mizugaki. Tough fights for any bamtamweight. It's a must win fight for him, despite fitting in a win over Cole Miller in his last three.
As for Lee, the mixed martial artist from Birmingham with a 13-9-1 record, is still probably best known among MMA fans for spoiling whatever marginal hope deceased Kid Yamamoto fans still had for the garish bad boy.
Like Phan, he's had a very tough schedule with losses to Raphael Assuncao, T.J. Dillashaw, and Chris Cariaso. To be fair to the description of both men as "journeymen", their journey has been anything but easy or typical.
What both men can do: Phan is kind of interesting case of all mechanics, and no rhythm. His boxing is technically sound. He digs hard to the body and to the head with his trademark left hook. It's by far his best punch, though he throws it a little too wide as the fight progresses. In any fight, Phan wants to get his hands going. He's decent on the ground; while not a grappling menace, he knows how to handle himself defensively. With 30 career fights and zero submission losses, his record speaks for itself. Especially when you consider his strength of competition (Josh Thomson, JZ, Mizugaki, Miller, etc.).
Lee is like a quicker version of Phan, but with none of the trimmings. So in other words, he's nothing like Phan. Lee is an agile fighter who mixes in strong knees and kicks to support his grappling acumen. One of the things you always like to see in your submission fighters (though Lee is really your typical well rounded everyman) is that killer instinct. Lee has that. His slick transition into the armbar for Kid's only career submission loss is the goods...however...
What both men can't do: Defensively, he's awful. Of his 9 career losses, 6 are by submission. He won't have to worry too much about his submission defense against Nam but he won't take it for granted either.
The problem with Phan is that he throws some very predictable combinations, and is prone to being bullied. It's hard to predict how his fights will look from one to the next: Hettes tossed him up and down the cage yet he seem comfortable against fighters like Miller and Mizugaki.
Stylistically, it's a tough fight to pick because I think Lee can potentially avoid the exchanges with his quickness of foot. But I lean towards Phan because he keeps a strong base and is rarely out of position from throwing punches. Should be a fantastic fight either way. Lee will get some grappling looks, with his slick back control being key, but Phan is punch stat machine, and those punchers will accumulate.
X-Factor: Judges' hands...Don't leave stuff there.
In-Fight Soundtrack: Two nine to fivers like Phan and Lee...what choice did I have?
Prediction: Nam Phan by Decision.