Pham is set to face Mohamad Fakri Bin Yusoff on September 6 in ONE’s inaugural event held at the Phu Tho Indoor Stadium.
With less than a week to go before the event, “The Beast From The East” shared stories of his humble beginnings and how the Vietnam war forced his family to move to a different continent.
“They came to England to escape the war and to start a better life,” Pham said.
“One of my aunties got into Canada, but the rest of my family were not allowed, so they came here. I’ve got a lot of family around London, and the other half stayed in Vietnam, and are still there.”
After seeking refuge in Tottenham, North London, the young Pham had difficulty acclimatizing to his new environment. He was unable to find something he excelled at and instead spent most of his time playing games on his computer.
“I wasn’t good at anything growing up, all I liked was computer games,” Pham said.
“I was never into sports or anything like that, and I was not very academic either. I just always wanted to get home and play on my computer.”
Things took a drastic change as the teen Pham found himself suffering from school bullying. His cousin, now head coach Philip Tieu, was there to defend him most of the time but Tieu knew that he could not always be there. To give Pham the ability to defend himself independently, Tieu taught him basic punches and kicks while convincing him to learn more in a gym.
“I started training Jeet Kune Do because I used to get bullied a bit when I was younger,” Pham said.
“The other kids would try to rob me and things like that. I was always getting mugged. I used to call my cousin when I had a problem with them, and he would come and sort it out. It was good having someone to call, but I used to call him quite a lot! He said that I needed to learn how to protect myself because he wouldn’t be able to protect me all my life.”
Pham realized how important it was for him to learn martial arts if he wanted the bullying to stop. Having a couple of his cousins around helped him gain confidence and excel. They continued supporting each other as he, later on, called it a family affair.
“I was never interested in martial arts until I knew I had to protect myself,” Pham said.
“I knew I had to learn and train to get some confidence in myself. Two of my other cousins were there too, and they motivated me, and when I improved, we all pushed each other to get better. It was a family thing.”
From there, Pham found himself spending less time in front of the computer and more time in the gym, improving his skills. His effort in the gym made him crave for more action to the point that it became a daily routine.
“What made me want to take it to the next level was just that feeling you get after you train,” Pham said.
“I got addicted to the feeling – it makes you feel good. It is like a natural high, so I wanted to train every day.”
At the age of 18, he won his first Muay Thai match. From a bullied teen, he became a respected athlete. The positivity he gained from his victory made him realize that the search for his passion had ended.
“When I won that first fight, I felt really good – the attention on you and the reward after the fight, I was buzzing,” Pham said.
“I just knew I wanted to do it again. Plus, the respect everyone gives you is nice. It made me think I could make something out of myself. It felt good to finally find a passion in my life.”
Pham worked hard until he reached a level he was satisfied with. From there, he reaped accolades and world titles such as the ISKA, WKA, and MTGP European Titles. This caused him to be noticed by ONE Championship, the promotion he had been closely following.
“I was so happy when I got the call for ONE. It seemed like everything I’d worked towards for the last 12 years was starting to pay off,” Pham said.
“I’ve been watching the shows, and I think it’s going to be a good test for me. They’ve got the best in the world in ONE Championship.”
Vietnam holds a special place in Pham’s heart. The opportunity to open the first live ONE event in his father’s birthplace is a privilege he says he will not waste.
“I’ve been to Vietnam a lot to see my family, but to go and compete is an honor for me,” Pham concluded.
“I don’t know if I will get the chance to do it again, so I’ve got to try and make my country proud of me.”