Poor Jimy Hettes. "The Kid" started his career with nine straight submission victories, but his 10th fight proved to be the one in which the wheels finally came off.
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Hettes couldn’t finish Nam Phan on Friday at UFC 141. Phan took him the distance — the first time Hettes had been to the third round. If you go by that, it was Hettes’ worst performance yet.
And if you take any of the aforementioned seriously, you need to invest in a new Sarcasm Meter.
True, Hettes went past the second round for the first time. And true, he didn’t finish Phan. Instead, he put the featherweight division on notice that there might just be a "next big thing" at 145 pounds. Hettes dominated Phan to open the pay-per-view portion of UFC 141 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, landing an amazing 80 percent of his strikes — 221 of 275, according to FightMetric’s tally. He also took Phan down 11 times and passed his guard nine times in the fight en route to scores of 30-25, 30-25 and 30-26.
Not bad for a plus-180 underdog with just one UFC fight under his belt. And though Hettes appeared close to getting the fight stopped in the first round while teeing off on Phan repeatedly from the top, after the fight he proved perhaps wise beyond his 24 years by saying he didn’t want to get so caught up in the finish that he might burn himself out and open up the door for Phan later in the fight.
"I was wondering what it takes to put Nam Phan away," Hettes said of his first-round barrage. "I was giving him all I could, and all that went through my head was watching the Brock Lesnar vs. Shane Carwin fight. The last thing I wanted to do was gas out and have Nam get top position and possibly end the fight. I knew I was trying to finish it and keep going forward, but at the same time trying to keep a little bit in the gas tank just in case."
At UFC 116 in July 2010, Carwin famously gave Lesnar a first-round beating in their heavyweight title fight. But in the process, he was completely fried entering the second round and Lesnar, despite being a little worse for the wear, was able to put the challenger away with an arm triangle on the ground.
Hettes (10-0, 2-0 UFC), who lives in the tiny, old coal mining town of Swoyersville, Pa., just north of Wilkes-Barre, has spent time training with the likes of former TUF runner-up Kris McCray and UFC lightweight champ Frankie Edgar. And the jiu-jitsu purple belt said he trained to go three rounds with Phan (17-10, 1-3 UFC).
"Any time someone watches Nam Phan’s older fights, you’re preparing for a three-round war," Hettes said. "I haven’t been past the second round, but I’ve been training five five-minute rounds with 205ers, heavyweights, 170-pounders — just so I could get that fatigued feeling. It definitely paid off. The one thing about Nam is, I knew I had to keep him on the defensive. I knew if I slept on him for even one second, that right hand could put me to sleep."
But despite his caution in the fight, and wisely knowing he could always get caught, Hettes was unsure after the fight why there was so much talk online that questioned his position on the pay-per-view, with guys like Dong Hyun Kim and Danny Castillo relegated to the prelims.
"A lot of the stuff online is, ‘Why does that kid with no muscle mass get to be on TV?’" Hettes said. "A lot of people have negativity, and I just like to be around positive people. Luckily, the people I surround myself with, they know what I’m capable of. There was never any doubt that I belong there. I just had to show up and fight."
And fight he did. He drew the eye of former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, who left his cageside seat during a break to track Hettes down backstage and congratulate him on the performance — and thank him for being sponsored by Ortiz’s Punishment Athletics brand. Hettes stood on stage in the UFC 141 media center with microphones and recorders and cameras in his face and got to watch a future Hall of Famer push past to offer props. Not a bad night.
"It’s a surreal experience," Hettes said. "I got to be in the same locker room as great fighters. I got to look over and see Alistair Overeem hitting pads and got a bear hug from Tito Ortiz after I won. Little things like that make you appreciate all the hard work, and it’s what motivates me to get up even earlier the next fight and train even harder."
But the night’s shining moment for Hettes might have come when his boss, UFC president Dana White, stood in front of the podium at the post-fight news conference — with Hettes six feet to his right — and said if he didn’t know much about "The Kid" before his destruction of Phan, he sure did now. Hettes resisted a great, big, beaming grin, but there likely was one brewing inside.
"I’m going to be honest — tonight’s the first night I really noticed this kid," White said. "It’s pretty awesome to see a jiu-jitsu kid with punches, and when something doesn’t work he moves somewhere else. You guys have heard me talk about the new breed that’s coming up, and how they train differently — there ya go. That’s one of them right there. That kid is nasty, and I loved watching him fight and perform. Once he gets more comfortable here, and starts to feel like this is really his home and this is his place, that kid’s going to be putting on some shows."
If Hettes has to get more comfortable in the Octagon than he was against Phan, when looking "at home" was an understatement, then "The Hettes Show" has already started.