Photo courtesy of Aiemann Zahabi
By Andy Cotterill
“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is mere days away from UFC Fight Night: Dos Anjos vs. Fiziev in Las Vegas on Saturday night, where two Bantamweight fighters from arguably the best MMA gyms in Canada and the United States will be contesting each other’s skill, will, and heart.
MM-eh spoke with Zahabi soon after his final sparring session with training partner Tyler Wilson before he eases into maintenance mode that will last until fight night, a necessity for his body to avoid injury before such a big opportunity.
This will be Zahabi’s first fight in the nearly a year-and-a-half since he defeated Drako Rodriguez with a staggering overhand right in what he calls his proudest victory ever, due to the fact that previously he had lost two fights in a row, his first losses ever as a mixed martial artist.
“Everybody doubted me and everyone threw me under the bus and said I was finished and garbage and blah blah blah,” Zahabi said with fire in his voice, “and I proved to myself that the odds don’t matter, the betting odds don’t matter and that it’s just me versus my opponent in there. It’s not me versus the media, it’s not me versus the fans, it’s not me versus the lights, it’s not me versus the venue, it’s not me versus anything. It’s just me and that one guy, and I gotta go out there and just beat him. I don’t have to beat anything else.”
Zahabi said that after getting his arm raised in victory he went backstage and broke down with emotion, the weight of those two losses escaping through the tears in his eyes.
“I remember friends coming up to me, like, why are you crying? You won!”
He admitted to them that he had seen fighters who were never able to turn their careers around after losses like his, and this victory went a log way to affirm to himself that he still belongs in this game.
“I’ve always looked up to someone like Robbie Lawler.” Zahabi said. “Got kicked out of the UFC early on in his career, went out and won belts in different leagues, then came back to the UFC and won the title. I feel like I turned my life around too. A couple weeks ago Josh Emmett just won at 37. Glover Teixeira looked great at 42. I really feel like I’m in the prime of my life and I’ve got a few more years to give to the UFC. I want to get as many fights as possible and just leave my stamp in the UFC.”
The next step in that plan, of course, is to face Turcios on Saturay, and Zahabi says that he and his coach (brother Firas Zahabi) pitched gameplan ideas back and forth with each other, and are condident that they have the solution to Turcios, who Aiemann says brings a fast pace and is a hard guy to finish.
“Oh, it’s gonna be a great fight. My brother and I prepared for 15 minutes of war.”
Zahabi describes himself as having more of a precision style and once the cage door closes he considers himself to be an opportunist.
“I try to basically create opportunities to keep the fight where my strengths are for as long as possible to increase the probability of victory, and the good thing about MMA is there’s so many variables, and there’s no the goals that are too small. There’s no knee pads and no elbow pads, and you’re just always one strike away from being finished. I try to direct the fight the pace and the distance, and then I hope that that those that increase in probability leads me to some type of finish, but I’m always ready to go the full 15.”
When I inevitably asked him for his prediction on the outcome, Zahabi avoided brash claims of impending dominance like so many others might. Instead, he recited a quote from his teammate, longtime UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre.
“It’s not who the better fighter is. It’s who fights the best that night.”