If you’re a veteran fighter with a decade of professional experience, but one that hasn’t gotten the call to the UFC, it can be cause for alarm. Then alarm leads to a lack of focus, a lack of focus leads to a loss against a lesser opponent, and the Octagon grows even more distant.
So how did Siyar Bahadurzada avoid this brutal chain of events as he waited for his opportunity to compete in the world’s leading mixed martial arts promotion?
“At one point, I thought, what is this? Why am I not fighting in the UFC?” he said. “But that actually made me even sharper and more hungry.”
And when the opportunity came up for him to compete in the United Glory promotion’s eight man World Series tournament in 2010-11, Bahadurzada saw it as his chance to show the UFC brass just what he could do at 170 pounds.
“When there was the Glory World Series tournament with eight welterweights, I promised myself that I want to finish all three fights within five minutes,” he said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t finish all the fights in five minutes, but I did finish all three fights by knockout, and that was kind of my ticket to the UFC and what got the UFC interested in me.”
Two UFC vets, Derrick Noble and John Alessio, both fell in less than two minutes each. Belgium’s Tommy Depret made it to round two, but suffered the same knockout fate, and soon after, Bahadurzada was a UFC fighter.
“This is my time,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this call for years, and finally I get a chance to show my skills in the UFC and I’m very excited about it.”
This Saturday in Stockholm, Sweden, Bahadurzada makes his Octagon debut against perennial contender Paulo Thiago, but getting the call was the easy part. Actually getting to the fight has taken him on some detours, as he split with his longtime team, Golden Glory, and also saw his original debut against Erick Silva get scratched when he broke his hand.
“My entire world crashed when I broke my hand the first time,” he admits. “But on the other side, everything happens for a reason, and maybe this is supposed to be like this, and it makes me sharper and more hungry. And even if my body’s broken and I’m tired, my heart and my mind is on fire because this has been what I’ve been waiting for for years and this is my dream. How many people have a UFC contract on the planet? It’s like a couple hundred and I’m one of those people; that’s a big honor for me.”
As for his current training situation, Bahadurzada has also landed on his feet, joining up with renowned Muay Thai trainer Lucien Carbin to sharpen the skills that have seen him score half of his wins by knockout, including five of his last six.
“I’m an independent kind of guy and I’ve still been training with my friends who I was training with when I was with Golden Glory,” he explains. “And my Thai Boxing trainer Lucien Carbin and Golden Glory didn’t have a good bond with each other, so I didn’t get to train with him all these years. But now I’m back with Lucien and his style of fighting is perfect for me. It’s aggressive, there are a lot of knee strikes, kicks, punches, and it’s complete Muay Thai with elbows and everything. That style is perfect for me. We’re working on some cool stuff and I can’t wait to show it.”
If you haven’t seen him fight, you’ll be pleasantly surprised on Saturday, as Bahadurzada won’t shy away from a confrontation in the Octagon. And while the Shooto light heavyweight (183 pounds) champion and Sengoku 2008 Grandprix semifinalist may be a mystery to many UFC fans, having competed primarily in Europe and Japan over the course of his 10 year career, his style and his back story are likely to make him one of the organization’s most compelling figures should he be successful.
Currently making his home in the Netherlands, where he has lived since he was a teenager, Bahadurzada grew up in vastly different surroundings in his native country of Afghanistan. Born and raised in Kabul, the future fighter saw battles of a different, graver, sort as a child.
“Growing up in Afghanistan when I was a kid, like three, four years old, I walked over bodies and body parts, and those things are in me – I can never get it out of me,” he said. “You grow up with those things, but I’m really a changed person. When I see people of my age, 26-27 years old, and see the way they think and the way they see life, that kind of life in Afghanistan formed me and built my character. The person I am today, I think I owe it back to my country and the things that I’ve been through.”
And he doesn’t shy away from talking about his country or his culture, despite the turmoil that still reigns in the region. He’s proud to be an Afghan, yet as he explains, what has happened there in the last several years doesn’t always tell the complete story of his nation.
“Let’s be honest, after 9/11 everybody’s ashamed of being an Afghan,” said Bahadurzada, who still has aunts and uncles living in the country. “Everybody tries to avoid being an Afghan and change the conversation and avoid talking about their nationality. But people don’t realize that we’ve had a history of 5,000 years, and if you look back in history, you will know what Afghanistan is about. We are hospitable people, we have a great culture, we’re very friendly, and we’ve always been open. And that’s what I’m trying to explain to people. Unfortunately the media has put us in a very dark light, and I hope with all my heart that I can bring a change to that.”
Admirably, Bahadurzada accepts the pressure that goes along with being someone trying to change preconceived prejudices, saying “I see that as a dream, and I’m fighting for it. That’s my motivation and that’s what I want to get.” Yet at the same time, he is prepared for what could very well be a hostile reaction once he makes his United States debut.
“There are people who are stupid and people who envy you,” he said. “People who are stupid, in a matter of time, if you put on good fights and show your character and what kind of person you are and they see it, they will change their opinion of you. But people who envy you, don’t even waste your energy on them; they will never change and they’ll always be hating. So I’m prepared for that, being booed until they get to know me. I have the confidence in myself that once people really get to know the person that I am and my character and what I stand for, I think they will start loving me, and also because of my fighting style. So I don’t worry about that (a negative reaction) too much, but it is in the back of my head, yes.”
That’s not what’s in the front of his head though. That space belongs to Thiago, who broke a two fight losing streak with a decision win over David Mitchell last August. With victories over Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, and Jacob Volkmann, Thiago has the scarier resume, and as a black belt in jiu-jitsu, he will pose problems for the 27-year old, who has suffered two of his four pro losses via submission, but Bahadurzada is unfazed by the challenge, and when you ask him what he sees when he looks at the Brazilian, he smiles.
“Right now I see a face all pretty and everything. But I think there will be a change in it after we fight, no disrespect.”
So whether you know him or not, or think he’s overmatched against Thiago, Bahadurzada is confident that he has some surprises up his sleeve come Saturday night.
“People send me messages and because they’ve never seen me fight or they don’t know me, and they say ‘hey man, you better watch out, Paulo Thiago’s really good.’ I give Paulo Thiago the respect because he is good, and no disrespect to him or his fans, but I will smash Paulo Thiago. I’m just waiting for the moment to come.”
It’s just a few days away, and Siyar Bahadurzada can’t contain his excitement.
“I hope they (the fans) get to see the heart that I have,” he said. “I hope I can put on a good show because that’s what I’ve been training really, really hard for and I want them to see my fighting spirit and my heart. That’s what I want to show the people.”
Siyar Bahadurzada - Ready to Introduce Himself
"I hope I can put on a good show because that’s what I’ve been training really, really hard for and I want them to see my fighting spirit and my heart." - Siyar Bahadurzada