TUF 7 winner prepared to face Ludwig
When two wrestlers meet in the cage, the pre-fight analysis often warns that the grappling could be a push and produce a mediocre kickboxing match. But what happens when a pair of Muay Thai practitioners stand opposite each other in the Octagon?
“A hold lot of silly hugging,” answers Amir Sadollah with a laugh as we talk during his final week of preparation for Sunday’s fight with Duane Ludwig. The affable winner of Season 7 of The Ultimate Fighter says he has some ideas about the fight, but isn’t too keen of trying to forecast what may happen when the cage door closes.
“Plans? I hate plans,” begins the 30-year-old. “I really do expect a great fight and I think it’s going to be fast paced and violent. I’m predicting myself to win — that’s a given — but as far as how it plays out, we’ll see that night.
“I don’t personally have any expectations at all. I’m prepared for anywhere the fight goes. The thing for me is I never like to approach any fight thinking I know what’s going to happen or with too much of a game plan other than to impose my will and keep the fight where I have the advantage.
“Do I expect a lot of striking in this fight? Yes, so I’m ready for it and I’m excited for it. I never make any promises, so you never know. He could come out and pull guard for all I know. We’ll see how it goes. Stylistically, I think it will be very exciting.”
The thought of Ludwig suddenly opting to play jiu-jitsu makes Sadollah laugh.
“It would throw me off, that’s for sure. `What are you doing?'” he asks the guard-pulling fantasy version of Ludwig we’ve conjured up in the conversation. The non-existent entity doesn’t answer, so we move on to more important things.
“That’s a nice way to put it,” he says when I try and finesse my way into a question about who has the best hair in mixed martial arts by calling his mane memorable. “I always try to make little subtle differences; not everyone notices, but you know. I always like to keep it something new and fresh.
“Best hair? I don’t know, I guess it’s me. Everyone’s got to imagine it’s them. Important to the career — charisma, fighting ability, hair.”
Sadollah has all three, and showed that his fighting ability is at least on par with the other two important elements in his last outing. After an injury to both Ludwig and fellow Ultimate Fighter winner James Wilks, Sadollah wound up facing TUF 9 finalist DaMarques Johnson at Ultimate Fight Night 24 in Seattle, Washington.
Having covered the event, I told him I thought it was his best performance to date, noting that he appeared more aggressive than he had in previous fights. I also reminded him that we met during his pre-fight photo shoot for Headrush — “I was the guy standing on the chair holding a light” — and asked for his assessment of his performance.
“Are you talking about the Headrush photo shoot or the fight itself?” he responds with a chuckle. “Can’t go one fight without getting called up to some dude’s hotel room and being told to take my shirt off.
“I was obviously happy with the fight. There is always something to learn from every fight — win or lose — so I was happy overall with the results, but I always want to look at the fight, see what I can improve and just go from there. I think that’s something I’ve always wanted to improve is being a quicker starter, without being overly aggressive and making mistakes. It was one thing I wanted to do. I think that worked well in that fight, but you can’t go in guns blazing; you’ve got to be intelligibly offensive.”
The answer shows the witty and likeable side of Sadollah, but also the side that is starting to emerge more in the cage. Beyond the quick quips is a fighter who is focused on improving between each fight and making his mark in the dangerous depths of the welterweight division.
“I never want to get complacent and just be happy to be here; I always want to be moving ahead and getting better in every fight, and obviously working towards the title and working towards being the best fighter ever. That should be every fighter’s goal in my opinion, and it’s certainly mine.”
Winning The Ultimate Fighter put Sadollah on the map, but it also brought expectations. When he lost his opening bout after defeating C.B. Dollaway in the finale, some critics — myself included — questioned whether the then-1-1 fighter was really ready to compete in the UFC? Were the expectations too high for the former surgical tech from Virginia with very little experience in the cage?
“I love the fact that I get the chance to jump right in there,” asserts Sadollah. “For me personally, I usually respond to a challenge, and as long as I’m always being challenged than I think I’m going to do well.
“I wasn’t as experienced as some of the guys, but as far as expectations go, you don’t need — you can’t really let any of that in. There’s only as much pressure and as many expectations as you put on yourself. The show is good for exposure and showing people where you’re at. Anything beyond that is kind of the perspective you give yourself.
“Going back to liking a challenge,” he continues, connecting the scattered dots of our non-linear conversation. “I think that’s one of the things about the UFC — it’s hard. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are — you’ve got to be a tough, best of the best guy and if you’re not, you won’t fight for them. All those things, they’re ancillary.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to be an accomplished fighter. Anything passed that definitely can help your career; if you’re someone that sponsors want to work with, that people know. These are all positives, but the base of your career has to be your performance.”
The thoughtful and earnest answer — and easy with which he used the word ancillary — make me regret questioning his place in the division and future in the sport two years ago.
I judged the book by its numerous appearances on television, hosting segments for the UFC. All the while, Sadollah had just been trying to get ahead; putting the pieces together in the gym, gaining experience and learning from each fight, keeping his name fresh in people’s minds in the interim using those ancillary talents.
He’s a fighter first and a charismatic television personality second; always has been, always will be.
“But it does not hurt that I’m handsome,” he adds. “I’ll coast on it when I have to.”
Alright — maybe not always.