There are few names in the world of MMA that carry the same weight as Zahabi. After a solid run at the top of the UFC ladder for many years with the success of Georges St. Pierre, Firas Zahabi and the rest of the Tristar team solidified their efforts in the sport as they are now widely regarded as one of the greatest gyms in all of North America. Aiemann Zahabi, the younger brother to Head Trainer Firas, has been at the forefront of all the development that has taken place at Tristar for his entire career. Although his record would suggest a lack of experience in the realm of fighting, he has endured a lifetime of solid work and constant exposure to the best and most creative minds when it comes to striking and grappling, and his road to stardom in the UFC is only just getting started. At the ripe age of 29, Aiemann has gone full force into chasing his dream of being a professional mixed martial artist, and the improvement has paralleled the dedication.
In the Fight Network documentary series ‘Tristar Stories’, Zahabi details the differences between the regular training he does day-in and day-out to the rigid preparation he undergoes leading up to a fight. Since he has signed to the UFC, the main difference in his approach to camp is simply helping himself rather than concentrating his efforts on helping others. When asked whether or not training with several partners on the same card was a hindrance or a benefit, Zahabi made it clear that the energy in Montreal is laser focused:
“Preparing for a fight as a team definitely makes it easier, we’re all more focused, more serious, more consistent – everyone is willing to help out. It just makes everyone step up.”
Aiemann’s dedication to the sport is nothing out of the ordinary for what he’s accustomed to. After celebrating his bachelor party over the weekend, he jumps right back into training camp en route to his marriage ceremony later in the year. The Zahabi family is well accustomed to this lifestyle, and Aiemann made it known that the preparation for his next bout will be that much more productive as he was able to settle back into fighting shape between camps, and is using this valuable time before November 4th to sharpen his skills rather than just get in shape.
“I feel like my first fight [in the UFC], I wasn’t able to spend enough time getting my skills down because I was focused on losing the weight and dedicating my time to other things. For this camp, I came in at a good weight and am getting more time practising on technique rather than running miles, so I’ll be much more relaxed in there for sure.”
Bringing The Heat
That confidence in ability was heard loud and clear throughout our conversation. After breaking down his professional MMA record in comparison to his opponent, I asked Aiemann if he was comfortable taking the fight to the ground even with Ricardo Ramos’ impressive six submission victories in 10 wins overall. For every potential problem I raised about his opponent his rebuttals were more than a sufficient counter:
“I respect his game, but I’m not afraid of what he has to offer. I’ve had Ryan Hall come in to help me with the grappling [for this camp] and he is just so good at breaking things down, and has been a big, big help so far. All the guys I’m grappling with offer something different and are helping me improve my game, and his only loss is a quick submission in the first round! So who knows, his offensive JiuJitsu might be good, but his defence might be needing some work, either way I’m confident with what I’m bringing to the table.”
In an era where cheap trash-talk and showboating has influenced much of the MMA culture as of late, Zahabi’s humility is a breath of fresh air in a division that can quickly get ugly with their words. Regardless, the work is being done and all systems are set to go for what will be a huge night of opportunity for the prominent Montreal team. After assessing the film on Zahabi’s rise to the UFC, it’s obvious that his overall package when it comes to his skill-set in the cage is a few notches above the rest of his competition, his pedigree as a martial artist is unrivalled for those near him in the rankings, and it’s only a matter of time before his stoic work ethic gets rewarded with the attention it deserves.
Breaking down the nuances to Aiemann’s game was quite the trick preparing for this interview, with three TKO’s and three submission wins out of seven. It’s obvious to see the versatility that Aiemann brings to the octagon, and after finally getting his first full decision win in the UFC back in February, Aiemann is fully battle tested and ready for any challenge that can come his way. After breaking down all the hard work being done during his camp, I asked if he could give a prediction as to how his bout would go at UFC 217, and he wasted no time in giving his assessment:
“I think out of all the tools I have, I try to look for my right cross when I can, it’s gotten me out of a lot of trouble in fights and I think that’s what I tend to lean on when I need to use it. We’ll see, I know he likes to come out strong in the first but after that initial burst he tends to lose his thunder, we’ll see if he has that same thunder in the second, I think that’s when I can catch him. I think a second round stoppage either by TKO or submission, that’s my prediction.”
Tough talk in the MMA world is second nature for fighters, but when you get bold predictions from a calculated individual, it’s hard to argue the semantics. Aiemann will be looking to put his stamp on the bantamweight division sooner rather than later, with a big win at UFC 217 as Tristar’s resurgence into the top-tier of MMA talent will once again be on trial when Georges St. Pierre and Zahabi step into the octagon November 4th.
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