ABU DHABI: Four days after Fight Island launched in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, MMA’s premier promotion returned to Yas Forum with Fight Night 1 and victories for local hero Mounir Lazzez over Abdul Razak Alhassan in the Welterweight division, and for American contender Calvin Kattar over Dan Ige in their headline Featherweight clash.
The Dubai-based Tunisian Lazzez — the only born, bred and trained Arab fighter on the card — was making his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut after getting his first call-up only in early June, and he kicked off the main card of the night by dominating the Ghanian Alhassan in a unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 28-27) victory.
Outside the cage, UFC boss Dana White was one of the first to offer his congratulations to the delighted winner.
“I love to be the underdog and to show my skill, and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Lazzez said. “I came in as the underdog and I enjoyed the victory. When he put me in the first round against the cage, I said, ‘what, this is all that you got?’
“I still have a lot of weapons and just step by step I killed his will with the kicks, moving around, high kick, low kick, I showed my wrestling, my takedown defense,” he said.
In the climax of UFC Fight Night 1 the No 6-ranked American contender Kattar unanimously defeated fellow-countryman Ige (49-46, 49-46, 48-47). The winner then declared his readiness to take on Australian Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, who defeated Max Holloway at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning.
“It’s a good opportunity, I was happy to go out with my team and finally give ourselves a main event win, and what better spot than out here in Abu Dhabi on Fight Island,” Kattar said. “Anywhere, anytime, that’s my mindset. We just follow where the opportunities are at, we had a big one here in Abu Dhabi, like I said, I’m just happy to go and capitalize. It’s a great check point for me and my team.
“I feel great, my lungs were great, my cardio felt good,” he said. “It was good to go and get five rounds because we’re eyeing that belt and we’re ready for five-round fights. We had to do that with a guy like Ige, you let him get momentum, it might be a long night for you. We figure we go out and get the momentum early and keep it as long as we could through the entirety of the fight. Everything was happening off the jab, so I was sticking to the jab, listening to my corners and we were able to go and get the job done.”
But for Middle Eastern audiences, all eyes were on Lazzez, and he did not disappoint his growing army of fans. The fighter, whose MMA professional record now stands at 10 wins and one loss, revealed the mental toughness that was needed to come in at short notice and produce a winning performance.
“I kept visualizing this over and over as just another fight, don’t put pressure on yourself and just go enjoy what you do,” said Lazzez. “I love this craft, I loved when I get clipped and I see the will inside the eye of my opponent, that mental game, I love that, I love that deep-water stuff. I’ve said it before, maybe you can be more technical and maybe you can be more powerful, but my will and my mental game, you can’t beat it.”
Before the event, Lazzez had revealed to Arab News his pride at being the only Arab-based fighter at UFC, as well as his gratitude that more events would be taking place on his “doorstep” in the UAE.
Lazzez also teased a potential fight with fellow welterweight Mike Perry. The Tunisian barely hid his disdain for the American, who recently made headlines by trading insults with UFC’s Darren Till on social media.
“I’m healthy, 100 percent,” Lazzez said. “I swear to God I’m ready to go in two weeks, but I’ll let my management speak to the UFC, and when that idiot is ready, I’m ready to go.”
In the penultimate fight of the night 33-year-old American Tim Elliott beat compatriot Ryan Benoit (29-28, 29-28,29-28) in a close Flyweight clash, and Jimmie Rivera defeated Cody Stamann with another unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win in their Featherweight All-American clash.
In a Flyweight clash just after Lazzez’s victory, the Brazilian Taila Santos had overcame Molly McCann of England with a unanimous (30-27,30-27,30-27) points victory.
“I’m really happy with my first win in the UFC,” said Santos. “In the first fight, I couldn’t loosen up, but today I had a great fight, I was focused and I won the fight. I have my roots in Muay Thai, but we expected her to come and try to take the fight to the ground. I train with the best grapplers, so I was ready for that. I started training with my father, so I know he is very happy and very round right now.”
In the prelims, Middleweight Khamzat Chimaev (Sweden) defeated John Phillips (Wales) with a second-round submission, and the American Jared Gordon took a unanimous decision against Chris Fishgold of England in a Featherweight clash; Lerone Murphy, another Featherweight from England, beat the Brazilian Ricardo Ramos with technical knockout in round one.
In the battle of the Light Heavyweight debutants, Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania, nicknamed “The Baltic Gladiator”, defeated Greek opponent Andrea “The Spartan” Michailidis via another TKO in the first round; Liana Jojua of Georgia made light work of the Romanian fighter Diana Belbita with a first-round stoppage in their Flyweight division bout; and Welsh Bantamweight Jack Shore maintained his perfect MMA career record with a second-round submission win over the American Aaron Phillips.
UFC Fight Night 2 will take place on July 19 at Yas Forum in Abu Dhabi, with the flyweight rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil and the American Joseph Benavidez headlining the event. Fight Night 3 will take place on the morning of July 26.