There are two types of fighters in the UFC: Those who enjoy the fame that comes with kicking ass, and those who prefer to kick ass and retreat immediately back to the gym. The former relishes the fame, and can be occasionally found partying like a rock star—often after kicking ass. For this type of fighter, caged combat is a path to super stardom, a conduit to movies, lucrative endorsements and the other spoils of war. To this type of fighter, fighting is a means to a much bigger end.
Amir Sadollah (2-0) is firmly entrenched in the latter category.
He lacks the kick-ass bravado found in a superstar fighter and after observing him, there’s a strong sense that the fame and recognition he’s received as a result of winning on the seventh season of “The Ultimate Fighter” makes him slightly uncomfortable. Despite his humility and self deprecating humor, Sadollah is all business inside the cage.
On a warm November day in Las Vegas, he’s trapped against the fence at Warrior Training Center, struggling to escape the grasp of his much larger training partner. After several minutes of working from his back, the pace picks up considerably as Sadollah alternates punches and kicks while another trainer holds up the mitts. The workout is predictable, like a washing machine, wash, and rinse, repeat. Sadollah goes from ground work, to striking and back again. Merely watching the workout is enough to cause exhaustion.
Sadollah concludes his routine and drops down against the fence, drenched in his own sweat. It’s that unquestionable work ethic that propelled him to the finals of the show, and past CB Dollaway in the finale. And it’s the same work ethic that he hopes will take him to the top of the middleweight division.
The Brooklyn-born, Virginia-raised Sadollah began training late in life. He had no wrestling background and didn’t participate in athletics growing up—save for a four month stint in karate as a kid.
“Long enough to get the shirt,” he says jokingly.
The simultaneous training in kickboxing and his job as a surgical technician provided the boost he needed to take MMA seriously, as he found some traits in surgeons that carried over to the ring.
“Surgeons and medical staff in general,” he says. “Their ability to handle stressful situations and do what they need to do. I think that’s a good trait to have in life.”
After recognizing the need to be more well rounded, Sadollah explored the world of grappling, and eventually Muay Thai, excelling at both.
“I competed in two grappling tournaments. I think I ended up getting a couple of national titles in Muay Thai and a couple in MMA,” he says of his beginnings. Sadollah has the most difficulty talking about himself. A little Internet research reveals that the 28-year-old has captured MMA titles as 185 and 205 pounds, as well as the World Kickboxing Association crown in Muay Thai at 189 pounds.
“I don’t like to brag,” Sadollah says plainly.
Until he found his place in the UFC, MMA was just something to do, and aside from the increased training schedule that comes with fighting in the Octagon, Sadollah seems to carry that same attitude with him into the gym.
“It’s one of those things I did,” he says of fighting and training. “I loved it and never questioned why. I was happy and never thought beyond ‘I’m doing this today, and I’m going to do it tomorrow.’”
After becoming season seven’s Ultimate Fighter, Amir packed his bags, departed the east coast and opened the next chapter of his life in the world’s biggest adult playground: Las Vegas. With 24-hour temptations looming at nearly every turn, he’s managed to avoid the pitfalls of Sin City and focus exclusively on training. His philosophy is simple, and fighters coming up after him would be wise to take it to heart.
“We all get tempted sometimes but I try to learn the lessons. I learned early on that it’s cheap fulfillment. It’s like fast food. It’s good at the [moment] but afterwards you realize there’s probably something better you could’ve done with your time.”
The “something better” is typically training, and admiration fills Sadollah’s voice when he talks about the bonds he developed with season seven coach Forrest Griffin and the crew the current light heavyweight champion assembled for the show.
“I really connected with them as coaches and mentors,” he says when asked about the driving force behind his relocation to Vegas. “The level of guys and training partners out here. I couldn’t pass on that. These are guys I watched before I started fighting and now I get to train with them.”
Sadollah hopes all that training will pan out when he enters the Octagon this Saturday at UFC 91 to face fellow undefeated fighter Nick Catone.
“From what I can tell, I think it’s going to be a tough fight. He’s a good wrestler, good ground game and I think he’s going to come out and try to hurt me. It should be fun.”
If history is an indicator of how the fight will go, Sadollah is likely to come out of the cage with a victory. He bested accomplished college wrestler CB Dollaway—twice, and is skillful working from his guard. In fact, wrestling is something he hopes to add to his increasing arsenal of MMA weapons.
“So far, I’ve been able to deal with good wrestlers. I like to think that I have the answer for everyone’s game plan.”
When his days inside the Octagon are done, Sadollah hopes to usher in a new era of senior citizen combat.
“I’d love to do it ‘til I’m 80, but I don’t know if they’ve got the broken hip leagues,” he says with a laugh.
The future appears bright for the current Ultimate Fighter, but don’t look for him to start praising himself as the accolades come. He’s developed a system to keep himself grounded and doesn’t mind sharing the secret to his success.
“[It’s the] fear of not being good. I’m always trying to figure out what’s the best for me to do and be. If I start thinking that I’m, I’ll stop getting good. Not that I don’t ever give myself credit, you’ve gotta have confidence and know you can do it, but you have to figure out a way to stay hungry.”