It’s not often that a fighter has already walked the UFC entrance prior to their first bout, but that will be the case for Aiemann Zahabi, who will make his promotional debut against Reginaldo Vieira at UFC Fight Night Halifax this Sunday.
The brother of Montreal’s Tristar gym’s head trainer Firas Zahabi has cornered many UFC bouts and is familiar with how everything looks under the big lights.
“I’ve been making this walk for the last eight years, the first time that I cornered someone it was when the UFC went to Vancouver and I cornered David Loiseau (UFC 115 – June 12, 2010),” Zahabi told TSN.ca. “I’ve been cornering guys ever since and making that walk out so many times a year.”
This time, the undefeated fighter will be the one in the spotlight as he puts his 6-0 record on the line. Making the transition from trainer and corner man to UFC fighter is not an easy process, but it’s one that the youngest of the Zahabi brothers has been working towards meticulously.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting for years and I feel satisfied that my skills are being recognized at the world level, on the big stage. Looking forward to getting my first fight in there, getting my feet wet.”
“I decided to be a UFC fighter when I was 19; I was like ‘that’s it, that’s what I’m going to do.” I was starting to train pro fighters and I was really good in the gym I was holding my own and I started winning amateur fights and pro fighters in the UFC started asking me to coach them. As I got better, I decided to go pro and I just had to be patient and get the wins that I needed to get to the UFC.”
The training environment at Tristar Gym has been praised by many fighters and has even produced one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time, someone that Zahabi considers himself fortunate to work with and learn from.
“It’s amazing, I’m super lucky to be with Tristar with a champion like Georges St-Pierre who really kept all of the guy’s egos in check,” said Zahabi. “Georges never had an ego, when he’s in the gym he’s willing to learn from anyone who had something good.”
Also key to the development of the 29-year-old has been his brother, who he credits for creating the environment that allows all of the fighters to thrive at Tristar as well as some old fashioned tough love.
“Firas does not give compliments easy, this guy is brutal,” said Zahabi. “He’s very stern to make sure we’re aiming for perfection and not getting a pat on the back just for doing good. He’s always pushing us to work harder, taking away bad habits, keep adding new tools and he’s always making sure that we don’t think we’re too good because we’re obviously not perfect yet, he makes sure we keep a level head.”
Standing across from the 6-0 Canadian will be Vieira, a 14-4 fighter who is coming in off a loss to Marco Beltran last July and is 1-1 overall in the promotion. Zahabi has zeroed in on his opponents strengths and is ready to win the fight anywhere it goes.
“He looks like more of a wrestler, grappler, throw the overhand right and shoot into the legs, take people down and try to beat them on the ground,” said Zahabi. “I’m expecting him to try to do that to me as well because he’s done that in most of his fights, he may have tweaked a couple of things, maybe he’s worked on his boxing or added some kicks but I’m looking to pick him apart on the feet and out wrestle him.”
Winning is obviously the ultimate goal for Zahabi but he is aiming to finish the fight to make a statement in his UFC debut, he believes he will achieve that goal in the latter two rounds.
“I want to get the finish, I’m hoping to get the finish in the second or third round,” said Zahabi. “From what I’ve seen of his fights, he’s durable, he can take punches, he can wrestle for a while, he can bring a high pace and he’s gone the distance quite a few times so I’m looking to finish him and it will probably be in the second or third round.
The Laval native is also happy to make his debut in Halifax where he’ll be greeted by a friendly, partisan crowd.
“I wanted to fight in Canada for my first one in the UFC, it’s easier for my family and friends to fly out,” said Zahabi. “I’m a family guy and I’d like to have all my friends there because win or lose those are the guys that are going to be there in the end for me. If it was in Montreal it would have been even better because more people would have showed up.”