When a young American athlete wants to get stronger, he heads to the weight room. Kamal Shalorus
built his muscles a different way.
Growing up in the small town of Khalkhal in Northern Iran, Shalorus eschewed formal workouts and instead became one of his country's strongest amateur wrestlers by getting up early every day and putting in long hours of heavy lifting working on the family farm.
"I know some athletes who developed their strength through technology," Shalorus said in an interview with MMAFighting.com. "Not me. I got it working with my hands, working in the field all day, working with the animals. We had sheep, goats, horses -- I'd have to build a barn for the animals, I'd have to work in the garden and then go chop down a tree, I'd have to go into the mountains to get something. It was a hard workout. I would often think to myself while I was working that this would also help me with my wrestling."
It worked. Shalorus earned a spot on Iran's junior national team and traveled around the world competing in amateur wrestling, and once he had traveled as far as amateur wrestling could take him, he made the transition to professional mixed martial arts.
MMA is Shalorus's sport now, and on Sunday night he has the biggest fight of his career, against Jamie Varner
in the main event at WEC 49
in Edmonton. Many years after he last worked on his family farm in Iran, Shalorus still believes the strength he developed half a world away gives him a big edge against Varner.
"I am strong for my size and I really believe all that hard work on the farm helped me," Shalorus said. "I would work all day on the farm and that's why I'm strong -- both physically and in giving me the willpower to keep working."
Shalorus last fought in January, beating Dave Jansen by unanimous decision. He views Varner as a major step up in competition, but he believes that wrestling background will continue to work in his favor and earn him a win.
"Jamie is a great fighter and it's an honor to fight with him," Shalorus said. "He is the best opponent I've had so far. He has good wrestling, he's a hard puncher. He can do everything well. But I've improved my striking a lot and I like to strike. And I'll use my wrestling to take him down and control the fight."
In the week before the fight, Shalorus is thinking mostly about how to beat Varner. But he also says he's thinking about how, in the high-profile position of fighting in the main event of a Versus televised fight card,he can give American viewers a little bit of insight into his homeland.
"I hope people in America know that most people in Iran want peace and want more of a connection with America," Shalorus said. "It's so amazing that I'm from Iran but I can be cheered by American fans when I fight. Sport can bring about peace and bring people together. I love that."
And what will those fans see on Sunday night?
"I want to give the fans an exciting fight they're going to enjoy," Shalorus said. "And I want to show that I'm an honorable competitor."