PHILADELPHIA – It's been over a year since Amir Sadollah beat CB Dollaway to capture The Ultimate Fighter's season seven championship and earn a UFC contract. But since then the world's most popular 1-0 fighter has been snakebit, suffering back-to-back setbacks during two separate training camps that forced him to pull out of scheduled bouts.
Finally healthy after a staph infection and a broken clavicle, Sadollah returns to the octagon on one of the featured bouts of UFC 101, taking on former two-time NCAA wrestling champion Johny Hendricks. Not surprisingly, the 28-year-old is feeling like a kid on Christmas Eve, anxious to finally reach a highly anticipated day.
"I'm trying to control the excitement as best I can and stay focused," he told FanHouse. "I've got to try to save the excitement for when the cage door shuts and I'm ready to fight."
While it's been a lengthy layoff in terms of sanctioned action, Sadollah has put in long hours at the gym hoping to evolve his all-around game, including tutelage under the vaunted training staff at Xtreme Couture.
Despite his popularity, Sadollah is still a bit of a mystery. He came into TUF without a single fight under his belt, and against all odds emerged the champion, beating vastly more experienced competitors including Steve Byrnes, Matt Brown and Gerald Harris along the way. Sadollah paired his underdog status with a dry wit that quickly won over fans, and after upsetting highly favored Dollaway twice, he seemed on his way to stardom. But now, it's almost as if he's starting from scratch.
He still has the sense of humor (asked how his style would differ from his last time in the octagon, he said, "My hair's a little different and my shorts are going to be white this time), but he knows there are those who question his standing in the UFC.
"Hopefully you'll see what I've improved," he said. "I hope I'm more well-rounded and in shape. I think I'm more technical and more aggressive all-around. We'll see."
Paired with a standout wrestler again (the two fights he was forced to withdraw from were both with another ex-Division I wrestler, Nick Catone), he says wrestling has been a focus of improvement for the last year, but not his exclusive spotlight for fear of neglecting other aspects of the fight game.
The 5-0 Hendricks presents a stern challenge in proving that he's all the way back and healthy. Formerly a WEC fighter, Hendricks was moved to the UFC when the WEC dissolved the 170-pound weight class to focus on lighter division.
"The thing is, in the UFC, they give people tough fights, and I'm glad I'm no exception," Sadollah said. "I think I've had a pretty hard road and I'm glad it's continuing. I want to be as good as I can and develop as much as I can. I'm going to have to fight hard fights, and this is one of them."