Of all the standouts to emerge from Saturday's massive UFC stadium show, none were more surprising than Makwan Amirkhani.
A lightly regarded Finnish wrestler who entered the weekend without a single knockout to his credit, Amirkhani burst from nowhere to steal the show in front of 30,000 spectators in Stockholm's Tele2 Arena, rampaging over Andy Ogle in just eight seconds to record the fastest debut in UFC featherweight history, then capturing the public's attention with his quick wit at the night's post-fight press conference.
"I didn't sleep for a day (after)," Amirkhani reflected of the experience on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I haven't gotten time to be alone and think about it, but wow, it's a huge step for me. I didn't expect this. I knew that it was going to be a short fight, but I didn't know that I would make this kind of move, that everybody will know me. I'm happy."
The road to UFC on FOX 14 was a fittingly unique one for the man they call, "Mr. Finland" -- a surname Amirkhani acquired in jest after placing second in a 2012 national male pageant.
Born and raised in Iran, Amirkhani fled the war-torn region in 1993 alongside his family at his father's urging. The violence did not evade them all, however. Amirkhani's father tragically passed away from 11 gunshot wounds the following year, another casualty of the conflict between Iran and Iraq.
Amirkhani went on to take up wrestling at a young age, blossoming enough to compete extensively for the Finnish national team in both Greco-Roman and freestyle disciplines. Because of this, mixed martial arts was effectively a side sport for Amirkhani until late last year, when the UFC's search for Scandinavian fighters arrived at his front door. Amirkhani seized the opportunity, quit his day job, and for the first time in his life committed himself to a full MMA training camp.
Living in a two-bedroom house with his mother and his sister, Amirkhani's dream was simply to earn enough money to buy his mother an actual bed, a small token of comfort to replace the mat she often slept on in the family's living room.
And it worked out. Amirkhani snatched an extra $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night' bonus for his record-breaking UFC debut, and his first post-fight interaction with his mother became a moment he'll never forget.
"I was like, I need to be smiling so she doesn't cry... but I cried too," Amirkhani said. "She and everybody recognized me in the audience, they stood up and everybody was clapping their hands, even as [a different] fight was going on. They didn't care about the fight, everybody was just clapping their hands. It was such a moving moment."
According to Amirkhani, Finnish media in particular have been going "crazy" over his win ever since Saturday night. Just don't expect the sudden rise to fame go to his head.
Amirkhani was back in the gym on Monday, untouched from his eight-second smackdown. And despite his newfound momentum, he doesn't plan on expediting his UFC return. A move to Allstars Training Center (Alexander Gustafsson's home gym) rests in his near future, and if Amirkhani is to be believed, UFC on FOX 14 was just the second UFC event the 26-year-old ever watched in his life -- the first being the previous week's UFC Fight Night 59 show in Boston. So considering his wealth of inexperience, Amirkhani hopes to take the slow road to contendership.
"My concentration has been actually in wrestling, not in MMA. But when I got this UFC contract, this was the first time that I actually concentrated 100-percent on just MMA," he said.
"I want the UFC to give me time to train and be much better in my next fight. But maybe in this year (I'll fight again). I don't want them to throw me to the wolves. I'm like Aladdin, a diamond who hasn't been found yet. So just let me train and I'll entertain people."
As for his unconventional past, "Mr. Finland" says he's officially retired from the national beauty pageant scene. But that doesn't mean he regrets his experience... if only because it casts a curious shadow over his fallen foes.
"It was a good move that I went to that beauty contest," Amirkhani said with a laugh. "Because it's a pretty bad thing for fighters if you lose to a model. I mean, it must hurt if your fans are like, ‘oh, you lost to a pretty boy.'"