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Contender Series headliner Yazan Hajeh looks to become first Palestine-born UFC fighter

Yazan Hajeh
@UFC, Twitter

Should Yazan Hajeh achieve his personal goal of earning a UFC contract, he’ll end up making history as well.

Hajeh headlines week two of the second season of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in a featherweight bout against Matt Sayles in Las Vegas. With the boss taking a front row seat for the fights, Hajeh could see himself making a deal with White at the end of the night.

That would make Hajeh, a native of Bethlehem, the first fighter born in Palestine to be signed to the UFC roster.

Other fighters of Palestinian heritage have competed in the UFC, including Ultimate Fighter 13 runner-up Ramsey Nijem (from California) and Illinois native Belal Muhammad, but Hajeh will be the only one who can claim to be a native Palestinian.

“My dad had came here in the 80s and went to college, really he went to school for a few years and then got to just working,” Hajeh told MMA Fighting. “He saw the opportunity here, went back, got married to my mom, it took him a little bit of time to convince her to move over here, in the meantime they had me and then I turned one, and then they moved back. My dad always wanted to move his family out to the States after he came out here and worked.”

Though Hajeh has not been back to Palestine since moving to the U.S. as an infant, he acknowledges that it would be a feather in his cap to take that first step into the Octagon for the Middle Eastern state.

At heart, Hajeh is a Missouri product through and through having begun his MMA journey in Lee’s Summit before recently making the move to Las Vegas where he is able to train at the UFC Performance Institute. When he faces Sayles on Tuesday, he’ll be representing 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu with coach Casey Halstead and UFC flyweight contender Tim Elliott in his corner.

It was his team that accepted the Contender Series opportunity on his behalf.

“I build baseball mounds a couple of times a month out here in Las Vegas and I was out on Cashman Field building a baseball mound and my manager and my coaches had been trying to get ahold of me for a little while but I had left my phone charging and didn’t get to it for several hours,” said Hajeh. “Then I found out that the fight got offered and my coaches — because they know me so well — they went ahead and just accepted it without even talking with me, but it was under the mutual understanding that we were ready for a big opportunity and whatever came, we’re taking it.”

Hajeh (a.k.a. “Yazzle Dazzle”, a nickname bestowed upon him by training partner and TUF alum Anthony “Sharkbait” Gutierrez) might have a sharp team behind him, but it’s the fighter himself who put in the work to land on the UFC’s radar. After an uneven amateur career, the 25-year-old Hajeh has gone on to win his first six professional bouts, most recently outpointing Oscar Valdez at a Legacy Fighting Alliance show last August.

That was the most high-profile bout Hajeh has been a part of thus far, and while he welcomed the challenge and the exposure, he’ll be just as happy when he meets Sayles in a sparsely populated Las Vegas gym.

“I’d much rather fight in a quiet practice room setting than with a bunch of theatrics and stuff,” said Hajeh. “That stuff will get me hyped and it would be fun, but fighting to earn a job, I like the idea of no fans booing or cheering either way. There’s judges, but the only people really judging the fight are Dana White and those guys sitting up front.”

Though he feels more than ready for the opportunity to become a UFC fighter, Hajeh said he is “tunnel vision”-focused on Sayles. It’s a matchup that he feels will be an entertaining showcase for both of them. Pressed for a name on the roster that would also make for a fan-friendly pairing, he suggested Contender Series success story Sean O’Malley as a potential foe in the future.

Regardless of how Tuesday’s fight plays out, he’s confident that it will mark the beginning of his UFC journey.

“I’m going for the contract, going for the finish, but it’s really win-win either way,” said Hajeh. “You win a fight on the Contender Series and whether you get the contract or not, your pay grade goes up on all the local small town shows. And you’re not out of the UFC’s radar by no means. There are guys that get fights in the UFC after losing on the Contender Series, which I don’t understand whatsoever why that happens, but there are plenty of guys that have won on the show that are not fighting in the UFC.

“But my perspective has been I’m becoming a UFC fighter after this fight. I’m earning a contract that night.”

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