Youssef Zalal enjoys stepping up in short-notice situations. In fact, that’s how he’s found most of his success.
Zalal will do it once again this Saturday when he faces Jordan Griffin at UFC on ESPN 12. “The Moroccan Devil” put pen to paper on just 10 days’ notice following his successful octagon debut win over Austin Lingo at UFC 246—which he took on 12 days’ notice.
Quick preparation for high level fights isn’t anything new for the 23-year-old.
“My pro career when I started, I fought in August and a week later I had my second fight,” Zalal told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I’m so used to fighting back-to-back, short notices. I had an LFA fight that was like six hours’ notice, or three hours’ notice or something like that.
“You get used to it. When you step up, you step up.”
Zalal had his first three pro fights in a little over two months, winning all of them via finish. The only times the Factory X standout has gone to a decision were in his only two losses, and his UFC debut win.
The last time Zalal had a full training camp for a fight, it ended in defeat.
“I think it was the fight before my last LFA fight that I lost,” Zalal explained. “That was the only time where they were like, ‘Hey, you have seven weeks, this is the guy. Train and be ready.’
“As soon as I saw all of this was going on—the pandemic and the UFC getting back to putting on shows—I was seeing guys taking fights on five days’ notice, I thought a call might be coming in soon. They’re gonna need somebody, so I was staying ready.”
After competing in one of the UFC’s last events in front of a crowd, Zalal will now compete in an empty arena setting at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. He admits that the fight-to-fight transition in that aspect has been “crazy,” but because of how his team operates, Zalal is prepared for any type of setting.
“I feel like it’s gonna be another Friday night at the gym,” Zalal said. “That’s when everybody comes in and we do sparring. You see your name on the board and you have to get ready like it’s a fight. You even have to do the walkout, and walk around the mat before you step into the cage like it’s a fight.
“Marc Montoya isn’t playing around. If you have a fight coming up, let’s stop before your round and get mentally ready.”
Griffin was originally tapped to face Darrick Minner at the UFC’s June 13 event before his opponent was forced to withdraw during the official weigh-ins. Griffin successfully made weight for the fight, but had to travel back home with the hopes to get on this weekend’s card.
In his most recent appearance, “Native Psycho” picked up his first promotional victory with a second-round submission of T.J. Brown at UFC Norfolk. It was an important victory for the Contender Series alum as he entered the bout following back-to-back losses to Dan Ige and Chas Skelly.
For Zalal, the opponent doesn’t truly matter, but he did catch Griffin’s victory over Brown and was quite impressed.
“I’m not the guy who has people on their radar, to be honest,” Zalal stated. “Especially with the UFC, being at such a high level, they’re just going to offer fights to as many people as possible. The more than you win, you’re going to get tougher guys. For me, see who’s in front of you, do the best you can and go from there.
“But I’ve seen him fight once. I was cornering one of my teammates one weekend and they had fights on. He was fighting T.J. Brown and we were like, ‘This kid is non-stop moving forward.’ He’ll take all of this damage and keep walking forward. It was an interesting fight. It caught my eye, and I never thought I was gonna fight that guy.”
In his last fight before getting signed to the UFC, Zalal had a viral flying knee knockout win over Jaime Hernandez at LFA 79. Known for his exciting style, Zalal expects the matchup with Griffin to deliver, and possibly earn some extra bonus money in the process.
“Especially in the smaller cage, you know there’s gonna be some fireworks,” Zalal said. “It’s gonna be all over the place—ground, standing up, trying to knock each other out and all of that. I’m excited, man. He’s a vet in this game and you have to give respect to the vets. For me to go out there at 23 (years old) and 8-2, it’s very important to me to show my skills at that level.
“This kid is going to bring it all out of me, and I’m gonna bring it out of him. It’s gonna be fireworks for sure.”