Aiemann Zahabi credits his recent win to finally being comfortable with simply being himself.
An undefeated fighter and the younger brother of Tristar Gym head coach Firas Zahabi, Aiemann Zahabi entered the UFC in 2017 with some hype. But the Canadian bantamweight had a tough time delivering on those expectations. After a successful debut, the younger Zahabi lost his next two bouts, respectively against Ricardo Ramos and Vince Morales. Zahabi believes the performances were the result of trying to prove something instead of fighting like himself.
“Being Firas’ brother and coming from Tristar and all that, there’s all these expectations for me to win by backflip spinning hook-kick or something crazy,” Zahabi said on The MMA Hour. “So I’ve always tried to do more than I could do. I want to finish the fight, I have to prove to everybody — like, the best example was the Ramos fight. I feel like Round 1, I really tried forcing the wrestling and the grappling ,and it didn’t work out great, so then I took away the wrestling and grappling and Round 2, and I really picked him apart with my jab and my uppercut. And in Round 3, I was like, ‘He couldn’t hurt me the first two rounds, I’m just going to go and kill him.’ I threw caution to the wind, and I overdid it, and it cost me.
“Then I fought Vince Morales, and I did the opposite. I was a shell of myself and I lost a decision. Drako [Rodriguez] was the first time I tuned into who I am and I’m just going to do what I do and boom, I knocked him out.”
The Rodriguez proved a turning point for Zahabi. This past Saturday, the Canadian bantamweight won a unanimous decision over The Ultimate Fighter 28 winner Ricky Turcios in a fight where Turcios landed just 27 strikes despite attempting over 200.
The performance from Turcios was widely panned by fans, but Zahabi explains that the way he fought, he simply left no good options for his opponent.
“With Ricky, I just tried to do the same thing [as against Rodriguez] but Ricky kind of didn’t give me the old Ricky,” he said. “He didn’t come in with the barrage and the barnburner fight and the 1-1-2s, and the stepping in, and the takedowns non-stop. I was ready to counter him, because the more you throw the more you’re open, but he really held back. I feel like he didn’t really open up. ...
“Great fight for me. I feel like I looked like I outclassed him. Defensively, I shut him out. He only landed like 10 percent of his strikes. I had him between a rock and a hard place. If he stepped in too much, I was going to crack him with an overhand, and every time he stepped out, I low kicked him. So he found himself in this in-between range, where he’s almost shadowboxing. He’s throwing punches and kicks but not that he could really reach me.”
The win is Zahabi’s second in row inside the octagon, and with his winning streak and a renewed sense of confidence, the Tristar product hopes to return to action this fall to continue building on this turnaround.
“I’m going to do my homework during vacation,” he said. “Honestly, I was so focused on Ricky, and I really wanted to get two in a row in the UFC. I hadn’t done it before, and I’m just happy now that I got that done. I’m going to do my homework while I’m there, and I’m going to come back with a few names to give Firas and then we’ll reach out to [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby to see if something can work for October or November. That would be perfect.”