The 12-fight veteran and former Fury Fighting Championships welterweight champ vied for the chance to fight Jack Della Maddalena at UFC 290, but Josiah Harrell instead got the call. When the diagnosis of a rare brain disease forced Harrell off the card, Della Maddalena stayed in Las Vegas hoping that the UFC would find him a replacement. That’s when Hafez got the call.
“I told my manager ... last week that I was down to take the fight with JDM,” Hafez told MMA Fighting. “My weight’s good, and I would do it. I think it was maybe [Della Maddalena’s] team was looking for the right matchup. My name was there with Josiah, so I know he didn’t pick me first. I’m his second choice, but I’m just grateful he picked me. I’m a fan of Jack’s striking style, and I’m excited to go in there test myself against that.
“But I found out officially on Monday night. I got a call from my manager, and he said you’re in. It was a crazy feeling. First time in my life I cried out of happiness.”
According to Hafez, who considers welterweight his natural weight class, he sacrificed in the gym and with his diet in case this kind of situation happened. Every time he saw a 170-pound fight that needed a replacement opponent, he called his manager to volunteer. He knew his persistence would eventually be rewarded.
“I said yes, literally every single welterweight [that pulled] out [on short notice],” Hafez said. “I said yes to every single one of them. I never said no. I said yes to Jack as well, and I got this one.
“I’ve been ready. I’ll be ready to go on fight night. Obviously, it’s not a full fight camp, but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I show out.”
Hafez allowed himself to celebrate that he was in the UFC, but he quickly shifted gears back to preparation. Della Maddalena is widely considered one of the best prospects in the welterweight division.
Right now, Hafez is the biggest betting underdog of the event at around 4-1 odds on the UFC Vegas 77 card. He refuses to believe he can’t get the job done on Saturday night.
“At the end of the day, I’m not in the UFC to be a stepping stone,” he said. “I’m in the UFC to stay here. For me, it instantly refocuses my mind on winning this fight, and how I can beat Jack. I know I’m a good fighter. I know I need to prove it at the highest level, and I’m so happy to get that opportunity against such a high-level guy. If I win and it bumps me right into those rankings, it would be crazy.”
If there’s a silver lining to the short notice fight, it’s that Hafez spends most of his time training alongside a room full of killers in Colorado, counting UFC veterans like Justin Gaethje and Kamaru Usman as teammates. That kind of veteran mentorship has helped him undergo a transformation.
“You’re a product of your environment, and I always try to surround myself with the best guys, learn from them, pick their brains,” Hafez said. “Since I’ve been at Elevation [Fight Team] I’ve leveled up so much from the fighter that I used to be, just because of the guys around me.
“Being able to spar with guys like that on a regular basis, you can’t just be lazy that day. You have to be on your toes, because they have big fights coming up, as well.”
Hafez knows Della Maddalena is really good, but no one is unbeatable.
“Jack is just another guy.,” he said. “At the end of the day, he’s just another fighter. The UFC is a great platform, and it makes a lot of these guys look greater than they are. It makes them look like Superman.
“At the end of the day, he’s a man across from me and I’m a man across from him. I know what I can handle and my durability and my grit, and I know I have what it takes to push this guy to the limit. In my opinion, I really feel I have what it takes to beat Jack, compete with Jack and make it a war.”