Every fighter's career trajectory is different. From the fashion in which their talents are shaped, to the success or failure they find inside the octagon, no two fighters will travel the exact same path. Amir Sadollah holds the unique claim of forging a path all his own.
Sadollah's popularity on the show created high expectations inside of the octagon. After suffering several medical setbacks and initially stumbling out of the gates against Johny Hendricks, Amir has settled into his new career. Sadollah bounced back with impressive performances against MMA veteran Phil Baroni and Brad Blackburn using aggressive Muay Thai and punishing leg kicks to break down his opponents in route to victory. After posting back to back wins inside the octagon Sadollah squared off with Dong Hyun Kim and "The Stun Gun" proved to be too much for Sadollah to handle using takedowns and top control to grind out the victory. In his most recent showing a trimmer and slicker Sadollah attacked Peter Sobotta for the full 15 minutes of their fight in route to claiming the unanimous decision at UFC 122 in Germany. Once again back on track Amir is looking to climb the ladder in the welterweight division, a weight class that is amongst the most competitive in the organization. I recently caught up with Sadollah and in his Bloody Elbow Exclusive interview he talks about lessons learned, the explosion of MMA in general and how overwhelming it can become to be a young fighter in the spotlight.
"Pressure is always there and it comes down to how much of it you let in," Sadollah stated. "For me it didn't have anything to do with the show and it was more of the pressure I put on myself to perform well. There is a bit of a target on your back coming off the show because you have a bit of notoriety and guys are going to want to hijack from you but for me that was one of the things I liked the most about it. I personally like taking the hard route. It wasn't easy to do and on top of that now you have guys gunning for you so I found that exciting. If you don't like taking the hard route there are plenty of different careers out there for you, but I prefer to come out and take the hard way to my goals."
In his most recent outing Sadollah faced Peter Sobotta at UFC 122 in Germany. The primary game plan in the bout was to stay on the attack. By using push kicks and leg kicks Sadollah kept his opponent off balance and fighting backwards for the entire three round affair. In all aspects Sadollah looked impressive but in the aftermath of the battle a fighter's self analysis will determine whether goals were met and what will need to be adjusted for the next training camp.
"Every fight you have to look at what you did well...try to continue doing those things and getting stronger in those aspects but at the same time examine some things that might have not gone as you had hoped," Sadollah explained "Every fight is a learning experience. Overall I was happy with my performance and there are some things that I want to do better. I would like to get more takedowns and work for a few more submission attempts and obviously going for the finish is always great. Overall I was happy with the progress that was made and the team that I worked with so I would just like to continue down that path."
Sadollah continued, "I was lucky to come through that fight with no injuries so I'm looking to use this time to develop some things skill wise. When you are training for a fight obviously some things are different so this is a good time for me to learn some things without the pace or pressure of preparing for an opponent. I can go in the gym and look at things from a different perspective and not have to worry about making weight and things like that so it's a good thing. It kind of gives you a chance to remember that you are doing this sport because you love it."
One of the most noticeable improvements in Sadollah's performance came in the cardio department. Amir struggled in the second half of his bout with Kim but in the matchup with Sobotta, he brought full tilt pressure from start to finish.
"I've always known that cardio is a huge tool that can be used for control," Sadollah described. "You will always fight someone who is better than you but he doesn't have to be in better shape than you and if he is then that's your fault. It is always one of my main focuses...in the Sobotta fight especially because in my last fight with Kim I felt like I was a little too heavy. I was a bit too big, bulkier than I should have been so I wanted to just work on my cardio in general."
At UFC 114 Amir faced Dong Hyun Kim and in the bout Sadollah's normal pressure filled attack was neutralized by Kim's ability to secure takedowns and keep Amir's back on the canvas. The end result came in the form of a unanimous decision victory for Kim and ever the student Sadollah immediately recognized the aspects of his game that needed to be adjusted.
"It comes down to focus and I felt that controlling the changes was one of the things that I didn't do well in that fight," Sadollah confirmed. "I think the easiest answer to this problem for my style is staying more active in general. Always creating the scramble that is always where I'm the most comfortable. I don't even like to hold people down and for my style I always prefer to push the fight."
In addition to his celebrated sense of humor Sadollah has a fierce drive that pulls him towards combat and from bell to bell. He exacts a game plan focused on forward pressure but aside from his victory over Dollaway in the finale all of Sadollah's wins in the octagon have come via decision. With that being said no one has ever accused Sadollah of being a boring or "safe" fighter and with the topic continuously surfacing, Sadollah shared his opinion on the matter.
"As a fighter it's the most important to get a win but at the same time we are entertainers so you have to find that balance between the two," Sadollah explained. "Personally I would ever hate to feel that I'm a boring fighter...not just because I'm a boring person but to put on what people consider boring fights the type where people don't take chances. People are paying money to see fighters take those chances and they want to see back and forth exchanges and exciting fights. At the same time if you can tie that into your style and make that work for you then I feel that will is superior all around in my opinion."
Sadollah continued, "Overall you do fight how you train and in the end your style is dictated by your personality, who has trained you and who your influences are. I think coming up now and in five to ten years we are already seeing where you can't be just a one trick pony in this sport. I definitely think it is only going to continue in this fashion and fighters are going to have to switch things up in order to be successful. You have to have all of those tools at your disposal and once guys go out there and do something a few times other fighters will catch onto it and those things will not work as well. You have to keep people guessing and to me that is the most dangerous type of opponent. When you fight a guy and watch tape to prepare for him and never know what he is going to do. That is a fighter you cannot game plan for."
Coming off the reality program Sadollah was primed to hit the ground running. The UFC scheduled his first fight against Nick Catone but due to an infection that came just weeks before the scheduled fight Sadollah was forced to withdraw. The bout was then rescheduled for UFC Fight Night 17 but once again misfortune struck close to the fight and due to a broken collar bone Sadollah once again was forced to withdraw. Eventually Amir would get healthy and when the opportunity to fight finally became a reality expectations were high as he faced former NCAA D-1 champion Johny Hendricks. In the first minute of the fight Hendricks caught Sadollah with an uppercut that dropped the TUF winner and despite him quickly getting back to his feet the referee stepped in to call the bout.
"I don't make any excuses," Sadollah replied when asked about the stoppage. "Everybody has things that they would like to have done differently but at the end of the day that is not going to get you anywhere so I don't worry about it. It was a rough ordeal but there were definitely some things that I took from the experience. It was a long period of time and it took me awhile to adjust. At the time I didn't realize it but now looking back it was useful. Coming off the show everything at once...it was a lot. Fighting professionally and in the UFC, coming off a reality show was tough. There isn't a book you can pick up on how to do it so really it just takes time. You have to do your best to adjust and I hated the fact that two times in a row I had to cancel fights but it was something that I had to do."
There is a stigma that follows participants of "The Ultimate Fighter" and as the fighters attempt to break into the flow of divisional warfare they have to work hard to solidify the fact that they truly belong in the UFC. Many former contestants have confirmed the existence of the stigma and despite Sadollah winning the competition and being such a big personality the fight for legitimacy is not something that he is above.
"I absolutely believe that to be true," Sadollah replied when asked about the stigma and legitimacy. "Every fighter has to fight for legitimacy in every fight because that's the thing in this sport where you are only as good as your last fight. You can go out and knock out five people in a row and have one bad performance and that is the way you are judged. I think coming off the show it's just a little bit more so because there is more exposure and people are maybe paying a little more attention but I don't think it's any different than what any other fighter goes through."
In addition to being in the early stages of a potentially very promising career, the sport in which he competes continues to experience a growth unmatched by another other sport in the current mainstream spectrum. Every year the UFC is doing more events and the fan base continues to reach out past statistical demographics as UFC President Dana White envisions MMA becoming the biggest sport in the world. The growth is happening at an amazing rate and as a fighter who will potentially play a big role in the organization's future Amir Sadollah is hopeful.
"The sport is just continuing to grow," Sadollah stated. "There are not many sports that have progressed as much as MMA has in the past ten years and I hope it will continue to do so. As far as the sport's notoriety I am biased but I think this is one of the most exciting sports to watch. You can get behind your favorite fighter or cheer against a fighter you hate and it's a lot more personal than watching a team that changes every year. I think it has the potential to get bigger and bigger every year and on from a fighter's perspective it is one of the most challenging sports in the world to compete in."
One of the major changes between the sport that Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture helped make popular and the multi-media whirlwind that the UFC has now become is the opportunity for fans to connect directly to fighters. With Twitter and Facebook two of the most popular avenues, now fans have the chance to follow everything from their favorite fighter's training and diets to a peek into the everyday lives.
"There is a whole new era of accessibility," Sadollah suggested. "It will be interesting to see how Twitter and things like that will change aspects of the sport. I like it as a tool to show people a bit more of who I am. Any time someone wants to take a picture with me or writes me a letter I always do my best to write them back. I think it's a really flattering thing and as far as Twitter goes the fact that people want to talk to me and that's cool. I think as the sport evolves there will become more avenues for fans to gain more access to fighters and that goes back to what I said about the things that make this sport such a great thing to follow. You can't Twitter or Facebook an entire team so the fact that they can follow an individual athlete allows people to become more attached. Whether they love you or hate you is secondary to the fact that they feel that they know something about you and I think that is what draws people in."
As Sadollah continues to be a force on interactive media circuits his stock in the UFC is steadily increasing. After getting back to the win column by defeating Sobotta at UFC 122 a run toward the top of the division is certainly the goal but until his next opponent is named he will be taking the time to absorb everything he has learned along the way.
"I have no idea but hopefully I'll know soon and will keep everyone updated when I do," he replied when asked about his next opponent. "For now it's been really useful for me to be able to train without the pressure for the fight. Well pressure is maybe too strong of a word but you get to look at things from a broad perspective and work on the things that I want to work on. I can go in the gym and enjoy myself and then leave when I want to so it's been a very good time for me to just take things in."
Sadollah concluded, "If people want to follow me on Twitter because it's the hip thing to do you can follow me @amirmma. I want to say thank you to all of my fans... for the support and affection it's amazing and you will always have my gratitude. I also want to thank Suckerpunch Entertainment who is my management group and a few of my sponsors. Alienware, Headrush, Sprawl and Kill Cliff are great sponsors I'm very happy to be involved with."