Imagine, if you will, competing for the first time as a professional fighter. The nerves, the niggling fear, the exciting burn of adrenaline as the cage door closes. Some people are born for it. Others find out quickly it's not for them, running back to the safety of the dojo as fast as their feet will carry them. Now imagine there are also television cameras there. Lots of them. It's the main event of a television show broadcast to millions on SPIKE TV. And you're the star.
That's pressure. Amir Sadollah has felt it keenly, making his pro debut in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter's seventh season, beating C.B. Dollaway in the tournament finale to take home the coveted UFC contract. Every fight of his career has been in the UFC pressure cooker, under the bright lights in front of thousands in person and millions on television. So you'll have to forgive him if he's not overly concerned with a couple of opponent changes, going from Duane Ludwig to James Wilks to DaMarques Johnson in a matter of weeks. When you start your career at the pinnacle of pressure, everything else seems easy by comparison.
"It's not the ideal situation," Sadollah admits with a laugh. "Everyone wants to know who they are fighting. It's part of the game; things happen and I'm glad DaMarques stepped in...I always like to know who I'm fighting and what they're good at and not good at. But ideally, I'm getting ready to fight for myself. I think the person you're fighting is a little inconsequential."
Of course, starting with The Ultimate Fighter as his introduction to pro fighting has made Sadollah as prepared as anyone in the game to switch opponents at the last moment. On the reality television show, fighters never know who they will fight, or even when. It's a situation Sadollah is comfortable with.
"That was one of the things I liked about the show. It was kind of a microcosm of fighting on a big scale," Sadollah said. "They threw in all the twists and turns of fighting and that's one of them - fighting people on short notice. It's not uncharted territory for me at all."
For Sadollah, winning The Ultimate Fighter was a life changer. Before winning the UFC contract, he was working as a surgical technician. While many of the fighters are already full time professionals when they hit SPIKE TV, Sadollah has had to make a career change, picking up his life and moving from Richmond, Virginia to Las Vegas to train with the best in the world at Xtreme Couture.
"Actually it was my gambling problem that brought me out here," Sadollah joked. "No absolutely, 100 percent. Just from being on the show with Forrest (Griffin, Amir's coach on the show) and the guys out here, I just got to know them and like you said, there's super talented high level guys out here. That's the environment I wanted to be in."
At 30, and with just six fights, there is a sense of urgency surrounding Sadollah. Still new to the game, there seems plenty of room for growth. At the same time, for many athletes, 30 is the beginning of the end, a cut off point that sees raw physical skill diminish in almost all areas.
"In the scope of some major sports that's considered old," Sadollah admits. "My personal feeling is that I'm just starting to get to my optimum level. I'm just starting to get to my prime. I'd be happy and blessed to fight well into my 40's like Randy (Couture) and some of those guys. But time will tell."
Hear much more from Amir in our exclusive interview today on Bloody Elbow Radio. Other guests include M-1 Global's Evgeni Kogan, and Titan Fighting's Phil Baroni on the eve of his fight with Nick Nolte on HDNet.