Alan Omer has been a fighter on the rise for some time now. First featured on Bloody Elbow's Scouting Report way back in 2011, he's been one of Europe's premiere up and coming MMA talents for almost three years. Why wasn't he in the UFC sooner, then? The answer, tried and true, is injury. Omer missed the entirety of 2012 and 2013 sitting on the sidelines. But while that time away from the cage may have taken him off the radar for fans, he's been on the UFC's short list all the way through.
Following a return to competition in early 2014, in which Omer stopped quality regional vet Dennis Tomzek in just over a minute, Omer was offered a UFC contract. Now, he's finally set for a debut years in the making, when he takes on another top flight newcomer in Jim Alers at UFC Fight Night Abu Dhabi on April 11th. Omer sat down for a brief chat with Bloody Elbow, to talk about his past, present, future, and his journey to the UFC.
You moved to Germany from Iraq when you were four. Did it take long to adjust to life in your new home? Do you remember much of life in Iraq?
I only have fragmented memories of these early years. Lots of it have to do with the war. Air strikes. Snipers. Dead bodies roadside. I had to leave all my friends behind when we left Iraq. Life at the refugee camp was very Spartan. Still, I always felt safe, because I had my parents on my side. They are my idols and my role models in life. They've given up everything and left everything behind to make sure I can grow up in a safe environment and lead a better life.
Coming to Germany was a culture shock at first. The weather, the different mentality. The helpfulness and warmth of the people helped me adapt quickly, though. I also grew up in an area where there were a lot of other Arabs, Kurds, Persians and Turks, which made it a little easier at first. I quickly learned the language and it didn't take long until I felt at home.
Do you consider yourself to be a German fighter, representing Germany in the UFC? How much of a role does your Iraqi heritage play in your identity?
I consider myself a German Kurd. The Kurdistan region of Iraq is where I grew up in and where I spent my early childhood, so it will always be a part of me. Still, I represent both worlds: The sincerity, tirelessness and perseverance of the Kurdish people as well as the typically German virtues like discipline, diligence and courage. I hope that I can do justice to both flags by fighting hard and giving good performances inside the Octagon.
You lost two years due to injury. What was it that kept you sidelined for so long?
I don't want to go too much into details, let me just tell you this much: It was a very frustrating time and a time that was full of doubts. There were times where I was questioning myself if I can come back from these rabbit punches. But there's this old saying: What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. And I have the warrior gene that you cannot teach and you cannot kill. My friends and family have also been a huge support during these difficult times.
In 2011, you were considered one of the top up and coming prospects? Do you still feel that you've earned that title?
My goal is to become the best in the world. I'm not joining the UFC to just take part in the combat, but to finally make a run for that belt. I don't feel any pressure. I enjoy what I do and I love fighting. My family and I survived two wars. Inside the Octagon, I'm just fighting one unarmed man. If you've looked death in the face the way I did, you're scared of no man. Fighting is fun!
Outside of fighting you earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Is that where your future lies? Are you planning a second career alongside fighting, or after it?
My father is a respected doctor in Iraq and my mom has been always there for me and has been caring selflessly for me for the last 25 years. Our deal was for me to earn my degree before I pursue a full-time career in fighting. That time is now. I feel that I still have 6-8 years left to become a great fighter and create a legacy in fighting. Once I'm done fighting, I can always go back and work for Mercedes Benz or Porsche.
Your most recent camp was at Alliance MMA. Are you moving there permanently? Or is Stallion Cage still your main gym?
Training at Alliance was great and I enjoyed my stay a lot. Going back is definitely an option. For this fight I wanted to stay in Germany, though. I have everything I need here: Black belts in jiu-jitsu, first-division wrestlers and world champion boxers. I train out of Stallion Cage, the same gym I've been with for the last eight years. My good friend and fellow UFC fighter Peter Sobotta has also been very helpful in preparation. I've just completed a grueling sparring week with some of the best fighters from Germany, Austria, Poland and Sweden in my weight class at his gym. The shark tanks they put me through have been hellish. I'm ready to explode!
What was it like to get the call to the UFC so soon after your return from injury? Was it something you expected? Had you talked to them previously about potentially fighting in the UFC?
I was very happy to get the call from the UFC. It could not have happened at a better time. I feel that I have paid my dues competing all across Europe. Also my manager told me that UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby has been looking to bring me in since the WEC days. I made the final cast for TUF 14, but had to cancel my participation at the last minute, because of a surgery I had to get. So they've been familiar with me for quite a while and I'm very thankful to be getting this opportunity now.
Coming in to your fight with Jim Alers you're likely to be the underdog. Are you happy in that role?
I've been the underdog all my life. I don't care what people think going into the fight. I know that I have enough skills to finish anyone in my division, either on the feet or on the ground. I also have the security that I grow stronger the longer the fight takes. When my opponent is slowly running out of steam, that's when my time comes and I will go for his carotid! I may lose a round here and there, but make the mistake and count me out of a fight before the final bell and I will make you pay dearly - I promise you that!
You're known for having very strong grappling and kickboxing. How do you see yourself matching up with Alers on the feet and on the mat?
When I'm healthy and fit, my game matches up well with anyone. I have very fast hands. I find creative ways to end fights. And I bring a tenacity that you cannot teach. Jim is a well-rounded guy, but he excels on the mat. I respect his ability to put pressure from top position. But even if he gets on top of me, I'm not worried. Being in my guard is the last place I would like to be in if I'm not planning on getting cosmetic surgery afterwards!
Do you have a favorite submission?
I really like the flying scissor heel hook Ryo Chonan landed on Anderson Silva. I've hit that in grappling competition a few times myself. Can't wait to pull it off in a UFC fight as well!
You can follow Alan Omer on Twitter @AlanOmerMMA