During the holy month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast. They abstain from food, water and sexual intercourse typically from dawn until dusk. As Karim Zidan put it in his recent story on Ramadan and its connections to MMA, Ramadan “is considered a period of spiritual enlightenment, where Muslims are expected to hold themselves to the highest standards.”
It’s no different for Muslim athletes.
Most Muslim athletes do not compete during Ramadan by choice, in order to better focus on their religious practices, relax and socialize with family and friends.
That generally goes for Muslim fighters too, which the UFC’s roster is full of, including Khabib Nurmagomedov, Mairbek Taisumov, Ruslan Magomedov, Rashid Magomedov, among others. All of the aforementioned names are currently participating in Ramadan and have chosen to not fight during the month.
There are exceptions, however. Belal Muhammad, one of the UFC’s newest signees, is one. The Chicago-native, of Palestinian descent, is a firm believer in Islam. But, after winning the Titan FC welterweight championship two months ago (which earned him a UFC contract), he knew he couldn’t pass over the opportunity of a lifetime for his religion.
He’s still participating in Ramadan, he’s just preparing for a fight at UFC Fight Night 90 against Alan Jouban at the same time. According to Muhammad, there have been no differences in his training or religious practices, despite the requirements of both.
“I’m partaking in [Ramadan] right now and I don’t think it’ll affect the way I train because I think it just helps me mentally and I think it just makes me stronger mentally, the fact that I’m able to train during Ramadan while I’m fasting,” Muhammad told BloodyElbow.com’s The MMA Circus. “I’m still going hard during that whole time. It’s a holy month, so I’m not messing around doing anything crazy or anything when I’m out there to train. So it’s more so that I’m more concentrated on religion and now I’m more concentrated on the fight. Clear mindset now, this whole month. So I think it’ll actually help me a lot better.
“I don’t think [training will] affect my religion. I’m still practicing it pretty strongly. I don’t really stay a lot heavier, I’m like a lighter welterweight. So the weight cut isn’t going to affect me in any way. And for me, I’m strong enough that I can train the whole month during Ramadan anyway, because I usually do regardless. But [training] doesn’t affect me in any way of interrupting me with my religion or practices or anything like that. I can still train and practice at the same time.”
As mentioned above, the majority of Muslim athletes choose to not fight during Ramadan. That is the case for top lightweight contender Nurmagomedov, who, on several occasions, has gone as far as turning down fights. It’s possible that this has been a mistake on his part, as he arguably hasn’t advanced his career as far as he could have without a hiatus during Ramadan. It’s also possible that this has been unfair to other fighters, as he has chosen when he wants and doesn’t want to fight.
But Muhammad doesn’t believe either are the case for Nurmagomedov.
“Everybody does their own thing,” he said. “I know that [Nurmagomedov] didn’t want to train during Ramadan because it’s harder for a lot of athletes to train. Especially for him; he’d probably get a title fight. So it would’ve been harder for him to train and cut weight during this month.
“I think he’s earned the right to where he can choose when he wants to fight. I just got in (the UFC) so I’m at the point where I’m trying to get my name out there, where I can earn that right to choose to fight during this month or not.”
Muhammad will be one of the only Muslim UFC fighters to step into the cage during Ramadan this year, as he faces Alan Jouban at UFC Fight Night 90 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on July 7. Follow his journey to the UFC by following him on Twitter @bullyb170.