Last year, at UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve, Siyar Bahadurzada (23-6-1) returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines to beat Rob Wilkinson via TKO. The emphatic victory gave the Afghan fighter his first winning streak in the UFC.
This weekend, Siyar ‘The Great’ heads to UFC Atlantic City, where he will face Luan Chagas for a chance to stretch his winning streak to three fights and recapture some of the hype and fan excitement that welcomed him into the UFC back in 2012.
The Wilkinson fight came well over a year after Bahadurzada’s previous UFC bout. In March, 2016 he beat Brandon Thatch via submission. Between the Thatch and Wilkinson fights, Bahadurzada saw fights with Claudio Silva, Jorge Masvidal and Abu Azaitar all fall through.
Despite the false-starts, and injuries, and recoveries, Bahadurzada came into the Wilkinson fight – which was held in Rotterdam, the Netherlands – full of confidence. At the weigh-ins he held up eight fingers. The 34-year-old told Bloody Elbow he was signifying that Wilkinson would “fall in eight.”
The fight was waved off at 3:10 in the second round, after Wilkinson suffered a great deal of punishment. Total fight time: eight minutes and ten seconds. “I don’t predict rounds, I predict minutes. Predicting rounds is too easy,” said Bahadurzada.
Making the victory over Wilkinson even more special was the fact that the bout took place in Bahadurzada’s second home. Bahadurzada was born in Kabul, Afghanistan during a period of civil conflicts throughout the country (many of which continue to this day). As a child his family left for Europe, eventually making it to the Netherlands, where Bahadurzada has lived for much of his life.
“It was a great opportunity to shine in front of my second home, Holland and thank them for all Holland had done for me,” said Bahadurzada. “Holland gave me a second shot at life after I left Afghanistan and I took it with both hands. I’ll forever have Holland and its people in my heart. Loyal till the end!”
Bahadurzada’s loyalty to the Netherlands has not come at the expense of his feelings towards Afghanistan. The former Shooto champion has long stated that he wishes to carry that country on his shoulders and be a positive representation for all Afghans, regardless of their ethnic or religious background.
Given the conditions in the country Bahadurzada has seldom traveled home. However, earlier this year he did make the long journey home at the behest, he claimed, of the nation’s most powerful men.
“I was invited by the current president and the former president,” said Bahadurzada of his trip to Afghanistan. “Also, I met the Afghan special forces and many other politicians who praised my accomplishments in the sport of MMA and in the UFC. I was treated like a king. It was poetic. When I left Afghanistan, I ran for my life. But when I returned, I was treated like a king.”
While in Afghanistan Bahadurzada posted an image of him being draped in traditional garb by military personnel. He also included an image of him riding a horse with what looked to be fans – and at least one soldier – surrounding him. In that post he wrote:
I’ve met rich, Presidents, ministers and businessmen and I’ve met poor. What I’ve learnt is that there is faith, integrity, and honesty in poverty. And that my friend, no money can buy. If I had to choose to be rich and without principles and integrity or poor with these attributes, I’ll choose poor over rich every time. For a man of faith, principles, integrity and honesty is never poor.
President Ashraf Ghani, elected in 2014, is who Bahadurzada claimed invited him to return to his home country. Ghani, a former Finance Minister and chancellor of Kabul University, received the nation’s top office after a close and contentious race versus former Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah. Abdullah claimed Ghani’s victory came via election fraud, but the result was upheld after a deal was made over a unity government that would include Abdullah as chief executive officer. The United Nations’ Independent Election Commission, funded in part by the United States, audited the election records and signed off on the result.
Hamid Karzai (the only living former President of Afghanistan) was the first President of Afghanistan after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001. Karzai ruled for 13 years amid claims of election fraud, corruption, and supposed links to the CIA, Iran, and even the Pakistani Taliban.
Bahadurzada’s political messaging regarding Afghanistan is mostly limited to messages of unity, between Afghanistan’s myriad of tribes and ethnic groups, and the denouncing of terror attacks, such as the suicide car bombing (involving an ambulance) on January 27th in Kabul that killed over 100 people and injured more than 200 others. The Taliban claimed responsibility for that attack.
“May God curse anyone who does not stand up to the [perpetrators],” wrote Bahadurzada about that January 27th attack. “In sadness and happiness, we are all from one homeland. And you have to defend your homeland.”
Since returning from his trip to Afghanistan, Bahadurzada has been training at Jackson Winkeljohn MMA Academy in Albuquerque, NM. He’s been at that gym for the past couple of years. With Jack-Wink, as of late, Bahadurzada said he has lost a lot of weight and he expects a more efficient and streamlined performance versus Chagas on April 21st.
Despite keeping an eye on serious situations in Afghanistan, Bahadurzada claims to be entirely focused on his next UFC fight. In setting up the bout, he also showed he has the mind space for some levity.
“I’ve trained differently for this fight,” he said. “I’ve outrun a deer, out-swam a shark. I’m so bad I scare monsters in dark! My fighting is like poetry. Not everyone understands the reason behind the things I’m doing in certain ways, but I don’t move a muscle without a reason. And not to mention my sharp timing, I even make Swiss watches nervous in my presence!”