“There is no better feeling than beating a guy,” Sabah Fadai said with a grin. “Have you bungee jumped? I have, and the adrenaline rush is better than anything you get with that. It is the best feeling in the world, but it’s nothing I can explain.”
Fadai has experienced this feeling often over the past six years, climbing the ladder of competitive mixed martial arts.
It is the feeling that brings him to a black-painted windowless training facility in Abbotsford day after day after day.
At Mamba Mixed Martial Arts, the man who calls himself the Persian Warrior is putting everything he’s got into a dream.
The 27-year-old Chilliwack native wants to compete in UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
And so he works.
Riding the bike.
Always with one eye on the prize.
“That’s all I want is to fight at the highest level there is,” he said.
When Fadai got into MMA shortly after graduating from Sardis secondary school, it wasn’t because he was dreaming of fame and fortune.
UFC was barely a blip on the national consciousness then, regarded by most as a brutally violent novelty act with a short shelf life.
“A lot of guys get into MMA now because of the fame and fortune and groupies, but it wasn’t like that at all back then,” Fadai said. “Money and women and all that other stuff, it didn’t even cross my mind. I got into it for the right reason, because I loved it. I punched a guy in the face once and I was like, ‘Wow! This is amazing! I can do this legally?’”
Fadai was taking bachelor of science classes at Thompson Rivers University at the time, hitting the gym in his spare hours. He liked jiu-jitsu and muay thai and found he had a talent for them.
He won a bronze medal at his first tournament, which motivated him even more. Putting school aside, Fadai left Kamloops, moved back home and started demolishing local opponents.
“I had my first pro fight and I smashed the guy, and then I had another fight and beat that guy too,” Fadai smiled. “My coaches were telling me I was a talented fighter, and that motivated me a lot. So I trained harder, and harder and found myself beating some top-level guys with ease.”
All well and good, but Fadai still didn’t see himself being able to earn a living with MMA.
So off he went to the Philippines to study dentistry.
“The theory wasn’t all that great, but the clinic? They’ve got some horrible teeth out there,” he said, explaining southeast Asia as his dentist school destination. “Just some crazy, crazy cases that you’d never ever find here.”
As he was doing this, Fadai was well aware of the irony of the MMA fighter/dentist.
“The plan was to do fighting and have a clinic somewhere,” he said. “Then I could knock guys’ teeth out and they’d require my professional services.”
Eventually though, it was going to come down to one or the other.
“If I continued with dentistry I would have had to put away fighting for good,” Fadai said. “By the time I finished and passed the board exam, I would have been 31 years old. Trying to come back as a fighter at that age would be impossible. So I decided to stick with what I love.”
Dentists do quite well financially.
They tend to have nice cars and nice houses and nice long vacations in tropical locales.
When Fadai got back to Canada, he spent a year sleeping on the floor at Mamba.
“I knew fighting was satisfying and rewarding for me, and even if I didn’t have a lot of money I’d be happy,” Fadai said. “And if I didn’t stay with fighting I would have always thought, ‘I could have been. I could have been the champion. I could have been one of the greatest fighters of all time. I didn’t want to have those thoughts.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of second guessing when the bills piled up and the accommodations were less than he’d hoped.
“I didn’t have a bed, or a TV and all I really had was four or five blankets and a pillow,” he said, pointing to the spot in the Mamba gym where he slept. “So absolutely I second guessed. When I left my parents’ house, I left a king-sized bed and a meal on the table every night. But I wanted to do it on my own, and once you commit to something you stay strong and keep going.”
A night-job working security at the Echo Room in Chilliwack helps pay the bills now, and leaves daytime hours free.
It still wouldn’t qualify as an easy life, but Fadai comes across as legitimately happy and at peace with his choice.
Even on days when it doesn’t go well.
As good as he is, Fadai still loses from time to time, still ‘gets tooled’ in a sparring session.
“I have cried in the past, just gone into the change-room, put my head in my hands and just cried,” he said. “At those times I feel like I suck. What am I doing?”
But that just serves as motivation.
The next time he’s in the octagon, his opponent pays the price.
“MMA is about who trains harder. Who has the most discipline and who is the most skilled,” he said. “I see it all the time with guys who have talent but not work ethic. They’re out partying. They have one fight and don’t show up for another six months. I fight and win or lose, depending on injury, I’m back in the gym a week later. If you really want it, you’ve got to be here.”
What Fadai needs most at the moment is to get noticed. And despite all his wins, that has been difficult to do.
“I work my (rhymes with bass) off to get my name out there on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s still not enough,” he said. “There are fighters out there who don’t have the experience I have, but they’re more noticed because of the connections they have.”
Fadai keeps the faith, believing hard work will triumph in the end.
“As long as I keep training hard and beating the guys that are put in front of me, I know for a fact that my name will be out there sooner or later,” he said. “I’ll never go unnoticed beating everyone. Keep knocking them down and I will get noticed. I will make it to the UFC.”
His goal right now is a trip to Los Angeles to train with Kenny ‘KenFlo’ Florian, one of the top featherweight contenders.
Fadai has an open invite.
To that end, a fundraiser is being held Feb. 22 at the Echo Room.
The Sabah Fadai Road To UFC event will go from 9 to 11 p.m.
Tickets are $10 at the door, good for entry plus a free highball or domestic bottled beer.
The Echo Room will have drink specials and appetizers available and there will be a raffle.
All proceeds raised will go towards Fadai’s dream.
“I just messaged Kenny a couple days ago, and he’s ready for me,” he said.
The event Facebook page can be found at facebook.com/ThePersianWarrior.