Photo via Golden Glory
Nearly three decades ago, in war-torn Afghanistan, a baby whose parents named Siyar Bahadurzada was born. His homeland was being ripped apart by a Communist-backed government fighting off -- depending on how one looks at the situation -- either a group of rebels intent on toppling their regime or a collective of freedom fighters looking to free their fellow countrymen.
For 15 years, he lived with the sword of Damocles hanging over his head but rather than a blade, it was a bullet, a missile or a car bomb that threatened Bahadurzada's life on a daily basis. Living with the knowledge he might not see another sunrise on any given day, the Afghani quickly absolved himself from the fear of death. And if the Grim Reaper wouldn't make "The Great" quake in his boots, it's unlikely another mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter would.
In 1999, he and his family moved to Holland where he began his training. Three years later, he made his professional debut. Finally, in 2012 he steps inside the Octagon at UFC on Fuel TV: Gustafsson vs. Silva when he takes on Brazilian Paulo Thiago. A decade worth of punches, elbows, kicks, and submissions separates Bahadurzada between then and now.
But it was a mere 13 minutes of action that left the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) with little choice but to sign the welterweight. It took that long -- over the course of seven months -- for the Afghani to defeat three opponents across Europe in a 170 pound United Glory tournament. Among his victims were a pair of Octagon veterans, both of which he defeated in less than two minutes.
Before he steps into the Octagon on April 14, we'll take a closer look at those three bouts.
The tournament kicked off in Amsterdam in October 2010. Bahadurzada was pencilled in against Derrick Noble, best known for getting stopped by Thiago Alves at UFC 59. Noble's no pushover, however. He's got a list of accomplishments nearly a mile long with wins over Jake Ellenberger and Pat Healy. He even scored a victory over Alves before their meeting inside the Octagon.
When the two met at United Glory 12, they found their careers on opposite trajectories. Noble, nearing his 40s, had suffered back to back losses. Bahadurzada was riding a three-fight winning streak and coming into his own as he entered his mid-20s.
The fight, lasting less than two minutes, consisted mostly of the Afghani finding an opening in his opponent's stand-up and blitzing Noble with unrelenting strikes. Bahadurzada would catch a kick and immediately start swinging way with cruel intentions. One such occasion saw a stiff uppercut connect to Noble's chin, dropping the American to the canvas.
"The Great" pounced, opening up a flurry of ground and pound as Noble turtled up. When he gave up his back, turning onto his stomach to avoid more damage, the referee had no choice but to step in and call a halt to the bout.
Five months later, Bahadurzada found himself in Belgium, facing another UFC veteran in John Alessio. Like Noble, Alessio never reached the pinnacle of the sport but was a stiff challenge and a perfectly game opponent. Also like Noble, he wouldn't last more than two minutes inside the ring with "The Killer."
The opening minute of their bout saw little action as the two fighters looked to feel each other out. The Belgium audience soon began to voice their displeasure before "The Great" opened up with a blistering combination. Another combination saw Alessio getting attacked at the head and body and the American was forced to retreat, hoping to get a moment to catch his breath and collect his thoughts.
The Afghani isn't known as "The Killer" without reason, however, and the instinct of the same name kicked in almost immediately. A flurry from Bahadurzada combined with a slip saw Alessio lose his footing and fall to the mat. From there, "The Great" held his opponent by the back of the neck while clobbering him with punches with the other hand. After Alessio managed to get back to his feet, the onslaught continued with more punches and even a few knees peppered in for good measure.
It was one of those knees which dropped Alessio again and for the second time in as many fights, the referee was forced to intervene on behalf of Bahadurzada's opponent.
The Afghani would then travel to Moscow a little over two months later to take on Tommy Depret in the finals of the United Glory tournament. By this point, his displeasure with his Strikeforce contract was well known and the Afghani was likely fighting with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder. If he wanted to prove he was a top welterweight, a win in Russia would go a long way towards that goal.
Depret managed to survive into the second round, something Bahadurzada's previous two victims couldn't claim, but the Afghani didn't perform any less impressively. Picking apart his opponent from the opening bell, "The Great" showed excellent takedown defense and great ground and pound.
Bahadurzada kept Depret on his back for most of the round, scoring points and more importantly causing damage. The second round was "classic" Bahadurzada. He attacked Depret in the stand-up continuously, barely allowing his opponent even a second to recover. Eventually, like Noble and Alessio before him, Depret found himself on the mat thanks to a perfectly placed punch. With less than a minute remaining in the round, "The Killer" finally finished off his opponent, winning the tournament.
An injury delayed the Afghani's UFC debut but he finally steps inside the Octagon next month in Sweden. He faced a tough challenge in Paulo Thiago, a stiff test for any debuting fighter.
Will "The Great" live up to his name?