It’s little more than two weeks until the moment I’ve been dreaming of for what feels like my entire life, and I’m ready.
People have been asking how life has changed since it was announced I’ll be making history at UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi on October 21, when I become the first Emirati to compete on the biggest platform in the sport.
To be honest, while training has had an extra edge to it – it’s the UFC, after all – those who know me understand I’ve always put in the hard yards.
So, as I did with my fights in UAE Warriors, or Bellator, I’ve been ultra-focused, ticking all the boxes, training twice a day, preparing for five, five-minute rounds despite the fact this upcoming bout against Trevor Peek is three. I haven’t slowed down. Recovery has been key, too.
The media commitments have increased, no doubt, and while that takes some getting used to, I haven’t let it get to me. There’s been interest from all around the UAE, from newspapers and websites, radio and TV, and from Saudi. I guess that shows how important a moment it is for the Emirates and the region. But I know what it takes; I’ve been watching the UFC forever.
Crucially, I’m getting ready to face the crowd. There's going to be 15,000 people or more at Etihad Arena, another sold-out show in Abu Dhabi.
All my friends typically have two questions for me: ‘Are you ready?’, quickly followed by ‘Can you get me tickets?’. Everyone’s been looking everywhere. It’s a shame they didn't have any luck. So I’ve told them, “Next fight you better be ready and suss it out quickly”.
The coolest moment in the build-up, however, has yet to come. I imagine that’ll be when I’m on Yas Island during fight week, checking into the hotel, doing open workouts and the UFC media, getting ready for the whole UFC experience.
Likewise, my family and friends can’t wait. Their reaction since I signed has been through the roof. They’ve seen how much work I put into this, how I never give up, how I’m always in training, always on my grind.
They’re so happy to finally see my dream come true. Everything I’ve worked hard for is coming into play, and I get to showcase my skills on the biggest platform in the world, in my homeland. How incredible is that?
I’ve had a lot of Emiratis reach out on social media, saying how proud they are of me and that they’re happy to have someone like me fighting for them, on one of the strongest UFC cards all year. It’s a blessing to be on this kind of card, and I can't thank enough the UAE’s leadership or the Department of Culture and Tourism for making it possible.
The messages obviously bring increased pressure, but I know what I have to do. This is the sole motivation: on October 21, I’ll make them all proud as the first Emirati to win in the UFC, not just be in the UFC.
For that, I'm feeling the best I ever have. Honestly, my whole life I knew I would be competing in the UFC at some point. I was just waiting for the opportunity.
Being in the UFC raises your game, forces you to level up. Put that together with the motivation of performing in front of your people, and you’ll be seeing the best of me, Inshallah, and the most complete I’ve even been.
I’m very excited, not nervous. Because, as I said, I’ve always known this opportunity is going to come, so I’ve kind of manifested it. Until we walk out no one will know about the nerves, but right now I’m calm, I’m collected. This is my destiny: to get this contract and to win.
I’m visualising walking out in front of 15,000 people - I’m high up on the prelims, so when the crowd will be reaching its peak – how I finish my opponent, my speech afterwards.
It feels so close now. This week’s been very intense, simply sharpening my weapons and getting ready for the war. Whatever, I’m ready. All that has mattered to me this past month, maybe my entire life, has been this fight. I haven’t been thinking about anything else.
Anything necessary to win come October 21 – and fly the UAE flag high at the sport's pinnacle.