After being made to wait for his second UFC appearance, Mounir Lazzez is looking to make up for lost time.
Chiefly, leave roughly only 72 hours until his third.
"Maybe if we can get early finish in this fight, I'll ask [UFC president] Dana [White] to give me a fight after three days or whatever," the Tunisian tells The National ahead of his clash with Warlley Alves next Wednesday at UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi.
The middle of three events in this Fight Island series, which takes place at the new Etihad Arena and culminates with Conor McGregor versus Dustin Poirier at UFC 257, Lazzez actually contests the penultimate bout on the card. Get through that, onto the next. Almost immediately.
“I swear to God, I’ll make a record for the fastest turnaround," he says. "If someone gets injured or something, I’m ready to go again.”
The eagerness is understandable. A Dubai resident since 2012, Lazzez created plenty of buzz upon UFC debut at the inaugural Fight Island in July, when he secured a unanimous-decision victory against Abdul Razak Alhassan to earn a Fight of the Night bonus.
The former Desert Force welterweight champion was supposed to compete again at the UFC's second residency in Abu Dhabi in October, but contracted Covid-19 about a month out. Not only did his scheduled fight against David Zawada shut down, but his body too.
“Nobody’s still knows about Covid, how it really is,” Lazzez says. “For me as an athlete, I was dropping weight and my immune system was already low. It hit me, knocked me down: soreness in my chest and a lot of infection, coughing a lot, soreness in my throat, pain in a way that was so weird.
“It’s like you didn’t exercise in two months and then you exercise your whole body to the maximum. Even sometimes I felt I wasn’t balanced when walking in the house.
“I’d brought some equipment home, so stayed active during the two-week quarantine, but then it just shut me down completely. It was strong symptoms, even after I finished the quarantine.”
With that follow-up UFC outing slipping from sight, Lazzez returned a negative test and aimed still to make the match-up.
“I would never call off the fight, but all the management team and the doctor were following me day-by-day and said we cannot go, that we need to rehab after this” he says. “It was about five days left to the fight, I tried to run a little bit, hit some pads. But I'd lost everything.”
Finally letting go of what felt another golden opportunity was difficult, but Lazzez has made peace with it.
“Actually, this is the life, bro,” he says. “You get some, you lose some. Everything happens for a reason. I’m sure everything worked out right, to have the fight next week.
"I’m not like before: I’m accepting everything whenever it comes. I’m not going to stress myself. We all plan things, this and that. But God is the best planner, you know?”
Immediate plan laid out, Lazzez is ready to kick back into gear. He had heard the UFC was returning for another Fight Island, but that all three cards – Saturday, Wednesday, January 24 – were fully booked. So he simply told the promotion to “hit me up, I’m only an hour-drive away” should a spot open.
Then, during a trip to see his parents in Tunisia a few weeks’ back, he received news that Christian Aguilera had fallen off the January 20 event. Lucky enough, Lazzez’s cousin is a Muay Thai champion, so he'd actually been keeping active.
All that was left was to jump on a flight back to Dubai, and from there begin a two-week camp. Just another 11th-hour call accepted from the world’s lead MMA organisation. No dramas.
“I like it more, to be honest,” Lazzez says. “Even my last fight, I took it three-and-a-half weeks before. I like this sort of short notice – I don’t think too much, I execute the game plan and go there with full energy and confidence.
“That’s how it is. It’s a character game, it’s who is present that day, not about who’s present the last three months before the fight. And trust me, look into both our eyes on fight night and you’ll know who wants it more. I’m just going in there, wanting it more than anyone else in this game.”
That he and his team have done their homework only strengthens his conviction. Alves may hold the upper hand when it comes to UFC experience – he has seven wins from 11 bouts inside the octagon, including one against former interim champion Colby Covington – but he was finished in two of his past three fights, most recently in November 2019.
In contrast, Lazzez rides a three-fight win streak, with 10 victories from 11 pro bouts.
“I know what tools I bring,” he says. “He has this guillotine? Good luck to him if he tries to do it with me. I’m training and training with Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Team Nogueira Dubai gym, with more than 20 black belts around me. And good luck to him as well if he tries to stand and bang with me in the middle of the cage.
"I’m not arrogant, I’m just calm and composed and confident in my skill. Everything can happen in MMA, but that’s why I keep myself humble, focused on hard work, and smart. And hopefully January 20 we will deliver.”
It helps, too, that he doesn’t feel he’s going into the octagon alone. There’s considerable backing from Tunisia, his adopted home in the UAE, and the region in general.
“One hundred per cent,” Lazzez says. “I’m their homegrown athlete. For sure, everyone is standing behind me and I cannot be more blessed than having the love since the day they announced the fight.
"It’s so crazy – I wake up with thousands of notifications in my phone, people supporting me. That’s what makes me, not feel pressure, but happy, blessed and appreciate the moment that I’m going to represent my people on the world stage and in the UFC ... bring smiles and happiness to them. There’s nothing that can be better than this.”