Iraqi Amir Albazi dedicated his win on UFC debut to his country of birth as he set his sights on one day competing for the flyweight belt.
The Baghdad-born fighter, who was forced to flee Iraq with his family almost two decades ago, defeated Malcolm Gordon at UFC Fight Night 2 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
The third fight of the night at Flash Forum, Albazi triumphed by a triangle choke towards the end of the opening round - the first time in the UFC this year that someone has prevailed by that method.
Albazi had agreed to the fight only on July 8 following Aleksander Doskalchuk's withdrawal. UFC Fight Night 2 was the third of four events on the inaugural Fight Island.
Speaking afterwards, a clearly delighted Albazi said: “Wow. Iraq has been struggling a lot, since I left 20 years ago until now. It just really comes from my heart. I want to give them something to smile about, something they can be happy and proud about.”
Albazi, 26, was out to make a statement on Sunday, especially with UFC president Dana White watching octagon-side. Albazi, who lives now in London having arrived in England via Iraqi Kurdistan, Syria and Sweden, duly delivered, before calling on the promotion to give him performance of the night.
That accolade, which carries with it a $50,000 (Dh183,600) bonus, eventually went to Brazilians Ariane Lipski and Deiveson Figueiredo, with the latter claiming the flyweight title in the process.
“If Dana gave me the $50Gs I’d stay on the island and fight again next week,” said Albazi, who sought out White immediately following his victory. “Yesterday at the weigh-in, he was speaking in the locker room saying we shouldn’t leave it to the judges and go make a performance of your life. And that’s exactly what I tried to do.
“I felt like I was in control standing up, took it to the ground, then submitted [Gordon] last minute. I think that was performance of the night.”
Albazi said he felt surprisingly relaxed ahead of what was the biggest fight of his career thus far.
“To be honest, crazy enough, I thought I would experience more nerves in the UFC,” he said. “But I was just calm and it felt like home. This is what I do for a living. Nothing different right there.
“I took the fight on 10 days’ notice. I know what tools I can bring to the table. I’m just here and showed my skill set.”
Asked what message he sent out with his display, Albazi said: “That I’m always ready. This was without a proper, proper training camp; then you can just imagine if you give me six-eight weeks to prepare, what I can bring.
“I think I’m a champion-level athlete. And I’m coming for the belt. I’m not here just to be any other flyweight.”