Mounir Lazzez aims to 'defeat the undefeated' on UFC return against Gabriel Bonfim

Dubai-based fighter faces Brazilian home hope at UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro

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Dubai-based Mounir Lazzez makes his return to the UFC this weekend, after almost a year out and against an unbeaten opponent, but the latter in particular doesn’t concern him. If anything, he takes extra motivation from it.

“Every dog has his day, so his day is coming,” Lazzez tells The National from Brazil, ahead of his clash against home hope Gabriel Bonfim at UFC 283 in Rio de Janeiro Paulo on Sunday morning. “I love to defeat the undefeated.”

Lazzez is looking to make up for lost time. The Tunisian, who has called Dubai home for the past decade, has endured a stop-start time in the world’s lead mixed martial arts promotion since excelling on debut at the inaugural Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, way back when, in July 2020.

Then, he secured a Fight of the Night bonus for his unanimous decision win against Ghanaian Abdul Razak Alhassan, but the instant spark to his UFC career soon fizzled.

A former Desert Force champion at welterweight, Lazzez has competed only once in the company in each of the past two years, and not since last April.

Nine months ago, he defeated Swiss Ange Loosa by unanimous decision in Las Vegas to rebound from a first-round stoppage defeat to Warlley Alves in early 2021 – again, in Abu Dhabi – when he concedes he was unwise to accept the challenge on short notice and following a lengthy recovery from Covid-19.

Since, there have been confirmations and cancelled bouts, for a myriad of reasons, including visa issues, illness, injury or opponents’ pulling out. For instance, Loosa was a late replacement last time around.

However, Lazzez has spent the interim honing his skill-set in Dubai. Significant improvement, the 35-year-old says, has been made. All round, too.

“I spend more time in the lab, in the gym and with the coaches working on differentthings, focused on filling all the gaps,” Lazzez says. “I feel better as a fighter, as a person.

“I was supposed to fight in Abu Dhabi [at UFC 280 last October], but the fight fell off. Now, this is the right time. Time to go. As always, I’m excited.”

Part of the UFC’s big return to Brazil – the promotion last staged an event there in the early days of the pandemic – and on a card that includes two world title bouts, Lazzez understands the magnitude of the occasion.

He takes his slot on the bill as the kick-start to the prelims, long before flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo meets interim belt-holder Brandon Moreno for a historic fourth time, or Glover Teixeira and Jamahal Hill face off in the headline act for the vacant light heavyweight crown.

Regardless, UFC 283 represents a huge pay-per-view event. Yet, true to form, Lazzez cuts a considered and contented figure.

“Normal,” he says. “This is just another fight for me. I don't want make it that big of a deal.”

Still, for a man who deadpans that he retains ambitions of becoming UFC champion, a win no matter what against Brazil's Bonfirm, the 13-0 graduate of the 2022 Dana White Contender Series, is important.

Even if a statement made this weekend, with the eyes of the MMA world and the UFC’s top brass watching on also, could have considerable – and welcome – consequences.

“Every fight is a statement,” says Lazzez, whose pro record stands at 11-2. “And every fight is the first and last fight for me, so I'm going for it all.

“Honestly, I just want to focus on the win and then everything will present itself. You know, maybe top 15. We'll see. We'll take it from there.”

No doubt, Lazzez feels the backing from Dubai all the way there in Brazil. Unsurprisingly, then, he’s looking to repay that faith in spades on Sunday morning UAE time.

“Tune in,” Lazzez says in a message to his fans. “You are always supporting me in my up-and-down career. So tune in this time. I’m very confident that I’m going to knock some Brazilian out here – and make a statement.”

Updated: January 19, 2023, 11:15 AM
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