Twelve months ago, the average MMA fan would have been excused for not knowing Ottman Azaitar.
Despite his perfect 11-0 record, the Moroccan had mainly been seen on smaller promotions around Europe before a four-fight stint with Brave starting in 2016.
He racked up an impressive streak, punctuated with heavy hands that saw only one opponent manage to go the distance, but still his exploits were not seen on a world stage.
All this changed in September last year on the undercard of UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
Taking on the rangy Finn Teemu Packalen, Azaitar was able to get inside at will landing a barrage of heavy right hands that culminated in a spectacular highlight reel knockout.
Packalen was out before he hit the ground, and the UFC had another gunslinger in the already loaded 155lbs division.
This weekend Azaitar returns the Octagon, to face Khama Worthy, but this time there is no undercard for the Bulldozer, the fireworks of his UFC debut have propelled him to Fight Night 177’s co-main event.
“I appreciate this opportunity,” he said. “I am thankful to the UFC for the opportunity and glad they put me in this position and it motivates me a lot.”
The fight with Worthy was originally scheduled for April, but the global coronavirus pandemic meant the 30-year-old would have to wait a few months before climbing inside the Octagon again.
He admits it is not the ideal situation, but one he has made the best of.
“My preparation started in Morocco. We have a big training complex there. We were quarantined to ensure nobody got Coronavirus so I was able to train with my brother and the team there.
“When I got to Amsterdam I felt the situation more. I was going to the gym and back to the hotel. Most of the gyms were closed, and you have to keep you circle small.
“This situation affected the whole world not only me, we have to deal with the facts and make the best of the situation.”
A win over the Pittsburgh native at the weekend would push Azaitar toward a coveted top-15 spot in the lightweight rankings, with a chance to then target some of the bigger names the division holds.
For him though, the fighter in front of him does not matter.
“I take every opponent seriously, for me they are all the same and I respect everyone,” he said. “I prepare for everyone very hard and give it my best. It does not matter to me who he is.”
Still in the early days of his UFC career, Azaitar credits is bother, fellow UFC fighter Abu Azaitar, as being his inspiration and tells of how representing the people of Morocco is something that means so much to him.
“Family, after God, is number one for me. My big brother is also in the UFC and is my role model – because of him is started MMA. It is very important to be close to him and train with him.
“My father has been there for us from the start, he put sport in our hearts. It is very important to be close to the people who helped get me where I am, and this is how I can show my appreciation. It gives me a good feeling.
“I get so much support from my country and this makes me proud. I love my country and always want to represent my country in the best way possible. I am so thankful to the Moroccan community for supporting me. The flag is not just hanging on my wall, it is hanging in my heart.”
Fight fans in the UAE can catch all the action from UFC Fight Night 177 on the UFC Arabia App in the early hours of Sunday morning.
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