Youssef said his experience should inspire Moroccan youth to work hard in order to fulfill their dreams, because eventually everything is possible.
Rabat – The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), an American mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company, features a number of big names from Morocco. Among them is 23-year-old Youssef Zalal who is at the start of a promising UFC career.
Zalal, a featherweight fighter at the UFC, shared his story and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with Morocco World News.
The UFC fighter, also known as the “Moroccan Devil” in the ring, is currently 9-2 in his professional Martial Arts career, with five wins by submission and two by knockout.
The Casablanca native is now married and lives in Englewood, Colorado.
First experience is precious
The athlete started training in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) when he was just 16 after kickboxing since the age of 10.
“I actually had my first kickboxing fight at 10 years old as well while still in Morocco. In a sense, while I didn’t begin my mixed martial arts career in Morocco, my fighting career in general began there,” Youssef Zalal told MWN.
Despite the fame, the athlete still remembers his first experience in the ring in Morocco.
“I’ll never forget that feeling,” he said while thanking his family and teammates for encouraging him to pursue his dream to join and fight in the UFC.
“I am very lucky as everyone has been very supportive throughout my career.”
The UFC is a professional US-based MMA promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada. The sport includes a wide variety of fighting skills from a mixture of combat sports.
The rules permit both striking and grappling, allowing athletes from different sporting backgrounds to compete.
Youssef Zalal, who joined the competition in February 2020, reminisced about when he received a call from UFC asking him to join.
“When I got the call and it was official, I was speechless, excited, and just overcome with emotions. It was one of the best feelings I have ever had,” he said.
The young fighter said being in the UFC “means a lot” to him, as it gives him the opportunity to inspire youth from Morocco that everything is possible with goodwill and hard work.
“It gives me the opportunity to show young athletes back in Morocco that they too can make it in the UFC too, that this is possible and it is not just a dream.”
When asked about his nickname, “the Moroccan Devil,” Zalal said that his very first coach Alex Huddleston started calling him that “after Badr Hari, the legendary Moroccan kickboxer. Ever since then, it just stuck with me.”
There is always room for improvement
The youngster believes in hard work and determination to improve his skills and techniques. He told MWN his best fight dates back to November 2019 in combat against Jaime Hernandez.
The young fighter was thrilled with his decision to join the UFC, stating that it was the greatest achievement in his lifetime.
“My future goal is to be the best fighter I can be and hopefully one day become a champion.”
For now, no new fights are coming up for the fighter, but Zalal hopes to be able to come back to the ring this summer.
Youssef Zalal told MWN that among his inspirations and idols in the UFC is former featherweight champion Max Holloway.
MWN asked Youssef to choose between Badr Hari and Rico Verhoeven, some of the big names of the “Glory” fighting, and the young athlete’s choice was predictable.
“Badr Hari all day!” he said.
Moroccan fighter Hari has earned praise from fans and fighters across the world. His audience is now waiting for the champion to come back to the ring for his promised revenge match against Rico.
In 2016, Hari lost to Rico again in a rematch due to injury. Then, in December 2019 the two fighters met in the ring again, only for Hari to lose for a second time for the same reasons.
UFC has a score of Moroccans fighting in the competition, including the Azaitar brothers who waved Moroccan flags during their win at the competition rings.
Ottman and Abu Azaitar earned themselves a name in the competition with several wins and appearances.
Youssef Zalal said he has not yet had the chance to meet the Azaitar brothers, but has heard they are “great people.”
MWN finished the interview by asking the fighter about his favorite Moroccan dishes. He said he likes tagines, but Seffa is “without doubt” his favorite.
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