To make it to the UFC in just eight pro fights, you’re probably a pretty good fighter. To get a former world title challenger like Thiago Alves in that first Octagon bout, you had better be a pretty good fighter.
Papy Abedi is that guy, and not surprisingly, the unbeaten welterweight isn’t shaking in his boots about squaring off against the “Pitbull” in a UFC 138 main card bout on Saturday, though he was surprised when the call first came in.
“I was really surprised when my manager called me and said that my first fight would be against ‘Pitbull,’” said Sweden’s Abedi through his manager / translator Manos Terzitane. “At first I thought he meant that I was supposed to fight against my teammate, who is called ‘Pitbull’ as well, but then I realized it was Thiago and I was really happy about it.”
You know you’re dealing with a real fighter when he says that he’s happy to be facing one of the best strikers in the 170-pound weight class in his first UFC match and actually means it, but with a perfect 8-0 record that includes seven finishes, the 33-year old isn’t used to backing down to anyone, not even Alves, who though five years his junior, has 30 pro MMA fights under his belt, half of them taking place in the UFC. So if you ask him about dealing with the experience advantage the Brazilian has over him, Abedi scoffs at such a notion.
“He (Alves) is a very good fighter but I don’t see him having any advantage on me,” said Abedi. “I am better than him in all areas of the game. I also have everything to lose in this fight so I am the one to have all the pressure. I am undefeated and I don’t want to make any changes to my record. Only the W counts for me. I have trained very, very hard for this fight and I am in the best shape of my life. It is the first time in my career that I have trained like a professional. All my other fights I have worked eight hours a day and trained after work. This time I have trained four times a day, six days a week. I have never felt this strong and in such a great shape ever before.”
A former electrician, Abedi was born in Kinshasa, where he says that judo is the discipline of choice when it comes to combat sports. And though he now makes his home in Stockholm, he still talks to family members over there daily, and notes that MMA is even starting to make inroads in the land of his birth.
“Judo is very big in Congo and they have started to train MMA now also,” he said. “My dream is to one day open a MMA school in Congo and help all the kids there.”
Achieving such a dream will be a lot easier should he be successful in the UFC, and if you go by his own description of his fighting style, fans who don’t know him now may grow to love him if he delivers on Saturday night.
“My style is kickboxing with a background in Judo and I like to slam and KO my opponents,” said Abedi, who will find a kindred spirit in Alves, whose Muay Thai background and desire to knock his opponents out meshes nicely with the style of “Makambo,” who, despite his confidence, has plenty of respect for his foe.
“Thiago is one of the best fighters in the UFC,” said Abedi. “He has a good ground game, good takedowns, good submission defense, good ground and pound, and good standup. He is basically good at everything and one of the best fighters out there. I respect him a lot as a fighter and I know a lot of fans respect him as well as a fighter. This is really good for me because after I win no one can argue how good I am.”
He’s right. Because regardless of how many foes he’s dispatched on the local European circuit, nothing would top upsetting Alves this weekend. It’s an enticing prospect for Abedi, one so appealing that he decided to drop from middleweight to welterweight to take it.
“It was a natural move for me to change weight classes because of my height,” said the 5-11 Abedi. “I was always shorter than my opponents and I think that welterweight is better for me because of my height and also because I can train like a professional now and I have the time to drop weight.”
Yet what getting Thiago Alves as a first opponent shows is that there are no warm-up fights at 170 pounds in the UFC. Every fight’s a dogfight against a top level opponent, and that’s something Abedi will find out immediately on Saturday. But with his talent and confidence, he’ll have tools to deal with such a rude awakening. And in addition, he also has the mental edge of knowing that no one has forced him to deal with defeat yet, an intangible that can do wonders on fight night.
“I have never experienced a loss in my career because a loss is not okay for me,” he said. “The mental advantage for me is that I know that Thiago can lose, as he has done it before, while I have never experienced a loss and don’t plan on doing it. I want to end my career undefeated.”
Tough talk from a tough guy who will find out just how tough he is on Saturday night in Birmingham, England. And with Abedi showing such confidence, is there any doubt that fight fans will be tuning in to see if he can back things up? But the fighter isn’t going to be spoiling things with predictions. He’ll keep some things to himself.
“I don’t want to tell too much,” he smiled when asked what fans should expect from him against Alves. “It is better for the fans to tune in and watch UFC 138. If I tell them what to expect or how it will end, it will be like spoiling the end of a great movie.”
Papy Abedi - Unbeaten and Ready to Make an Entrance
“He (Alves) is a very good fighter but I don’t see him having any advantage on me. I am better than him in all areas of the game." - Papy Abedi