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Fares Ziam of France celebrates his victory over Jamie Mullarkey of Australia in their lightweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on October 18, 2020 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Fares Ziam Hopes To Climb Quickly

France's Fares Ziam Hopes To Extend His Winning Streak To Three And Continue His Rise In The Lightweight Division

Fares Ziam isn’t coming into his fight with Terrance McKinney to make any sort of specific point at UFC Fight Night: Vieira vs Tate, but he does know he’ll be a better fighter than he was in his majority decision win against Luigi Vendramini.

Most importantly, Ziam feels healthy. When he fought Vendramini at UFC 263, he did so with a torn ligament in his knee. This go-round, however, Ziam has a relatively clean bill of health. Although some athletes might see this opportunity against McKinney as a sort of chance to “bounce back” in a way, Ziam just wants to increase his standing in the vaunted lightweight division. 

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“It’s just a fight,” Ziam told during his fight week in November. “I think Sean Shelby made this fight because it’s a very good matchup so, for me, it’s good. I want to win, of course, because I want to go up, so let’s go.”

The pieces had all fallen into place for what was set to be an exciting matchup between the "Smile Killer" and McKinney, who also has all the pomp and circumstance of someone who can really make a name for themselves in the division.

But after making weight and fulfilling all of their fight week responsibilities, Ziam woke up to a call from the matchmakers the morning of his fight, letting him know that one of McKinney's corners had tested positive for COVID and their fight would no longer be taking place.

"When the fight was canceled, honestly, I cried," Ziam said, laughing. "I want to fight. I want to grow up, be a champion one day, so in order to do that, I need to fight."

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Despite the initial disappointment of their highly anticipated matchup falling through, the Frenchman was able to find the silver lining in their situation.

"I learned from it. You never know what will happen tomorrow, you just never know. So for me, I said, 'Alright, I don’t fight, but it’s okay. I have more time for preparation, it’s good.' I had my show money and more time to prepare."

So Ziam packed up and headed back to Florida to resume training at Sanford MMA for a few more months — something that's truly been a catalyst in his climb. Having watched head coach Henri Hooft’s fights when he was growing up, he was well-aware of the coach’s kickboxing prowess.

Ziam had previously had a coach reach out to the group, and the rest took care of itself. Other than the lessons he is learning under Sanford’s array of coaches, including Hooft and wrestling wizard Greg Jones, Ziam is appreciating the quality of partners on the mat as well.

Fares Ziam of France punches Luigi Vendramini of Brazil in their lightweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Fares Ziam of France punches Luigi Vendramini of Brazil in their lightweight fight during the UFC 263 event at Gila River Arena on June 12, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

This little setback just gave Ziam more time to learn from some of the most influential technicians in the game.

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"I trained at Sanford because Sanford is a good gym for me,” Ziam said. “The head coach, Henri Hooft, is from kickboxing. I’m from kickboxing. So, for me, it was the best. You have a lot of UFC athletes like Michael Chandler, like me. We have Gilbert Burns. We have Rafael Fiziev. You have a lot of athletes at my weight, so it’s good for me.”

In terms of the matchup, Ziam expects McKinney to come out quickly. Nine of McKinney’s 10 professional wins have come in the first round, and when he made his short-notice debut against Matt Frevola at UFC 263, he only needed seven seconds to earn the finish. 

Although that’s certainly an intimidating proposition, Ziam is confident he can weather the early storm and find his own traction in the Octagon afterward.

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Sanford MMA Wants To Raise The Level Of The Sport | UFC News Gym Visit

“He wants (a) knockout very fast,” Ziam said. “Me, I take my time. I see. After a few minutes, I think I can go.”

In his training camp, Ziam said he focused on wrestling and striking because that’s where he thinks McKinney has confidence. He didn’t spend too much time on the grappling aspects, but he does expect a fun, tough test in the other two departments. 

McKinney has said he’s a little confused as to why he’s the underdog to Ziam, focusing on the lack of finishes on Ziam’s record compared to his. Ziam doesn’t take much umbrage with that point, though. He’s focused on getting the results, which includes getting past McKinney on November 20. As far as after the fight, Ziam does have his eyes on Paddy Pimblett because the two share wins over Vendramini, but first comes the business on fight night. 

“I want to knock (McKinney) out because he is not a really good striker,” Ziam said. “He has power, of course. He’s aggressive, but he never fought a guy like me.”

Don't miss a single round of UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Green, live from the UFC APEX on Saturday, February 26 on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 4pm ET/1pm PT. Main card begins at 7pm ET/4pm PT.

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs Green took place on Saturday, February 26, 2022, live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive all of the action on UFC Fight Pass.