Navid Zanganeh isn’t your typical debuting mixed martial artist.
Born and raised in Iran, Zanganeh literally grew up on the wrestling mat, beginning in the sport when he was seven years old. He showed tremendous talent and rose through the ranks, landing a place on the team that competed at the U23 World Championships in Bucharest, Romania, where Zanganeh garnered a bronze medal.
“I am the seven-time Iranian national wrestling champion, Asian Games gold medalist, and I placed third at the world championships,” Zanganeh responded when asked about his achievements in an email interview ahead of his MMA debut this week at Battlefield Fight League 73, where he takes on Austin Batra in the main event. “Those are the major achievements.”
His wrestling accolades aren’t the only pieces that make Zanganeh an intriguing newcomer.
A few years ago, the soon-to-be 26-year-old attended an anti-government rally in Tehran where he was shot and detained.
#bfl73 Thursday night 7:30pm PT exclusively on @UFCFightPass #canada #iran #ufc #mma #wrestling #ufcfightpass pic.twitter.com/7Cli9H5WdB— Battlefield Fight League (@BattlefieldFL) July 1, 2022
“I had some issues with the Iranian government,” began Zanganeh when asked about his move to Canada. “I was shot by them, they arrested me, and placed me in jail for roughly 60 days. When they freed me, I decided to move to Canada for a better life.”
The transition to living in a new country hasn’t been easy for the aspiring mixed martial artist, who opted to make the transition into mixed martial arts in order to satisfy his competitive urges and hopefully build some financial independence for himself.
“The last two years have been extremely difficult coming here, not speaking English,” offered Zanganeh. “I competed in Canada’s highest level wrestling tournaments since arriving here, and I have easily won those. I was not getting challenged enough as the level seems to be lower. I am having financial difficulties since I just arrived here, so I started my MMA career to help me achieve financial freedom.
“(It is) also to challenge myself versus opponents who have done this for a long time, much longer than me,” he continued. “I wasn’t able to challenge myself like that in Canada with wrestling, as the level is not high enough.”
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That clear edge that he felt on the wrestling mats not only prompted him to make the shift into MMA, but is a big part of the reason why Zanganeh is confident that he can have success going forward, despite having yet to set foot inside the Battlefield cage.
“When I first started MMA, I really worried about how it would work out,” he admitted. “But after my first sparring session, I realized the sport is 50-60 percent wrestling, and I could take everyone down with ease.
We find out if the hype is real next Thursday night as Iran’s wrestling champion/Asian games wrestling champion makes his mma debut vs former national wrestling champion#bfl73 next Thursday 7:30pm PT exclusively on @UFCFightPass #iran #ufc #wrestling pic.twitter.com/spIZmU9n8I— Battlefield Fight League (@BattlefieldFL) July 1, 2022
“I am now working on the other 30-40 percent of the game.”
Like many MMA athletes in the Lower Mainland, Zanganeh spends time working at various gyms, primarily logging reps at Coquitlam Martial Arts, while mixing in rounds at Universal MMA and Pinnacle MMA, as well, and getting in sessions with some of the more established names in the area, including BFL champ Dejan Kajic, and UFC veteran Tristan Connelly.
Because of that interconnectivity and the “word travels fast” nature of just about everything these days, the Iranian-born wrestler garnered a little bit of buzz and has subsequently struggled to find a dance partner for his long-awaited mixed martial arts debut.
“I think this is because when I sparred with people in MMA gyms, word got around that I’m pretty decent,” he said when asked about this difficulty finding an opponent. “Because my wrestling footage is out there, that makes it even more difficult.
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“I think most people tend to stay away from a high-level wrestler, especially because I’m 0-0 and a lot of the Top 5 guys in Canada find it risky losing to a debut fighter.”
Originally scheduled to face Mike McAloon in a battle for the vacant BFL lightweight title, Zanganeh will instead face off with the 0-2 Batra later this week.
The Abbotsford-based fighter suffered a first-round stoppage loss to Christian Tremayne in his most recent appearance last September at BFL 68, and is best known for his disqualification loss in his final amateur fight at BFL 57 when he landed a flying forearm smash on Perry Hayer after the fight had already been stopped.
“It will be a surprise, but I think you can tell even from my wrestling matches that I’m extremely exciting and never involved in a boring match,” Zanganeh said when asked what fans could expect to see later this week when he finally steps into the cage for the first time. “It won’t be any different on July 7th.
#bfl73 takes place next Thursday night from Vancouver BC exclusively on @ufcfightpass1— Battlefield Fight League (@BattlefieldFL) June 30, 2022
Top 2 ranked BW battle to earn a title shot #mma #canada #ufc pic.twitter.com/BWq6OgrXjv
“If Batra lasts three minutes with me in this fight that means that he is a very skilled fighter.”
Despite being a neophyte in the sport, the wrestler-turned-fighter is approaching not only his debut, but his not-yet-begun career with an abundance of confidence, setting only the highest possible goal for himself as he readies to make the walk for the first time.
“I am here to go all the way to the top, which in this sport means the UFC title,” Zanganeh said. “Every sport I start, my goal is the reach the very top.
“That was taken away from me in wrestling, as I could not pursue my Olympic dreams in 2020 as I had to leave Iran in 2019. I am only 25 years old, and I feel I have time to reach the top of the sport.”
Time will tell, but after some delays and difficulty securing an opponent, the first step in that journey finally comes on Thursday.