Maged Hammo has long had a reputation for being an all-action fighter that is incapable of being in a boring fight, and through his first two appearances inside the Unified MMA cage, the Lethbridge, Alberta resident has lived up to that billing.
In consecutive championship clashes against Neal Anderson, the 32-year-old has collected consecutive fourth-round stoppage finishes to win and successfully defend the promotion’s featherweight title. After submitting Anderson in their initial encounter, Hammo had to rally in the sequel, battling back after being dropped early in the fourth to put Anderson down before the frame was over.
“It’s just one of those things, I guess,” Hammo said, laughing, when asked about the chemistry between he and Anderson that consistently produces entertaining, competitive fights just a few days ahead of his return to the Unified MMA cage.
“It felt amazing (to get that victory), and the way I finished it, too,” continued the featherweight champion, who defends his title against Justin Basra at Unified MMA 47 on Friday evening at the Genesis Center in Calgary. “My thing was to make a statement in that fight, and I think I did that and accomplished some good things in there.”
In addition to collecting the statement victory he wanted, Hammo showed that he’s continuing to improve and grow as a competitor with each additional appearance.
While he made his professional debut all the way back in 2010, the Canadian Martial Arts Centre (CMAC) representative struggled with consistency and elevating his game to the next level in the first part of his career before a knee injury and the global COVID-19 pandemic led to a nearly three-year absence from the cage.
Since returning, Hammo has sandwiched a hard-fought loss to Dana White’s Contender Series alum Alex Morgan between his tandem stoppage wins over Anderson, exhibiting his trademark tenacity, as well as key improvements in areas that generally only come along with age and experience.
“I think it’s ring knowledge,” said Hammo, when asked what has improved the most over these last several fights. “Being in there for all this time, the older you get, the smarter you get in terms of Fight IQ, and I think I’m going down the right path thinking methodically instead of just going in there and swinging, throwing bombs.”
Despite adopting a more tactical, thoughtful approach in his second meeting with Anderson and generally going forward, Hammo might have to get back to slinging hands later this week as he squares off with the returning Basra with his featherweight title hanging in the balance.
Following an unbeaten amateur career, Basra maintained his success through his first five professional appearances, establishing himself as one of the top prospects in Canada by the end of 2018, but he hasn’t fought since.
Injuries initially put him on the sidelines before COVID pushed his return back even further, with Basra then biding his time until the right opportunity and opponent presented itself. Now ready to make his return and face Hammo for the title, the champion is preparing for him to be every bit as dangerous and talented as he was prior to his hiatus, if not more, when they hit the cage together in Friday’s main event.
“In my head, he’s still the same man,” Hammo said of Basra. “He’s vicious, he’s good, and this is a really, really good test for me to see where I’m at in my fighting career. This is a true test to see what I can do, and I know he’s a dangerous man, regardless of how much time (he’s been away).
“He’s going to come in strong, but I’m going to be stronger, and finish this fight.”
Along with seeing this as an opportunity to defend his title, test himself against an unbeaten foe, and put himself on the radar for a potential UFC call-up should the premier organization in the sport make a return trip to the Great White North in the first half of 2023, Hammo views every chance he gets to compete as an opportunity to give back to the community.
“I want to start doing some stuff for the younger generations, get them out of trouble,” began Hammo. “There a lot of troubled youth these days that don’t have outlets, and I want to create something for all these children that have nowhere to go.”
And the featherweight titleholder speaks from experience.
His introduction to mixed martial arts came when he was a troubled youth, headed down a path to nowhere good. CMAC founder and Canadian MMA staple Lee Mein took him under his wing, gave him an outlet and a passion, and Hammo has been diligently pursuing his craft (and staying out of trouble) ever since.
“If it wasn’t for Lee and what he did for me, I would still be on the streets, doing what I did,” he said. “I’d be in jail or doing something stupid. I’m very thankful that I met Lee; he’s basically fathered me into where I am now.”
Not only does Hammo want to commit time and energy towards the youth of the region, he’s also got challenges closer to home that he wants to tackle after this fight, as well.
“Honestly, at the moment right now, I want to win this fight and then I want to put all my focus into bringing my family down from Iraq,” explained Hammo. “They’re in a lot of trouble with the war going on, so I want to concentrate and put my focus into getting my family down here before I continue to look for more opponents after this.”
But first, he has to get through Basra, and although he’s preparing for him to be every bit as dangerous as he was before his extended stint on the sidelines, Hammo is confident he’ll get his hand raised on Friday, even if things don’t play out as perfectly as he’d like inside the cage.
“You’ve seen Jorge Masvidal and Ben Askren, right?” he asked with a laugh when pushed for a best-case scenario prediction on how this fight plays out. “I’m picturing that in my head. Get in, get out — bing, bang, boom!
“But seriously, my hand will be raised at the end of it. Whether it’s a finish or a decision, my hand will be raised.”