Saied Mirzai wants to be the next former IMMAF world champion to compete on the UFC stage, and he knows that a victory in Thursday’s BFL 72 main event against Dejan Kajic would be a major step in the right direction.
“This is a big one for me, so I just want you guys to know that I’m ready for challenge in the UFC, any caliber,” said the undefeated Mirzai, who challenges Kajic for the Battlefield Fight League welterweight title later this week. “And if you guys give me one shot, I will take out any adversary that you put in front of me.”
There are currently seven former IMMAF amateur world champions on the UFC roster, including flyweight super-prospect Muhammad Mokaev, Brazilian contender Amanda Ribas, and unbeaten Welshman Jack Shore. All of them travelled a comparable path as Mirzai, learning the ropes in the amateur ranks and ascending to the top of the sport before pursuing a professional career.
But while opportunities were plentiful and produced strong regional results that led this collection of former amateur standouts to the UFC Octagon in relatively short order, Mirzai has often struggled to garner opportunities to compete.
“To be honest with you, I felt like I was ready to win against guys in the UFC when I was 23 and won the amateur world championship at light heavyweight,” said Mirzai, who took home gold in 2015. “I was 190 (pounds), fighting guys that were 220 (pounds); national champions from their countries and I beat them all in the first round.
“It got a little discouraging and to the point where no one would accept a fight against me because I won the IMMAF world championships at 205 pounds, but I can fight at 170 pounds. For a while it was very frustrating and hard to find competition.”
Mirzai had his last amateur fight in April 2017 but didn’t make his pro debut until a year later, battling Eric McConico to a draw at BFL 54, just six days after being stuck overnight on Grouse Mountain in Vancouver. Despite his near-death experience prior to fight week, Mirzai still ventured into the cage, put forth a quality effort and broke into the professional ranks, but opportunities have come in fits and starts ever since.
He wouldn’t make his sophomore appearance until a year later, defeating American amateur standout Killian Estes in the first round. Three months later, Mirzai earned a fourth-round stoppage win over Nicolae Cury, a Brazilian veteran with significantly more professional experience, to push his record to 2-0-1.
Several fight cancellations followed, and then COVID shut down the Canadian regional scene, leaving Mirzai to work on skill building and staying in shape with limited access to gyms and training partners, like countless others in the Lower Mainland.
“After that, COVID hit, all these shows started falling apart, and I got a bunch of cancellations, said Mirzai, who finally returned to action earlier this year with a first-round submission finish of Bobby Poulter at BFL 71. “It discouraged me for a while, but I knew this COVID stuff would end eventually, so I tried to keep my head in the game, stay focused, and keep going after my goal.
“Now things are going back to normal and it’s my time.”
Thursday’s clash with Kajic is a big step up in competition for the former amateur standout, and there is some personal history tethered to the contest as well.
After cobbling together an 8-6-2 record through the first 14 fights of his career, the 37-year-old Kajic has transformed from journeyman to dominant force, collecting five straight stoppage victories and titles in multiple weight classes to stand as one of the faces of the promotion and one of the top regional talents in the country.
In addition to being a meeting of two of the best welterweights in Canada, Thursday’s main event is also a chance for Mirzai and Kajic to resolve some personal differences that fractured the friendship between the former training partners.
Mirzai declined to speak about the cause of the rift or anything to do with the falling out, opting to keep his mind clear of negative thoughts on focus on the task at hand instead, knowing that a victory this week is the type of win he needs to potentially join the likes of Shore, Ribas, and Mokaev competing at the next level.
“Honestly, I feel like he’s outmatched, and I am the superiorly skilled mixed martial artist in every facet of the game,” he said, when asked how he matches up with Kajic. “He’s got holes in his game that are some of my strong points, and I can use that to expose him, but even at his strong points, I can beat him at his strong points; that’s why I feel so confident.
“I can beat him in every dimension,” he added. “That’s my prediction, and I’m excited for my opportunity to shine. It’s been on-and-off, and that’s been frustrating, but I’ve been on top of my game, and it’s going to be really good to take this guy out and get more of that momentum.”