With 11 of his 13 pro MMA fights taking place in his adopted home country of Canada, Nordine Taleb might have expected that his August assignment would be taking place in Saskatchewan on the 23rd of next month. Instead, the Montrealer will be in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this Saturday to face home country favorite Warlley Alves.
“I was surprised, but it didn’t take long for me to decide to take the fight,” Taleb said. “I think they want to test me, and I’m going to show them that I’m able to take the challenge and be victorious in the end.”
The 34-year-old is no stranger to out of town assignments, even if his pro MMA record doesn’t necessarily reflect that. In fact, his whole career has taken place out of his native France. He’s not going to say that it’s not a hassle of sorts to fight outside of Canada, but he does relish the idea of showing just what he can do on foreign soil with Brazilian fans screaming for his opponent.
“The challenge here is being out of my comfort zone,” he said. “Most of my UFC fights were in Canada, so I had some training partners on the same card as me, and it makes things easy because we brought all our coaches, and we made ourselves very comfortable with the situation. And also because it was in Montreal the last time, I knew where to find my food, I have my apartment not too far from there, and I didn’t have to rush or be worried about forgetting something because I’m just a couple minutes from my apartment. I can just go there and go find my stuff. I could also work out at my gym until the fight, so it’s pretty convenient to fight in Canada, but in Brazil it’s going to be me against the world. In fighting, I think I react very well to the pressure. So I want to put myself in this situation and see if I’m right.”
As every fighter will tell you, once the Octagon gate closes, all that matters is the person coming after you and trying to take your head off. If that’s pressure, then Taleb is an expert at dealing with it on the UFC level, as he’s unbeaten with wins over Vik Grujic, Li Jingliang and Chris Clements since his debut in 2014. And as far as someone blitzing him from the opening bell in search of a quick knockout goes, that’s the M.O. of former Ultimate Fighter Brazil winner Alves. He is all about the furious charge, and that’s something Taleb is prepared for.
“That’s how I see him, and what I expect from him is to come strong and hard,” he said of the unbeaten Alves. “I don’t know if it’s an emotional thing that he needs to prove his point from the beginning or that he wants to finish quick because maybe he doesn’t feel comfortable to be in the fight for a very long time, or maybe he knows his weakness is his cardio or he doesn’t take his training camp very seriously. So it could be many factors. All the fights I saw from him, he comes in hard, but my approach to fighting is very careful. I’m popping the jab and I go with the most technical and smartest way to win. I know how to start strong too and I think I’m faster than him and a little bit more experienced. I think I control my emotions more than him, so it can go against him.”
Taleb’s cool may be the key to victory on Saturday night. At 34, he’s 10 years older than Alves, he’s seen it all in the fight game, and he also appears to be hitting his stride as a pro, having not lost since 2012.
“One of the secrets is that I never stop training,” he said. “I always stay in the game. Even after a fight, I come back quick and stay sharp all the time. I stay smart, I come back slowly and I’m always working on my weaknesses, especially out of camp. I’m always working on small details of my game where I’m not good. I think that’s what has made me evolve from those years.”
It’s why when people talk about Taleb, they describe him as a striker, but forget about his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt and the reality that in his three UFC wins, it’s been his grappling game that has been the key in him turning away opponents known for their stopping power while standing.
“People didn’t know about my grappling skills and timing for takedowns, so I surprised people a couple times with that, and I’ve been working grapping for so long because I’m from a striking background,” he said. “I’ve always worked on my weakness, and grappling was my weakness, so I’ve worked on it so hard that it’s become a strength. I’m ready to go anywhere the fight goes.”
Alves will likely want to keep it standing, at least as long as his inevitable early fight blitz lasts, and that’s fine with Taleb. What doesn’t sit well with the French-Canadian is the idea of brawling just for the sake of brawling, and as he defends the honor of the sport, he will have an answer for anyone who doesn’t show the skill he believes is a prerequisite for competing on the sport’s highest stage.
“I’m a striker, I love to strike, and I would love to stay standing all fight long, but what I don’t like are brawlers,” he said. “You can swing one or two times, but if you are a guy who is swinging all the time and you just want to brawl, I’m very quick to put you down and you better have good cardio because I’m going to work hard to keep you there and ground and pound you.
“I will be glad to stay on my feet and show my entire skills from striking, but for this I need a great matchup with a good opponent,” Taleb continues. “I love the chess game, when the mental game is involved and the smartest and the most skilled is going to win. But when a brawl is involved, it’s a quick reaction from me. For me, it’s a little bit insulting. You’re in the biggest organization in the world, you should show talent and discipline. I know people like knockouts, but I don’t like when the guys close their eyes and swing.”
And if you do, expect Nordine Taleb to make you pay.