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Youssef Zalal Takes Nothing For Granted

“The Moroccan Devil” Enjoying The Experience While Recognizing Opportunity

Friday nights are always interesting for Youssef Zalal.

“That’s sparring day for our team,” said the Factory X featherweight, who makes his second UFC appearance on Saturday against Jordan Griffin. “And if your name is on the board, you have to do the walkout, you have to rest before your rounds come up; It’s like a fight.”

Call it the MMA version of steel sharpens steel. There are no slouches in the Colorado gym, so if there’s sparring going on, it can get intense as these fighters prepare each other for upcoming bouts in sessions that simulate a real fight night.

“You get the jitters when you walk into the gym because you don’t know who coach is gonna put you with,” said Zalal. “So we’re so used to that environment and we can really make friends in that environment.”

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08: Youssef Zalal of Morocco celebrates his victory over Austin Lingo in their featherweight bout during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08: Youssef Zalal of Morocco celebrates his victory over Austin Lingo in their featherweight bout during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

That doesn’t mean it’s always a welcome way to kick off the weekend.

“There are some days I’m like, ‘I don’t want to get my ass kicked today,’” laughs Zalal, who nonetheless embraces the ability to hone his skills and prep for the things a lot of teams don’t prep for.

“I’m happy that I can get pushed to the next level and see what I’m really about.”

UFC fans got to see what “The Moroccan Devil” was about in February, when he impressively won his Octagon debut over Austin Lingo. It was in stark contrast to the whole first-time UFC jitters phenomenon, but maybe that’s due to his Friday Night Fights in Englewood, as well as his experience cornering his teammates in UFC bouts.

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08: (L-R) Youssef Zalal of Morocco kicks Austin Lingo in their featherweight bout during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 08: (L-R) Youssef Zalal of Morocco kicks Austin Lingo in their featherweight bout during the UFC 247 event at Toyota Center on February 08, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

“I don’t want to say I’m an expert,” he laughed. “I had nerves, but I’ve coached guys in there before and I’ve seen what that level is. So my goal when I left Denver was to enjoy the whole experience no matter what. This is the biggest show, this is what we had been waiting for, for so long, and I had something to prove to myself. I needed to prove that I really belonged in there.”

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Guess that enjoying the whole experience thing was a success?

“It was a blast,” he said, laughing when recalling his walkout and his wonder at it all before catching himself.

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“I thought, ‘Be professional.’ That’s the 23-year-old in me.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, especially for a young man who earned his place on the roster after traveling a tough road to get there, not just in the sport, but in life. So he’s not taking anything for granted.

“This is my way out,” said the Casablanca native. “I know how much it means to me to take these opportunities and I take that serious.”

Don’t let the smile fool you.