Set to make his Bellator debut at Bellator 179 from London, England next Friday, Amir ‘The Prince’ Albazi sports a perfect 9-0 record at bantamweight, a credential that complements an outstanding résumé in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, submission wrestling, and freestyle wrestling. An extremely well-rounded competitor, Albazi was born in Baghdad, Iraq, before moving to Sweden at seven years old. There, Albazi would graduate from Stockholm Sport High School, before relocating to London, England and linking up with his current fight team, London Shootfighters.
Albazi has garnered accolades as impressive as a world championship in BJJ (blue belt) to go alongside several European and Swedish national titles, two world titles in FILA submission grappling (Gi and NoGi), as well as silver and bronze medals in the Junior Swedish Freestyle Wrestling championships. Albazi’s grappling acumen, then, is beyond reproach; and unlike other highly lauded mat technicians entering MMA after years of dominance, Albazi has the advantage of youth. At just 23 years old, Amir has a huge future ahead of him.
Now, Albazi tests himself on the biggest stage of his career, as the SSE Arena at Wembley hosts his promotional debut against Jamie Powell (6-1) of Boston, Lincolnshire. Powell, a very capable grappler in his own right, holds three submission wins to his name, and has gone the distance a further three times. Albazi, meanwhile, has never endured the anxious waits that preempt a judge’s decision.
While it would be easy to assume, given the above accomplishments, that Albazi has submitted each of his foes, he holds more victories by technical knock out. The methodology of his finishes started evenly enough in 2009, Albazi blitzing his first two pro-MMA opponents in one night in Portugal – Andre Batista and Pavlo Kulish ate a TKO and submission respectively, before Albazi’s TKO count crept ahead the following year after stopping Bagandov Murada. When Albazi fought for the first time in his now-native United Kingdom, parity was restored once more. Ally McRae tapped to a second round rear naked choke at a Scottish Fight Challenge event, a scrap Albazi dominated with unflinching pressure and heavy top game.
Albazi would then take a four year hiatus from MMA while he conquered grappling tournaments the world over, before finally returning to the sport in late 2014. If the sport had moved on and the competition had improved, so had Amir. Salih Kulucan (4-3) welcomed ‘The Prince’ back to the scene at UCMMA 41, and proved a durable opponent despite being put on the back foot most of the fight by Amir’s takedowns, top control, and clinch control. Though Kulucan would reverse positions late in the first round and achieve top position himself, Albazi remained the more threatening of the two, sinking in a deep arm bar right as the bell rang to conclude the round.
The second round progressed in a different manner, with Albazi showing improved stand up, landing two hard knees and an overhand right before going back to his bread-and-butter. Taking Kulucan down and achieving side control, Albazi threatened several submission before settling for an outstanding hybrid of a reverse triangle-kimura combination. If that finish alone wasn’t proof enough of Albazi’s ability, his reputation would continue to grow over the next couple of years.
A win out in the Czech Republic over then-undefeated Ondrej Moravec wasn’t the most obvious next fight for Amir, but with opponents seemingly reluctant to sign terms closer to home, Amir had no problem seeking out fights further afield. Back in the UK in September 2015, Amir stepped up at UCMMA 44 to face 21-fight veteran Niko Gjoka for the UCMMA Bantamweight title, and had to overcome adversity early as a pair of highlight reel high kicks appeared to rattle the London Shootfighter. Instincts kicking in, Albazi achieved the safety of repeated takedowns and suffocating clinch control. Gjoka had no answer, but proved capable of defending himself well as Albazi constantly fished for fight-finishing holds.
The second round saw Gjoka again looking for flashy head kicks, and again Albazi responded by grounding the veteran. After fighting back to his feet, Gjoka ate a Matt Hughes-esque slam from Albazi that injured his ribs and put an end to the fight almost instantly. It was a thing of beauty for ‘The Prince’, and saw him move on to a long-awaited debut fight in Sweden under the Scandinavian Fight Nights banner.
Rafal Czechowski (6-2) of Poland provided the opposition, and the fight went much the same way as Albazi’s others, only this time Amir achieved the first technical submission of his career. With Czechowski struggling to free himself from Albazi’s clutches on the ground, Amir sunk in a rear naked choke that the Polish fighter refused to tap to – at the expense of his own consciousness!
Now 8-0, ‘The Prince’ had dominated competitions all over Europe, much as he had earlier in his career across several grappling disciplines. Against Dino Gambatesa of South Africa, Albazi would achieve the stunning feat of a second career reverse triangle-kimura submission, which provided enough incentive for Bellator to offer Albazi his big moment at the SSE Arena.
Powell will know the size of the task facing him, and will be well aware of the dominant, often hyperactive ground game of his opponent. Stopping that will rely largely on his ability to deny Albazi the opportunity to change levels, and test his striking defence on the feet. Whether that happens, or whether Albazi is able to embroil Powell in his quicksand-like ground game will be the big question; but surely the Iraq-born, London-based grappling wizard cannot achieve a submission to top his two scintillating hybrid holds?
The MMA Vanguard will be keeping a close eye on proceedings next Friday… and so should you!