It is every mixed martial artists dream to get the call up from the UFC and despite only having eight days to prepare, Anton Zafir, is no different. The Queenslander who is currently 7-1 in his professional career, and on a five fight winning streak, got put on notice after Brendan O’Reilly had to withdraw from UFC 193 due to a fractured orbital bone.
“Thursday night I got a message from Brendan (O’Reilly), saying that he had injured himself, and that he was messaging Joe Silva, and was wondering if I’d be able to make weight and could he put my name forward (for UFC 193)? He suggested me and I said y’know I’ll do what ever it takes to make weight, I’d chop off an arm if I had to. I went to bed Thursday night thinking nothing of it, trying not to get too excited, in case nothing came of it. When I was at work, the next day, checking my emails I had a message from Joe Silva asking if I could get my medicals done and if I could make weight. I said most definitely to both.”
Despite being ecstatic about the opportunity to fight, on what will likely be the biggest event in UFC history, Zafir admits it is bitter sweet.
“We’ve (Brendan and I) known each other for quite a few years, we’ve trained together a few times. I went down to Sydney to help him and Richy train in the lead up to this fight. I’m going to owe him a few beers for this; it’s kind of bitter sweet. Anyone who knows Brendan, knows he would fight with a broken hand if he could, it’s definitely bad if he had to pull out.”
For Zafir, the pressure of the enormity of this event comes second to enjoying the experience and he is determined to put on a good show for the fans in his home country.
“I’m just going to enjoy the experience, I’m taking a fight on eight days notice, I’m stepping up to fight a tough opponent from America. I’m really just going to go in there and have fun, enjoy it and put on a good show.”
“I’m trying not to see into the future, I’m not trying to put any more pressure on myself other than just getting my weight down. I’ll do the best I can and hope that good things come from it.”
Thankfully the Aussie has plenty of people around him to keep him grounded and supported in the lead up to what will be the biggest fight of this career against taekwondo black belt James Moontasri (8-3).
“I’ve got great people around me that keep me centered. It makes it a lot easier to focus on what needs to be done. I wouldn’t have come this far without my coaches.”
“The support from everyone means a lot to me, it kind of makes everything you give up worthwhile. The school I work at, the schools kids have been awesome, the community, the gym, it has been great. It’s awesome to see the support from my family and community.”
With UFC 193 set to put MMA on the map in a big way in Australia, Zafir has no misconceptions about what this means for the local MMA community and hopes that the opportunity for fans, and non-fans alike, to meet the athletes, and hear their stories during fight week activities, will help shape public perception in a positive way.
“I don’t think the event will change people’s perception, I think meeting the people that are involved in the sport will change people’s perception. Meeting the fighters that I have and learning about their background and where they have come from; why they have chosen to pursue this sport, all of those things is what makes this sport so extraordinary, because you do have people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. It’s not the blood sport and thuggery that people associate it with, it’s hard working, dedicated, professional people who are athletes at the top of their game. So, I don’t think the event itself will change people’s perception but it will help people understand the athletes and their story and where they come from and who they are.”
UFC 193 takes place at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, November 15th 2015. Tickets are available at TicketMaster.
The fight card announced to date is as follows: