Today I want to tell you a little story about the growing pains a young fighter looking to make a name for himself faces out here in Europe. It’s the story of one of my brightest prospects who goes by the name of Jessin Ayari. Jessin headlined his third consecutive event last night and won his third fight this year, moving his professional record to 14-3. The win did not come easy to him, though.
Jessin has been the main training partner for Peter Sobotta leading up to UFC 193, so originally, I was trying to find him a fight in Australia last month. When that didn’t come to fruition, we accepted a fight against Mohamed Sayah on a local show here in Germany. Four weeks before the fight, the opponent decided to cancel the fight, because he had gotten a better offer elsewhere.
After three weeks of trying to re-match Jessin for that event completely in vain, the opportunity came around that he was offered to fight BJJ black belt Victor Hugo Neves at Respect Fighting Championship, one of Germany’s longest running event series. Completely different type of opponent, Jessin had trained to face a powerful stocky wrestler, now he was gonna go up against a tall and lanky jiu-jitsu guy, but we took the fight nonetheless.
Four days before the fight, the Brazilian decided that he did not want to cut any weight and suggested the fight to go ahead one weight class above. Jessin, being the professional that he is, had of course already started dieting long time ago and was close to being on weight. Nonetheless in order to try and save the fight, we offered the Brazilian a catchweight option that would have still given him a significant advantage, but he insisted on fighting at middleweight, so the fight was off.
In a cloak-and-dagger operation, matchmaker Sven Neumann and myself managed to secure Bulgarian wrestler Veselin Dimitrov on Tuesday midnight. Three days later on the morning of the weigh-ins, I open my inbox to a Dimitrov message stating he fell on his shoulder in sparring on Thursday night and would be unable to fight. An emergency treatment report from the hospital was attached as proof. I was lost for words.
I called Jessin to tell him about this lunacy and promised him to do everything in my power to find yet another replacement on the day before the fight. I gave myself ten hours to pull it off. He’s always fighting until the end and so do I, I told him. I activated my global network and pretty soon I had volunteers from Lithuania, Moldova and Spain. Negotiations fell through, because flights were too expensive and/or demands were, although justified, too high for the small budget of the event.
A Serbian fighter was close to becoming the third replacement around noon, but turned out to be too heavy in the end as well. Half an hour before the 6pm deadline I had given myself, Twan Van Buuren took the fight. I was calling Jessin to tell him about the good news, only to find him really flustered and worn down by the situation. Understandably, the emotional roller coaster I had put him onto for the last few days had taken its toll.
It’s difficult for a young man to handle a situation like that: One minute you have a fight, the next minute it’s gone. The questions are “do I have an opponent” or “who is my opponent”, “will or won’t I be fighting” – it’s very tough to keep your focus and get into that zone fighters need before battle when you are torn in and out of “fight mode” almost every minute.
He asked me: “What is there for me to gain if I fight this opponent now? Where is the challenge? How does this help me?” My answer was: Sometimes the real challenge and the real reward may not be the opponent. Although this is what we are aiming for, you cannot fight a tougher opponent each and every time. Sometimes you also need to fight a “plateau opponent” to test your skills, to find out if the techniques that you have trained are working.
Even more so, the real challenge in this situation is not the fight against the opponent, but the fight against yourself here. You are unsure whether you should still go ahead with the fight. You are confused. You have no attitude towards the fight. Try and see this as a great learning experience.
I always try and put my fighters into challenging situations like travelling to a foreign country to fight, competing in a hostile environment, making weight under difficult conditions, so when the time comes for them to compete on the big stage, there is nothing that will really surprise or discompose them.
Going on that emotional rollercoaster and then still travelling down to the location of the fight, putting on your cup, your fight shorts, your gloves, putting in your mouth piece and doing your job, that’s the real challenge here. In the end you will be happy you bit through the situation. And he did. The win moved Jessin one step closer to his dream of fighting in the UFC. Once he gets there, he won’t have to deal with four different opponents in four weeks anymore.