Ramsey Nijem‘s April win proved a turning point in his career, and it had nothing to do with what happened in the cage. For the first time, the Palestinian American fully embraced his heritage, and it proved a life-changing experience.
“It was the best moment of my career,” Nijem told MMAjunkie Radio. “It was something unreal just walking out with all those people going crazy. It was one of those things that you always remember, and I’ll probably tell my grandkids a million times. Your grandfather always tells you the same stories over and over again. That’s got to be my story that I keep sharing.”
It was April, and Nijem was facing Beneil Dariush in Abu Dhabi. Nijem walked to the cage draped in the Palestinian flag, and the reaction from the Middle Eastern crowd was palpable. It wasn’t the first time Nijem had walked to the cage with the flag draped around his shoulders, but it was the first time he has openly discussed his desire to represent the embattled people of his father’s homeland, and never before had he received such hearty support for the gesture.
“With all the stuff going on in the Middle East, I’ve got to represent the Palestinian people right and try to shed a little positive light around a negative situation,” Nijem said.
Of course, all the pre-fight emotion in the world becomes meaningless if you aren’t able to back it up inside the octagon. Nijem did exactly that, scoring an impressive first-round TKO over the previously undefeated fighter. It was Nijem’s second straight win and immediately reestablished him as a legitimate UFC lightweight after a pair of losses left some wondering if he was destined to be a “TUF” washout.
Nijem credits a renewed focus on the sport, not to mention a move to Tareq Azim’s Empower facility in San Francisco, for the change in his results, and he said he moved quickly back to the gym after his latest win in hopes of building on the momentum.
“I came out relatively healthy,” Nijem said. “I just kind of bruised up my hand and ankle a little bit. I just had to do some rehab. I broke my hand years ago and I never really have the time to let it heal. I really focused because I knew the next fight was going to be even tougher so I really took time to get better.
“I’ve been in the gym training, working on all the holes and filling any holes that I might’ve shown last fight and the fight before and any of my other fights. I’m really trying to fill those in so I’m becoming a complete mixed-martial-artist. Wherever the fight goes I’ll be comfortable, so I’m filling in those holes right now.”
Nijem (9-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) returns to action later this month at UFC 177, when he meets another undefeated prospect in Carlos Diego Ferreira (10-0 MMA, 1-0 UFC). The Brazilian made his UFC debut in June and needed just 38 seconds to tap out “The Ultimate Fighter 16? winner Colton Smith. Nijem said he’s aware of the buzz surrounding his opponent but isn’t intimidated in the least.
“I was hoping to get a fight in August, and this is the fight they gave me,” Nijem said. “He’s undefeated. He beat a ‘TUF’ winner in 38 seconds. He was a legacy champion. There’s a lot of hype around him. The only thing is I’m coming into this fight representing a lot more, and I have no choice but to go out and make another performance.
“I’m going to go win a title and this guy is in my way. I’m not concerned with whoever the opponent is going to be, whatever his name is, what his style is. I’m going out there doing my best to make statements and keep moving up the lightweight division.”
Nijem probably won’t have the same type of response when he walks to the cage in California, even if it is his home state. But that’s just fine for the 26-year-old, who no longer wants to be known as “Stripper Ramsey.” He’s elevated himself to a more meaningful role, and with the Palestinian people’s struggles on his mind, Nijem is ready to elevate his position in the sport, as well.
“Everybody knows what’s going on now in the Middle East, and it’s really kind of a frustrating situation for most Palestinians,” Nijem said. “It’s a heavy-hearted situation. Anytime there’s a time of war, a lot of families are being separated and stuff like that, so if I can just go out and put on a great performance and carry a Palestinian flag out to the cage and give everybody an hour to just get away from all that, I’ve done my job.”
For more on UFC 177, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.
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