Saturday, May 4, saw Combate announce that accomplished but disgraced Greco-Roman wrestler, Amir Aliakbari had signed to the UFC, completing a five-year journey to leave his past behind.
Remember the name
In October of 2014, Bloody Elbow HOF columnist, Coach Mike R declared that we would see more Iranian and Russian wrestling stars in MMA, ‘when they get lifetime bans for doping, we’ll see them in more prize fights.’ The article briefly touched on Aliakbari’s indiscretions, and I’ll return to that shortly but for now, mark this piece as Aliakbari’s MMA ‘toe-dip’ moment.
Almost exactly a year later, and two weeks prior to his professional debut at Full Metal Dojo 7: Full Metal Massacre, Fox Sports heralded his arrival with a long-form feature, “Iranian wrestler Amir Aliakbari could be the next great MMA prospect.” It appeared to have been a busy year for Aliakbari, training with UFC veterans, Soa Palelei and Mike Swick at ATT Thailand. His new teammates were beyond enthused to have him in their ranks, touting him as “a future force in the heavyweight division” and a talent that is “out of this world.”
Whatever it takes
Finally, regulars of the Joe Rogan Experience could have caught a glimpse of Amir Aliakbari on Episode #890, previewing RIZIN’s 2016 World Heavyweight Grand Prix. The Iranian had been announced as a tournament participant alongside notable names such as King Mo and UFC and Pride veteran, Heath Herring. “Oh is this the wrestler?” asked Rogan, “yeah” replied Schaub, “this dude is scary.” A photo of Aliakbari was shown wrestling former UFC middleweight Mike Swick and another AKA Thailand team-mate, simultaneously.
Aliakbari duly went on to beat Herring, and subsequently undefeated world Sambo champion Valentin Moldavsky, only to be stopped in the tournament final by the great Mirko Cro Cop.
Despite eventually losing the bout, his performances throughout his time at ACA and RIZIN had put heavyweights across the world on notice. Aliakbari displays the incredible agility and athleticism at over 250-pounds, born of a lifetime on the mats. He also carries the aggressive disposition of a man who will do whatever it takes to win.
From the frying pan into the fire
But when you consider the narrative underlying Friday’s signing, the tone quickly becomes sour. PEDs have defined the UFC’s last 12 months; champions have been suspended, athletic commissions have been swerved, and that’s without mentioning picograms…
Ironically, the UFC’s drug testing protocol is proving to be too accurate. Roster-wide social media witch hunts have become regular occurrences whenever a whiff of indiscretion arises, and the current punishment system can see fighters face the same punishment for taking the world’s most powerful anabolic steroid as taking a mild fat burner.
Perfect time to sign an athlete who had a world championship stripped, was pulled from Olympic competition and then received a lifetime ban for multiple doping issues then, no?
His media voice does nothing to quell any doubts in this regard, either. In the 2015 interview with Fox referenced earlier, he made no bones about his immediate UFC championship aspirations.
“I’ve been on that level before, I’ve been a world champion, and I know what it feels like. I know what kind of dedication I need to put into it. I know what kind of hard work I need to put into it. I already have the discipline and by all means, my goal is the belt.”
It’s almost as if he is daring the reader to challenge the extent to which he will go to succeed. Even more worryingly, the article omits his suspensions and ultimate ban entirely. Instead, it reads like a PR campaign citing a generational talent and future champion.
Interestingly, the article features no comment from Aliakbari’s most famous AKA training partner, fellow heavyweight Mark Hunt, one of the loudest voices against the UFC’s treatment policy of PED users. It would, however, be unfair and presumptuous to suggest any potential use of PEDs in his MMA career to date, especially considering the famously strict testing policy employed by RIZIN…
These points are not an accusation or condemnation of Aliakbari. They are merely a recap of his track record as a professional athlete. They are also an examination of the environment he is about to enter. One thing is certain, there’ll be no shortage of attention on his introduction to the promotion.
Under the UFC anti-doping policy, fighters who have a past doping violation must be in the USADA drug-testing pool for six months. They also may be required to pass two drug tests before making their UFC debut.
Looking back to Bloody Elbow’s article in 2014, it that marked the start of Aliakbari’s journey to the UFC. Now, with outlets such as Cris Cyborg’s official website hailing his talents, Coach Mike’s comments are darkly prophetic.
“His history of PED use probably won’t hold him back, in all probability it will probably do the opposite.”
Rhodri Morgan is a combat sports writer based out of London, England. When not covering MMA, he can be found roaming the halls of a south London Wholefoods, finding a dog to befriend and rolling in the doomed pursuit of the perfect kimura.