A month out from his historic debut in the UFC next month, UAE’s Mohammad Yahya is already talking a big game.
The first fighter from the Emirates, and the Gulf region, to sign with the world’s leading MMA promotion, Yahya will make his UFC bow against Trevor Peek on Oct. 21 at Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena.
Peek may have experience on his side given it will be his third UFC outing, but Yahya believes the home court advantage will tip the odds in his favor.
“He has one win, one loss in the UFC. But he’s coming to my turf, he’s coming to my land, so he’s the one who’s going to be nervous,” Yahya told Arab News in an interview.
“I’ve fought in Etihad Arena, I defended my belt there, three, four times. That arena is basically my home. So he’s coming to fight me there, he’s the one who needs to be nervous and he has a tough fight in front of him and I’m coming for the kill.”
Yahya’s words sound all the more convincing when you realize that they are accompanied by a soft-spoken voice and an ice-cold demeanor.
The 29-year-old has indeed defended his UAE Warriors Arabia lightweight championship title on three occasions at Abu Dhabi’s state-of-the-art indoor arena, most recently last February, and enters his clash with Peek at UFC 294 carrying a five-fight winning streak.
Based in Dubai and training out of TK MMA Fit gym in Media City, Yahya first fell in love with mixed martial arts at the age of 14, watching it on television with his brother and cousins.
“My brother said it’s kind of like WWE, but they actually fight. I was shocked that they were actually hitting each other for real and they’re fighting,” Yahya said.
“And then over the years we just kept following the UFC, watching the events and then the Ultimate Fighter came out, I watched a few of their seasons.
“I wanted to find somewhere to train in the UAE but there weren’t that many gyms, so I ended up finding some kung fu gym and trained there; ended up loving it and had my first fight and just loved it and kept on doing it.”
Yahya began his career in Tam Khan’s Dubai Fighting Championship in 2012 before joining regional promotion Desert Force. He signed a multi-fight deal with Bellator in 2017 then made his way to UAE Warriors two years later.
It has admittedly been a long road, but Yahya insists that he always knew the day would come where he would step into the octagon on the sport’s grandest stage.
“Honestly from a very young age, I always knew I would (make it to the UFC). I stood out and I always put the training in,” he said.
“I think anyone can achieve their dreams with a lot of hard work and determination. And obviously we are in the land of opportunities, the fight capital of Abu Dhabi.
“I had a feeling that I was going to be on this card for maybe about a year. I knew UFC came last year. And then I said, ‘OK, maybe I’ll get on next one’. Then I see the poster and I just felt like I would be on this event and I finally got the opportunity.”
Yahya has had the support of his parents from the start and says that they were particularly pleased with how it introduced discipline to his life “in a different way” during his teen years.
“I was doing better in school, I wasn’t getting in trouble and they could see how dedicated I was to the sport. Now they’re super proud of me that I’m in the UFC,” he said.
“It’s called mixed martial arts, it’s an art. And some people love to express their feelings in what they do and how they perform. So it might look like a crazy sport to some people, and violent, but it’s basically our way of expressing ourselves to people.”
Yahya comes off as an exceptionally calm person, and he says that it is an attribute he relies on heavily in the cage.
“I’m kind of calm in the cage, too. When I was younger, I was more energetic and more wild but now I feel like I’m just focused and I’m very wise and do what I need to do in the cage,” he said.
That level-headedness will come in handy as the hype continues to build up for UFC 294, which will be headlined by Islam Makhachev and Charles Oliveira, in a rematch of their UFC 280 bout in Abu Dhabi last year.
Yahya is well aware that being the first from the GCC region comes with great responsibility and this is something that he does not taking lightly.
“Obviously, I’m representing the whole nation, I’m representing my country as I’ve always done. I wouldn’t have accepted this opportunity if I wasn’t ready. I knew I can do this and I’m looking to make a lot of people proud on 21 October,” he said.
“My approach is as every fight, normally I’m very calm for the fight, I’m never nervous. Obviously, this is a whole different game, it’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship, so it’s the ultimate. And obviously there’s going to be 15,000 16,000 people there and observe. I think the last pay-per-view on this when Islam and Oliveira fought, it sold 50 million pay-per-views, or 40 million pay-per-views.
“No one wants to get knocked out in front of those people and lose. So I’m taking this fight very seriously. The pressure is obviously there but you have to overcome it, that’s what makes you different to other people, it’s how you deal with all that pressure.”