Remember the Name: Belal Muhammad, UFC Fighter
Belal Muhammad, a Palestinian-American UFC fighter, knows “it’s all about what you did in your last fight,” so he rarely takes time away from training. While most would recognize a need to rest during the holy month of Ramadan, Muhammad uses this time to train his body and mind to give him an advantage over others.
It is that same mentality that has him focused on his ultimate goal: becoming a UFC champion and mentoring younger Palestinians into believing they can achieve the same success in whatever endeavor they decide to undertake.
Muhammad earned his call to UFC by dominating in the smaller fighting circuits. He was 9-0 before he was notified about his opportunity at a more professional level, but he was not surprised. He fought five fights at Hoosier Fight Club in Indiana, two for Bellator MMA — a California-based MMA promotion — and three for Titan FC, a Florida-based MMA promotion. The Palestinian fighter expected the call from the UFC after he defeated former UFC fighter Steven Carl by TKO to win the Titan FC welterweight championship in 2016.
“I wanted to fight all the best guys I could. Anybody regional that was good, that’s what I was looking for,” Muhammad said. “If I can’t beat these guys, I won’t beat anyone at the UFC.”
Since joining the UFC, Muhammad is 5-2 and has won his last four fights. If he continues on this trajectory, he believes he will get the title match he desires. Until then, he’s ready for any opponent the UFC matches up with him.
Palestine in America spoke with Muhammad several times while he trained for his last fight against Chance Rencountre in July — which he won by unanimous decision — and as he prepares for his next fight on Sept. 22 in Brazil against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos.
Muhammad discussed his ambitions, training regiment and his love for his community.
Your latest fight was during Ramadan. How did you approach it?
I’ve always worked out during Ramadan. I’ve always trained during Ramadan. I’m not one of those [fighters] that will take off. I actually did my whole last camp [in 2017]. I fought in July, so I had to go through the whole camp during Ramadan, so I got used to it. I know what I need to drink, what I need to eat at night that will help me recover in the morning.
A lot of people will say, “Why don’t you just train at night?” But I think it pushes me to that next level.
Everyone is looking for an edge in this game. A lot of guys turn to drugs, steroids [and] proteins. I’m turning to training hard spiritually [and] mentally. And if my mind is strong, my body is going to get stronger. If I can train all day with no food [or] water, when I get to the fight and I am drinking [and] I am eating, it’s going to be a piece of cake.
Palestine in America (PiA): During the week leading up to the fight, describe how you are training:
Belal Muhammad (BM): Fight week is basically just getting timing [right]. It’s not sparring or anything like that. It’s just a lot of mitt work, a lot of jogging to get the weight off. You don’t want to do anything crazy. I cut weights two weeks before [the fight]. When I don’t have a fight, I’m doing heavy lifting. Then when I do get a fight, it’s more cardio lifting. Then close to the fight, I don’t do no weights.
PIA: You’re training three times a day?
BM: Yeah, I do three times.
PiA: So you got two left today?
BM: Right now, I’ll probably hit another wrestling practice in three hours. Then after I eat [break my fast] I’ll have a night practice. Like yesterday I went at 10:30 at night.
PiA: You’re training three times a day. Twice while you’re fasting [during the holy month of Ramadan]. And you do this every day leading up to a fight?
BM: Yeah, leading up. But [the week of the fight] is more tuning it down a little bit. Starting Monday, there will probably be two light practices, just getting the weight off. Next week is literally getting the weight off, nothing hard.
PiA: How did the fight in Utica, NY come about? I know you wanted to be on the Chicago card.
BM: I was trying to get the Chicago fight, but it was one of those where they asked me, “Do you mind going to Utica?” I said, “It doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m fighting.” You know it probably [was easier this way] anyway, because I was already getting so many people in Chicago asking me, “Can I get free tickets?” So, it’ll be a distraction.So, I don’t have to come back here, get distracted and see everybody before my fight. I like going away just because it just puts me in the zone.
PiA: How long do you need to prepare for a fight?
BM: I’m usually training all year round no matter what. So, I’m always in shape and always ready to fight. So, that’s why a lot of my UFC fights where short-notice fights, because I’m always training no matter what. A lot of guys will take off time and they’ll stop training and then they’ll have to get back into shape and then get into camp. Me, I’m always in shape, so I can be ready to fight within two weeks.
PiA: Did you ever imagine this being your profession?
BM: I fought on the streets a couple times, but I never thought about making this a profession.
PiA: This is your full-time job now?
BM: I used to have side jobs and stuff like that — where I would work in a store and then go train — but this is one of those sports you have to be 100 percent in or you’re not going to succeed. I don’t want to be average; I want to be the champion. I’m not going to be satisfied until I’m [the] champion and I’m up there with one of the greats.
PiA: How do you think you’ll get there?
BM: This game is all about evolution. You always got to keep evolving. If you stick to the same stuff, that’s how those guys end up losing and falling off.
PiA: How’d you come up with the nickname “Remember the Name?”
BM: That’s the type fighter I want to be. I want to be one of those guys where the fans are going to want to remember [your fights]. I want to be one of those guys that’s memorable. You have some guys who always have some stupid nicknames like “crazy horse” or something dumb. I didn’t want to come up with one of those. I wanted something real. I want to be remembered. I want people to remember the name. When my name is on the card, people are going to tune in because they know what type of fighter I am. They know I’m exciting and I’m going to bring a fight every single time.
PiA: Does the support from the community motivate you?
BM: It motivates me a lot. I’ll have a lot of people who fly down to watch [my] fights with me. It means a lot to know people have my back, because I know that I’m not only fighting for myself, I’m fighting for my people.
PiA: Is that why you bring out the Palestinian flag before and after each fight?
BM: I’ve been bringing out the flag for every single one of my fights — even before the UFC. I’ve even had shows [in smaller circuits] where they’ll tell me, “Don’t get political” or “Don’t be political with [the flag],” and I’ll look at them like, “I’m never going to shy away from representing my people, representing my country.” People don’t talk for Palestine, so if I’m on a stage where I could bring attention to it, I’m going to do it.
PiA: Has your heritage negatively affected your ability to get the fights you want?
BM: On the smaller shows you can see the promoters had [a negative] attitude toward you. But UFC is the most professional show. They don’t care about that stuff. They don’t care if you’re Muslim or non-Muslim. It’s all about fighting with them. It’s all about if you generate the money, generating the fans and you’re winning, then you’re good. That’s what I love about them. They have so many people on their roster no matter what. Whether you’re Muslim, Palestinian, Brazilian, they don’t care what you are; if you could put on a fight, [the UFC] will promote you.
PiA: Are you trying to motivate other Palestinians to follow in your footsteps?
BM: We have probably five or six Palestinian kids [who train with me], and they’re all young up-and-comers all trying to work hard. Most of the times, you think of Palestinians or Arabs, you think of them working in stores thinking they can't do anything more than [work in] a store. So if I could bring [the idea] to people, “Hey you can be a professional athlete, you can do whatever you want, if you work hard,” it’ll mean a lot. It’ll change the game.