Competing on this season’s “Ultimate Fighter” brings Hayder Hassan’s career full-circle. But in one sense, that circle doesn’t take up a lot of space. Hassan is the only native Floridian on the new season of the reality series, which pits welterweights from two top South Florida gyms against each other in a quest for supremacy.
The season debuts Wednesday, April 22, at 10 p.m. on Fox Sports 1. Hassan was born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, just a few miles south of the American Top Team gym in Coconut Creek. He said the opportunity to compete on one of UFC’s grandest stages so close to home was a dream come true. “I’ve tried out for this [TUF] twice before, but everything happens for a reason,” Hassan said.
“To do it this way, represent American Top Team and fight in your own gym, is one of the great blessings.” Hassan, 32, had a 6-1 record in seven pro fights before entering the “Ultimate Fighter” house, with seven different fight promotions all within the state of Florida.
His highest-profile wins have been a Strikeforce knockout of Ryan Keenan, and a TKO of Jason Jackson – now a Blackzilians fighter and Hassan’s fellow cast member. “The fight game is a hard road, a roller coaster of emotions, especially when you’re fighting in local shows trying to build a record,” said Hassan, whose parents are of Iraqi descent.
“I’ve been building my hopes and dreams, and to do this in my backyard, you can’t replicate it.” The gym-vs.-gym format of this season’s “Ultimate Fighter” is different, but one thing hasn’t changed – all 16 cast members lived together in a house during the filming of the show. Hassan said there will be just a few fireworks to look forward to with those interactions.
“There were definitely some heated arguments, but as far as fighters go, we all have a respect for each other,” Hassan said. “For sure no one wanted to lose, but it’s a little strange when you’re making eggs for somebody in the morning, then fighting them in the afternoon.”
The different format also meant the fighters from each gym had a special camaraderie from the beginning – they weren’t the draft picks of a coach, left to cheer for one another just because they were wearing the same colors. That was a change that Hassan welcomed.
“Fighting and training [on the show] in your own gym just reminds you what you’re fighting for,” Hassan said. “It’s a rivalry – no matter how much animosity there is, you’re fighting to see who is the best in Florida, and really the best in the country. It’s a perfect recipe for perfect TV drama.”
By Jay Reddick