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SYDNEY – It’s somewhat of a family affair for the Mokhtarians at UFC Fight Night 121.
When he enters the octagon at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney to meet Ryan Benoit (9-5 MMA, 2-3 UFC), Ashkan Mokhtarian (13-2 MMA, 0-1 UFC) will have his brother, Suman, on his corner. Suman (8-0 MMA) not only is a fellow MMA fighter and the head coach of Australian Top Team, he’s also the person who, at 16, gave Ashkan the wake-up call he needed to turn his turbulent life around.
So, as he looks to rebound from a UFC debut loss to John Moraga, Ashkan must give credit where it’s due.
“I can’t see myself losing,” Mokhtarian told reporters in a lengthy, passionate chat ahead of the FS1-televised preliminary card bout. “I hope (Benoit) brings the fight, because I’m there to fight. I’ve got the best coaches. I’ve got the best support crew. I can’t ask for anything more. It’s not just a coach I have next to me: I have my right hand man. I have my brother.
“When I have an insecurity, when I have something that I’m worried about, I look at him with full confidence that he’s going to give me the upmost truth. And there’s where I believe most of my confidence and most of my victories come from.”
Ashkan means the “next to me” bit literally – as he stood in front of the cameras after this week’s open workouts, his brother was by his side. Suman, it turns out, will be cornering another Australian Top Team member that night: his girlfriend, Nadia Kassem.
Kassem (4-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) makes her UFC debut opposite Alex Chambers (5-3 MMA, 1-2 UFC) in a strawweight bout in the UFC Fight Pass-streamed preliminary portion of the evening.
When brought into the conversation by reporters, Suman is clear in that the occasion is not about him – rather, it’s about Ashkan and Kassem. But, once he gets started, it’s hard to miss a somewhat familiar impassioned tone.
“Obviously it’s a bit stressful – I’ve got my brother and my girlfriend on the same card,” Suman said. “But, just like my brother, when the bright lights are on him, usually he’s going to come to perform. I think I’ve had to step my game up, like my brother says, as a father, a husband, as boyfriend, as a coach, as a brother, I had to step up as well. It’s made us all better people, together.
“In a time like this – my brother can be selfish, my girlfriend can be selfish, I can be selfish. But in times like that, in times when we fight, when we make up, it kind of makes us all better. And it drives us all to be just a little bit hungrier.”
Mokhtarian and Kassem might be the only two representatives of Australian Top Team in the UFC for now. But like Ashkan, who believes soon it will be his brother up there, Suman is fully confident that this is just the beginning of what the team is going to accomplish.
“Don’t be surprised if next year you see five, six of us in the UFC,” Suman said.
To hear Ashkan and Suman Mokhtarian’s full speeches, which we highly recommend, check out the video above.
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