Filth ain't filth if it's funny!
When you look at him you might think to yourself, ‘Pretty boy gym rat’. Visually Hayder Hassan oozes cockiness and self confidence; which can be mistaken for the false bravado of the ‘Just let me bang, Bro!’ mentality. Looks are definitely misleading.
Coming from a family that emigrated from Iraq to America; Hayder was taught to appreciate the freedom and safety that the United States provided from Saddam Hussein’s regime. Tradition and familial expectations were always paramount in his life along with pride in his heritage.
Throughout his childhood Hayder used sports as his release; participating in karate, wrestling, and American football. When most children were experimenting with sex and drugs, Hayder focused on studies and his chosen sport of the moment.
Knowing what was expected of him Hayder continued on to university after high school. This time he chose to dedicate the majority of his attention to his studies, cleaving sports out of his life entirely.
For the first time, Hayder was able let loose and experience life, suppressing the need to compete. Attempt to walk the path that was expected of him from successful parents who risked everything by leaving family, friends, and careers in Iraq so that he and his brother would be safe.
When did your parents emigrate from Iraq?
HH: In the 1970’s my parents brought my brother and me to America. We’re Americans now but I don’t forget where I came from.
I’m thinking of the time frame. Iraq didn’t become modern day Iraq until after the first war in the1990’s. If your family left Iraq in the 70’s Iraq was still a prosperous nation.
HH: Yeah, during that time my father had to escape from Iraq because of the regime under Saddam. My dad’s brother was hung by Saddam in the public square. Over there you’re not allowed to speak against the government.
Here we can complain openly about our Congress. Over there, at that time, if you mention anything about the government or Saddam, they have the secret police, the republican guard, and you don’t even know who they are. They’re dressed in plain clothes, they can be your neighbors or co workers, you never know.
You can say something and the next thing you know the secret police are knocking at your door and you’re never seen again. My dad was snuck out through the desert then flew from Egypt. He did his residency at John Hopkins. His family was kicked out of Iraq after the brother was hung.
But that story is a dime a dozen. Every family in Iraq has lost a relative or has simply never seen them again. Saddam’s biggest fear was people of intellect. Those were the people that were his biggest threats during elections.
My dad’s brother was the top engineer in Iraq, my father a physician who did his studies at John Hopkins, my mother is a clinical psychologist. Saddam took the smartest professors, scientists, engineers, doctors and had them killed. The country now is a mess. It’s crazy.
“You can only cage an animal so long. I felt like I was being caged.” – Hayder Hassan
With that personal history do you hold a grudge or any bitterness? Do you have a strong desire to go back and see your ‘homeland’? Even though we’ve stolen you? You’re ours now.
HH: I’d definitely love to go back at some point but right now everything is so crazy over there. It’s all risk and no reward. My grandmother lives there, she’s older and wants to pass away there. Hopefully, in the near future, every thing that’s going on with ISIS will be eradicated. There’s more good than bad. As long as the good will step up and face the bad we can hope for the best, God willing.
When did you start training with American Top Team?
HH: I started through the amateur program in 2008, had my first fight in 2009. I was like a plant that they planted and all their tools made into the fighter I am today. Surrounded by the best of the best; the best coaches and not only that but your teammates are some of the best in the world. Iron sharpens iron.
Anytime you’re grinding with the best in the world, you’re going to produce a badass fighter. At ATT its sink or swim, the guys that can survive are the toughest ones.
You got rid of your amateur status in a year?
HH: I didn’t have any amateur fights; I turned pro right off the bat. I was training about six months with the amateur team before I got asked to join the professionals.
Once I joined the pros I started sparring with them, wrestling with them. I had a wrestling background from a high school that has one of the most decorated wrestling programs in the state of Florida.
I was already an athlete, I could always scrap, and I was tough. At the time I joined the gym we were sparring three times a week. My first day I was sparring with Thiago Silva, Wilson Gouveia, Alessio Sakara and other 225lbs-230lbs fighters. I was only about 188lbs. Sink or swim.
I brought it, and they saw what I was capable of. I left with two black eyes and a coconut on my forehead. I took Silva down, he got pissed and he kneed me as hard as he could in the face.
For me it was the happiest day in my life. After I graduated college I was working for a pharmaceutical for company and I was miserable. I’d get kneed in the head one hundred times a day in order to do something that I love, that I’m super passionate about.
What was it like in college? You seem like a very competitive person who gets fired up easily, how did you quench that competitive streak?
HH: Honestly I was really reserved in college. When you go from being an athlete your entire life and then you stop. It was hard. I just replaced every thing with studying; after I got my degree I started working.
Once I got to American Top Team, it reignited all the fire I had. You can only cage an animal so long. I felt like I was being caged. I was working, I was making money but I wasn’t happy. It broke me down emotionally.
I went to my mom and told her I was miserable. My obligation to my family was my degree.
I’ve never quit anything in my life but my mom told me, ‘If you’re not happy you don’t have to do this. You can do something else.’ Right after that my brother took me to ATT. And everything just fell into place.
So your mom unleashed the beast?
HH: Yeah, my mom unleashed the beast. (Laughing) Little did she know.
Did you do any thrill seeking in college? How can you contain yourself for so long, knowing that is not for you; you’re bored, you’re restless. Usually people who feel that way act out, do something silly, go partying.
HH: I was in a fraternity in college. I went to Florida State University, it’s well known for it’s eccentrics and the party scene. I had my fun. When I was in high school I was a straight a student. I was nothing but school and sports. When I got to college I replaced sports with having fun. I’d never experienced that before.
The first time I went to a club or party was in college. I popped my cherries in more ways than one. I guess that’s why I’m so calm now. I unleashed the party beast a little bit and took care of that urge in college.
Do you plan to go back to school after your fighting career? Have you thought that far ahead yet?
HH: I finished my degree, but as far as the fight game? Skills pay the bills. I know I have the skills to back up everything I say. I know I’m going to be a world champ, God willing, as long as I can stay healthy and keep doing what I’m doing. I’d like to stay in the sport after I retire. Maybe have an American Top Team satellite school down the line.
Mixed martial arts are opening up all over the world. Jiu Jitsu is a national sport in Dubai now; instead of kids doing physical education they’re learning Jiu Jitsu in school. A couple of weeks ago they had mma sanctioned events in Iraq. I want to establish my name and open up gyms in the Middle East.
Have you done any Jiu Jitsu competitions in the Middle East? Do you compete in it or just study it? I see on The Ultimate Fighter television show you’re a head hunter, seeking the knockout. Training with Mr. Liborio you must be good on the ground.
HH: I’m a knockout artist. It doesn’t matter. If you give me your neck I’m not going to look to choke you out. I’m going to look to throw an upper cut, left hook, right hand combination. That’s just the way I’m programmed.
Training at ATT with Liborio and Conan, we’re known for our Jiu Jitsu, my ground game is top notch. I’m a defensive Jiu Jitsu guy; all my Jiu Jitsu is designed to stay out of submissions.
I’ve never competed in any Jiu Jitsu tournaments. I use my wrestling background to keep the fight standing. You’ll see, you’ll be pumped I promise you that! I come out to knock your head into the upper deck. You’ll see. I have some big fights coming up on the show.
I saw that you’ve already beaten the Blackzilian’s Jason Jackson before the show.
HH: Yeah, I fought him about a year before. Going into the The Ultimate Fighter house I’d already beaten 2 Blackzilians in the Titan promotion. I was already 2-0 against them.
I knocked Jason Jackson out and knocked out Felipe Portela. Those were my last two fights coming into the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I fractured my hand on Portela’s face Halloween night. I was supposed to be the first fight in the TUF house but the doctors wanted me to wait two weeks. That’s why I haven’t fought yet, but I’m coming up.
You’re just itching to get in there and save your team. We’ve just finished week four and American Top Team is down four fights.
HH: Yeah, we’ve lost all 4 fights so far, that’s why you see me Jonesing to get in there and I’m talking so much. Conditioning wise I’m ready to fight; I’m trying to get in there as soon as possible but I’m being held back by the reigns
At this point, the Blackzilians are talking their smack. At the first fight, when they started yelling you’re going to die, that’s when I flipped the switch. I was like, Alright you guys just got bulls eye on all of your backs; I’m coming to kill all of you.
You took that personally?
Extremely. I took the whole show personally. Fighting is personal. If you’re second in fighting that means someone just beat you up. I refuse to let my mom watch me get beat up, that’s why I train so hard.
I’m extremely competitive and I don’t like my family being disrespected; the Blackzilians are doing a lot of disrespecting. I don’t like to lose. We did it to ourselves, losing four fights in a row. That being said, I’m still going to back up my family from when the minute starts until the minute ends.
When you see me on television yelling or talking trash, that’s all coming from the heart. I say it with confidence because I’m a fighter that brings it.
If you’re scared of me you’re going to get knocked out. If you try to wrestle me or your game plan is to hold me against the cage, then good luck.
I have some of the fastest hands division. You can’t keep me there; you’re just going to get tired. I have cardio for days, I don’t get tired. Pick your poison. You’re going to be staring at the lights wondering, What the hell just happened to me?
Well you definitely have the confidence and cockiness.
HH: Thank you, I appreciate it. It’s just hard work; I’ve been at this game a long time. I sacrifice everything for this sport. I live and breathe it. I don’t drink, I don’t party.
I lost three and a half years due to hand injuries. Now that I’m healthy, I’m very grateful for every opportunity to fight. Every minute you have in this sport you have to take advantage of it. That’s why I’m so vocal. I’m very passionate about it and very passionate about achieving my dreams. I’m not going to stop until it’s done.