Saad Awad believes he is still a work in progress. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
It’s hard to argue against the notion that Saad Awad is one of the best lightweights in the sport, not just in Bellator MMA.
Since maturing from a know-it-all slacker type of fighter into what he is today, Awad has truly come into his own. The Californian is as determined as ever and with each passing fight, he continues to improve by leaps and bounds.
If you ask him about his position in the sport and how much better he can become, Awad is quick to point out that what he doesn’t know could fill a library. But that wasn’t always the case with the 32-year-old “Assassin,” and what’s refreshing is that Awad doesn’t sugarcoat anything and owns up to what most might consider lost time.
“When I look back on those times, I was only training three times a week for about an hour a day,” Awad told Sherdog.com, referring to when he never made it into the house for the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 16. “I would take three, four days off and was partying every weekend. I never trained Friday, Saturday or Sunday; those were my days off. I thought I was good enough, and I would lose some fights that I shouldn’t have lost.”
Becoming a cast member on the popular reality show could have done wonders for the young fighter from San Bernardino. Still, he was in the mindset that fighting was easy and that he could do whatever the heck he wanted, oblivious to the fact that he flushing away his talents. Even when the UFC called him to try out for the show, it didn’t click in his head.
“When they called me up about the show, even then I wasn’t training like I should have been, like I am now,” he admitted. “When I got to the show, I wasn’t prepared at all and the guy beat me. I learned a lot from it. When I look back on it, I know I wasn’t doing anything anywhere enough as I should’ve been. I was devastated, but it was probably what was best for me.”
Awad woke up and realized that that might have been his only chance to become the type of fighter that everybody discusses. He cleaned up his act and made immense changes to his lifestyle.
“Man, I changed everything,” he stated. “Literally everything. From my diet, to how often I trained, for how long I trained, to training with the gi... I used to never train with the gi before but now I do. I do everything differently. I don’t screw around at all anymore.”
The results speak for themselves. He’s been on a tear lately, winning three straight and seven of his last nine. The only losses during the serious phase of his career came to two of the best at 155: David Rickels and current Bellator lightweight monarch Will Brooks, a man Awad conquered previously.
Awad is slated to fight tough Brazilian Patricky Freire on Friday night in one of the featured bouts of Bellator 141. A powerful striker with a lot to prove, Freire has his back against the wall and desperately needs to defeat Awad in order to stay relevant.
Awad understands the position Freire is in and is prepared for a man who will stop at nothing to win. While his opponent is knows for his powerful striking, Awad says Freire’s grappling game is among the best. Hanging around with submission guru Marcin Held for three rounds is a testament to how splendid Freire is on the ground, but Awad also said he’s not sure what style of fight Freire will bring to the table.
“I kind of thought my last opponent [Rob Sinclair] was going to come out and be very aggressive, but he kind of just circled around for three rounds, so I don’t know what [Freire] will do,” he said. “One of two things will happen, though; either he comes out aggressively or he comes out looking to play it safe and try to counter me. So, I’ve been preparing for both styles.”
Regardless of what Freire tries to do, Awad said he is ready. He promised that he’s in the best shape of his life, which is what every fighter says before a battle, but Awad is serious and convincing. He is a man more focused than ever and is on the verge of taking the lightweight division by storm. But even with how dramatically he’s improved over the last few years, Awad thinks he’s a long way away from being the absolute best.
“I feel as though I’m a pretty well-rounded fighter but there is so much that I don’t know and so much I need to learn,” he said. “Honestly, if you really look at it, I’m just a white belt in MMA and that’s what pushes me to train harder. I always want to keep learning better technique, better striking, more jiu-jitsu, everything. I don’t know anything right now and that’s what keeps me motivated.”