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John Makdessi: Mind over matter the key to success at UFC Fight Night 209

Makdessi challenges former training partner Nasrat Haqparast at the UFC's debut event in Paris.
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Life hasn't been easy for John Makdessi over the last decade-and-a-half of his professional mixed martial arts career. Overcome with numerous injuries time and again, the most fans got to see from the Canadian born lightweight was three fights in one year, all the way back in 2015.

Other than that year, which saw his performances dip when competing so frequently, suffering two consecutive losses, Makdessi now competes once or twice a year at most. But being in the world's top MMA organization for so long, Makdessi has still gained valuable experience against 18 UFC athletes.

"In general, life throws a lot of unexpected things at you, but, for me, it's more about passion," Makdessi said about being able to stay at the top level of mixed martial arts for over a decade. "I've been very deeply passionate, and I've been willing to put MMA first. It's all about a combination of discipline, passion and pushing through adversity."

"I've always been plagued with injuries in my career," Makdessi said. "If you look at my history, I don't have a lot of fights, I fight once or twice a year. That's not because I want to, it's because of life. A lot of bullsh-t things outside in my personal life."

It's difficult to imagine how passionate he must be to continue this mixed martial arts journey while battling the physical toll of being a professional fighter. But to find fulfillment in his life, there needs to be a challenge, a hurdle that needs to be overcome.

For "The Bull," that hurdle is fighting. In a sport that constantly evolves and grows in competition, every new fight presents a different obstacle that requires a new look on his training and preparation.

"For me, (MMA) is a challenge," Makdessi said. "That's why I always come back to it; I'm very attracted to it because it scares me. That's why I do it. If things are easy, for me, I get turned off, but things that scare me and are more challenging, I'm more gravitated towards it."

One constant challenge throughout Makdessi's career is his size compared to the rest of the field in the UFC lightweight division. Staying at or around 170 pounds outside of his training camps, the cut to 155 is rather easy. And for those who may not fully grasp weight cutting, many lightweights can cut from 180 pounds or more and rehydrate prior to fight night, giving them a competitive edge over lighter opponents.

In "The Bull's" latest bout in April, he fought a 6-foot-3 UFC up-and-comer in Ignacio Bahamondes, who had a lot of hype behind him after his highlight reel front kick knockout on Dana White's Contender Series.

If the seven-inch height disadvantage wasn't enough to pose an injury prone Makdessi problems, having his opponent miss weight the day before the fight wouldn't make things any better.

Coming into the fight injured, Makdessi was able to overcome all the odds that were stacked up against him and derail Bahamondes' hype train.

"My last fight, I fought a guy (when I had a) torn rotator cuff, with a broken foot, and I beat him with a jab," Makdessi said. "This guy was an up-and-comer. It's (all) mental for me."

Building that mental fortitude stemmed from a gym change. Moving his camp from Montreal, Canada at Tristar Gym to Phoenix, Arizona at Ultimate Kombat Fitness under coach Javier Torres, "The Bull" is given more time with his coaches, creating an optimal system for how to prepare correctly for a fight.

"This training camp has been one of my best in the sense of maturity, having a good team, having a good head trainer," Makdessi said. "It's more methodical. It's everything I always wanted, everything I always envisioned since I was a child. Having a trainer that can focus on my skill set and improve my skills but also be very methodical, be very strategic because, as a fighter in this sport, you can easily get injured. A lot of things can go more wrong than right."

Although his new camp has given Makdessi (18-7 MMA, 11-7 UFC) the tools to perform at his best and be mentally clear, it simultaneously tarnished a cordial relationship with former training partner and "UFC Fight Night 209: Gane vs. Tuivasa" opponent Nasrat Haqparast (13-5 MMA, 5-4 UFC), which has ignited a rivalry that dates back three years.

The gym change started a back-and-forth online between the two combatants, Haqparast choosing to defend his coaches at Tristar gym, while Makdessi felt he was forced to move on from the gym to receive more personal coaching.

In 2019, the two were scheduled to fight but Haqparast was unable to receive his visa on time to travel to the U.S. Then, in February of this year, Makdessi needed to pull out of their second scheduled bout from injury. Now, on Saturday, the two can settle their score when the UFC touches down in France for the first time in its history.

"It's not just a fight," Makdessi said. "It's not just going in there and [doing my job] and fight, this is more personal for me. I really don't like the kid and I don't think he likes me, so this is going to be a very (fan-friendly) fight to watch because I'm not planning on stepping back."

"I've fought in the biggest stadiums around the world, so I think maturity and my discipline is going to help me win the fight."

This story first published at UFC.com.