The Singapore mega gym’s roster is home to a plethora of elite ONE Championship athletes, so the Afghan-born veteran’s influence will immediately shape the martial arts squad.
Stars such as ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan, Amir Khan, Troy “Pretty Boy” Worthen, and Ritu “The Indian Tigress” Phogat will benefit from Bahadurzada’s vast experience in mixed martial arts and — along with the other world-class coaches – he aims to push them toward success on the global stage.
In this exclusive interview with “The Great,” he reveals how he arrived at Evolve, how he is adapting to his new role, and how he plans to further develop the gym’s athletes.
ONE Championship: You decided to take a break from competing to venture into coaching. This is a new direction in your career. What was behind that decision?
Siyar Bahadurzada: I was here during a tryout for a month and that’s when I fell in love with the process of coaching. I wanted a new challenge.
In the last 15 years of high-level competition, I have always tried to inspire a lot of people and help them stay away from drugs and criminal stuff in Afghanistan, and inspire them to do more mixed martial arts.
To a certain point, I succeeded in that and created a big culture of mixed martial arts in Afghanistan. Nowadays, thousands of athletes are making their life out of this sport. That’s something that really means a lot to me.
When I came to Evolve, as I started coaching, I felt the same satisfaction with helping the students get better, helping them to achieve their dreams, and inspiring their nations through them.
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ONE: Do you feel your life story has helped you relate to the international athletes at Evolve?
SB: Absolutely. These athletes put in the hard work. They train day and night, they stay away from their families, they stay away from their countries, they eat things they don’t like, and they drink things they don’t like.
This is something I did myself, and now I see these guys doing it. They’re motivated and they’re inspired to achieve their dreams. It’s a great look, and it’s very inspiring to be around these athletes.
Also, this way, I stay very close to mixed martial arts, which I really love. And in the process, I see these athletes day in and day out. They’re getting better, and I receive a different kind of satisfaction, seeing them do better every week.
ONE: With your struggles and success, a lot of the athletes under your care would aspire to be like you. How does that feel?
SB: I’ve been through a lot of gyms and I’ve trained with a lot of coaches. I’ve had some great coaches and I’ve had some less-great coaches. So, throughout the two decades of my experience in mixed martial arts, I created this knowledge – the things that worked, how to make athletes better, and how to get them to understand the fight game.
The fight game is not just physical — it also has a lot to do with the mental game, so I’m not just trying to get them in great physical shape. I try to also get them in a good state of mind and try to keep them positive. I try to give them a mindset that fighting has a lot to do with physical [ability], but when it comes to competing and performing, it’s also mostly mental.
I try to make them understand my concept of coaching and my concept of teaching mixed martial arts, so there are no questions in the back of their heads like, ‘Why do we do this specific thing?’ Or, ‘What has this got to do with our way of training or getting better?’
This way, what I didn’t have myself throughout these years — I just had it in a short run in the last couple of years — I try to teach to these guys and I try to be the coach for these guys that I never had.
ONE: You have trained under some of the top names, at the best gyms, and have held elite company. Is that why you felt you could take on this challenge with Evolve?
SB: Correct. Also, there are two different types when it comes down to striking – one is Thai boxing and kickboxing, and the other is mixed martial arts striking.
Translating these two very different styles into mixed martial arts is a little tricky and throughout all these years, I’ve been around a lot of great strikers. Now at Evolve, I’m around a lot of great Thai boxers.
I get my inspiration from the sessions at Evolve, but also throughout the two decades that I’ve trained in Amsterdam and other gyms, I have gained a good understanding of striking, what works in mixed martial arts and what doesn’t. So, yeah, I’m trying to teach that.
ONE: How did your affiliation with Evolve begin?
When I saw the ad that they were looking for a head coach, I wrote them an email. It’s just as simple as that. I said who I am and what I’ve done. They contacted me and said, ‘Would you like to come for a month to coach here?’
I said I would love to, and then that’s when I decided to come here and do the trial for a month. When I saw that we had great grapplers, great strikers, and great wrestlers on the team, it was a great challenge for me – and knowing myself, I love to take on challenges. I was sold right away.
ONE: What is it like being the head coach and having so many World Champion coaches alongside you?
SB: The great thing about Evolve is that we have the best of every discipline. We have the best grapplers, we have the best BJJ instructors, we have the best boxing instructors, and we have the best Muay Thai instructors.
My job as a head coach is to see how I can regulate these coaches, and how I can ask these coaches to teach the things that I think are best for mixed martial arts and best individually for every athlete.
I don’t throw something in the group and say that everybody should do the same thing. I tailor my training and I analyze every athlete individually. I work with them when they have fights individually. I work with jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing the way that I think fits their style best.
I work on making them better by developing their instincts, what they instinctively do when they fight, and what they instinctively do when they train.
ONE: Who has been the greatest inspiration to you now that you are a head coach?
SB: I’d have to say Greg Jackson. Everything — like the way this guy breaks down the fight game — completely changed my career, my life, and my outlook on fighting, and I take him as a great inspiration.
ONE: Since you have been at Evolve, you have experienced cornering your athletes on a ONE Championship event night. What is your overall impression of the organization?
SB: It is very professional. They put their athletes first. They build their athletes’ images. I’ve been to many organizations, and I think ONE is by far the most professional. It has the best production and mixed martial arts in the game.
ONE: ONE Championship is all about promoting the positive values of martial arts. Was that something that naturally aligned with you?
SB: Absolutely. Chatri [Sityodtong, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO] — who is a great leader, and the way he leads ONE is admirable — likes to inspire people and bring out their greatness. That’s what inspired me the most. It’s all about respect. It’s all about martial arts, and ONE Championship promotes mixed martial arts – and martial arts, in general.
The respect, integrity, and hard work that comes with martial arts is something that really intrigued me. I’m not really into trash talk and disrespecting opponents, and that’s something that doesn’t happen at ONE Championship. That’s something that I love the most about ONE Championship.