The Allegory of the Cage

Part Two: Zahabi Discusses Bullying, Offers Training Advice and Recounts How He Met Miguel Torres

Graphic David Barlow-Krelina

Firas Zahabi is the first Canadian mixed martial arts trainer to be nominated for a World MMA award. This week he sat down with The Link to discuss bullying, some of his training methods and his recent collaboration with fighter Miguel Torres.

The Link: MMA fighter Daniel Puder recently spoke out against homophobic bullying. Puder offered the victims of homophobic bullying to send him an email so that he could make arrangements to talk to the bullies himself. It seems like every month you hear about some fighter using a homophobic slur to describe his opponent; how do you prevent that?

Zahabi: There’s no room in this sport for any kind of bullying. I think we have to clean up the way we talk to each other and the way we treat each other. This should be a gentleman’s sport and we should set an example for kids out there because martial arts are rooted in humility and respect.

If we put up with bullying now, then we’re going to breed a generation of bullies. If I ever find out one of my guys is pushing someone around or starting fights outside of class he’ll have to answer to me. My guys don’t bully and if they do they get kicked out of the gym. I’ll even call every other MMA gym in town to make sure they don’t train this guy. The tools you learn as a fighter come with the responsibility of knowing when and how to use them. And they should never be used to bully someone.

Your fighters also train at the Montreal Wrestling Club with former Olympian Victor Zilberman and they sometimes box with the Grant brothers at their Montreal gym. Why outsource those aspects of MMA training?

There’s a good way to train, a better way to train and there’s the best way to train. You can be doing something that works but that doesn’t mean someone else isn’t out there doing it better. That’s why we send our fighters to train with experts in certain disciplines. We do it to give them the best tools possible so they can become more complete fighters.

Recently you started training former World Extreme Championship bantamweight champion Miguel Torres. How did you two get together?

He was promoting something in Montreal. He came by the gym to train and we hit it off.

Torres was coming off two tough losses and looking to switch things up a bit. We worked on his speed and getting him back to that aggressive style that made him a champion. I trained him for his fight against Charlie Valencia and Torres submitted him in the second round.

We make a good team and we’re going to make a run at the title together.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 13, published November 9, 2010.