In mixed martial arts, nicknames can be the perfect succinct way to get a message across to fans and opponents.
Want fans to know that in-cage violence is coming? Go by “The Natural Born Killer.” Need something short and sweet but still unique? It worked with “Rampage” and “Shogun.”
And then there’s Belal Muhammad. He just makes a simple request whenever Bruce Buffer belts out his nickname in the octagon in the moments before he goes to war: “Remember the Name.”
“Ever since I started out in amateur [MMA], it was hard for people to remember my name,” Muhammad, who will face Leon Edwards in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night welterweight headliner on ESPN+, told The Post on Tuesday.
“For me, it was like, I want to have the fighting style and the personality where people remember the name, where they’re not gonna forget it.”
Muhammad (18-3, five finishes) is making it easier for fight fans to keep his name in mind with every outing. After a 1-2 start to his UFC career in 2016, he’s won eight of his past nine and finds himself in his first main event for the promotion. He arrived in Las Vegas for the bout at UFC Apex having won four in a row, including a unanimous victory over Dhiego Lima exactly four weeks earlier, the fastest turnaround of his career.
Calling the opportunity to have his name on the marquee something he’d “always envisioned,” the 32-year-old Muhammad wants combat sports fans to know that he’s got a fighter’s mentality, regardless of how long he had to prepare.
“You get that credit for being one of those guys that steps up, one of those guys that’s willing to fight anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” Muhammad said. “And I just want to show the fan base that I’m that guy. I’m that guy who’s going to be ready, that guy who’s always ready to fight and willing to fight.”
In a sport in which few bat an eyelash at big weight cuts, not all fighters can take advantage of the short-notice opportunity that presented itself to Muhammad — taking on a fighter in Edwards (18-3, nine finishes) who’s on the short list of potential next title challengers. But when Edwards’ original matchup with Khamzat Chimaev was scrapped amid the fast-rising prospect’s struggles recovering from COVID-19, Muhammad leapt at the opportunity with gusto.
Usually one to indulge in fast-food favorites he’d deprived himself of while training for a fight, the Edwards bout came to Muhammad at the perfect time, just three days after defeating Lima.
“I was sitting there looking at myself in the mirror like, ‘What are you doing to yourself?’ ” Muhammad said. “And then all of a sudden, I got the call to fight, and I’m like, ‘Ah, perfect! Something to look forward to again.’
“For me, I’m always looking ahead. I’m not gonna sit there and dwell on a win for awhile. … I’m always hungry. I’m addicted to winning, so I always want to have that feeling. There’s no feeling like winning.”
Muhammad’s run of success is impressive, but it’s still not quite the wave which Edwards rides into Vegas. He’s won eight in a row and 10 of 11, with the lone loss coming by decision against future 170-pound champ Kamaru Usman — who made his third consecutive title defense on Feb. 13, the night Muhammad last competed. Edwards, 30, is coming off a five-round decision victory over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos in July 2019 — a roughly 20-month layoff.
And yet, Muhammad isn’t overly impressed with the tools Edwards, who hails from Birmingham, England by way of Jamaica. While calling Edwards “a good fighter” who is “pretty good everywhere” and acknowledging his opponent’s lengthy winning streak, the Chicago native couldn’t point to any one facet of his opponent’s game that keeps him awake at night.
“There’s really nothing extraordinary about him where it’s like, ‘Man, he has amazing jiu-jitsu, or he has amazing striking, he has Francis Ngannou [level] power,’” Muhammad said. “There’s really nothing that I fear coming into this fight. There’s nothing that he has that can make me double-think or make me regret taking this fight.
“It’s a fight that I feel like I can win, and it’s a fight that I’m gonna win.”
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