Hayder Hassan looks to show off “PhD in ass kicking” at Titan FC 42 this Friday
During our 17-minute conversation, Hayder Hassan keeps returning to one word: consistent.
For the 34-year-old mixed martial artist, whose almost eight-year career has been marked either by long layoffs due to injury or a rapid and grueling succession of fights, maintaining a steady schedule has largely been an elusive undertaking.
A broken hand requiring five separate surgeries removed Hassan (6-3) from competition—except for one bout in October 2013—between early 2010 and late 2014. In early 2015, he and several of his American Top Team teammates were cast in the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC’s reality fight show. Hassan won three fights to make it to the finale, but lost to season winner Kamaru Usman. Another loss later that year at UFC on Fox 17: Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone 2 placed him just two months shy of fighting six times in just one year, a schedule that would exhaust even the most bellicose of fighters. Following a whirlwind return to the sport he’d dedicated several fruitless years to while nurturing the hope of one day making it back, and Hayder Hassan again found himself in need of a recuperative hiatus.
“I lost years of my career because of that broken hand,” said Hassan. “You know how Dominick Cruz has had issues with his knees? I’ve had similar issues with my hand. I’m finally getting consistency now that I’m all healed up. But that injury did have one benefit: I used to just fight orthodox and use my right hand for power, but after my hand was broken I had to fight southpaw. Now I fight both ways.
“Fighting so much last year, by the end of it I was mentally broken and it ended up affecting my performance. Instead of being that aggressive fighter, I went into the fight and mentally I was like, ‘I’m going to go out there, take my time, play chess and know when I land that I can knock him out.’ By deviating from what I normally do best—being aggressive, using my God-given ability, my power—I ended up making some critical mistakes. Last year was a blessed year because of how much consistent knowledge I gained. But I needed to take a break, go back to the drawing board and work on things. Now, my opportunity to show how I’ve improved is soon approaching.
“I feel that, mentally, we experience graduations in terms of the knowledge we get. In college, you have your bachelor’s degree, your master’s degree and then you get your PhD. In fighting, in my past two fights—what I’ve learned—I feel like I’ve graduated from my bachelor’s to my master’s and now I have my PhD in kicking ass. Because of my two losses, I feel I now have the blueprint for what I consistently need to do no matter what.”
As he prepared for his bout against Adriano Capitulino (4-1) this Friday, Dec. 2 at Titan FC 42: Lima vs. Jackson—his second stint with Titan FC—Hassan focused on rekindling the aggression that made him a standout on The Ultimate Fighter and earned him the nickname, “Hulk.” Knowing that at least some of the UFC brass will be watching as he steps into the Titan cage this Friday, he plans to cause a violent and shocking end to his opponent’s night.
“I know he’s a tough fighter, but honestly, it’s just the wrong time to fight me,” he said. “Whatever he tries to do, I’m just going to be nasty. Everything’s going to have bad intentions and I’m going to put the highlight finish on the guy. The ball is in my court. ‘What are you going to do, Hayder?’ I’m going to go out there and remind the world I’m a warrior. The UFC is going to notice.”
The son of doctors Redha Hassan and Shatha Atiya, Iraqi immigrants, Hayder Hassan’s initial path was not one of combat, but of scholastics. Though he wrestled at Ft. Lauderdale’s Cardinal Gibbons High School, at the time he saw it less as a career option than as a competitive outlet. After graduation, he earned a degree in sociology from Florida State University and for a time worked as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company while contemplating whether or not to follow in his parents’ footsteps and pursue a medical degree. It took only one session training alongside his brother and fellow fighter Medhi Hassan, a former NFL hopeful, to convince him to put his day job on an indefinite hiatus in favor of a career in MMA.
Hassan’s spiritual and career path is an endeavor of reconciling seemingly opposite ideals. Professionally, he transitioned from the healing business to the hurt business and, once he’s hung up the four-ounce gloves for good, he may end up treating those outside of the cage much differently than how treated them inside of it. Spiritually, he must balance his often misunderstood Muslim faith, a religion of peace, with the visceral brutality of cage fighting.
“I take pride in my heritage, in speaking the truth, of being an Iraqi and of our military, who are going after ISIS,” he said. “The Iraqi people, they’ve endured hell. Any time I can represent for them, I take nothing but pride and honor in doing so. It’s sad, but not many people know about Muslims. What they see is what’s on TV and unfortunately the way they’re portrayed on TV is bad. The reality is that Islam is one of the most beautiful religions in the world. Muhammad said, ‘If we are not brothers by religion, we are brothers by humanity,’ and that’s the truth. What Trump says about all the refugees, that these people are terrorists… It’s 0.008 percent of them that aren’t terrorists, but have the possibility of being manipulated. And if they’re being manipulated, that’s more about a lack of education.”
Hayder “Hulk” Hassan fights Adriano “Pantera Negra” Capitulino at Titan FC 42: Lima vs. Jackson this Friday, Dec. 2, at the Watsco Center Field House in Coral Gables, FL. Click HERE for more information.
UPDATE: MMAOwl.com has recently learned that Hayder Hassan has pulled out of his bout this Friday and has been replaced by fellow American Top Team member Taylor Krahl (7-4).