Lightweight Mehdi (The Sultan) Baghdad earned a diploma in culinary arts in his native France and loves to cook — good food, rather than dietary meals, that is.
"When I have some time, I cook," he explained. "But I'm not really a cooker for diet (purposes), I just cook really good food."
Since cutting weight and hollandaise sauces don't really go together, Baghdad spends more time in the gym than the kitchen in his adopted California home. But he can see calories on the horizon. On Thursday, the foodie fighter takes on Montreal's John (The Bull) Makdessi in one of three UFC cards in Las Vegas this week.
Brazilian Rafael Dos Anjos defends his lightweight title against No. 2 contender Eddie Alverez in the main event of Thursday's Fight Night card at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Baghdad (11-3-0) is looking for his first win in the Octagon. The former world kickboxing champion was submitted in the first round by Chris Wade in January in a UFC debut fight Baghdad took on nine days notice.
Makdessi (12-5-0) has won six of his 11 UFC fights but has lost his last two — by split decision to Yancy Medeiros in December and second-round TKO in May 2015, also on short notice, at the hands of Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone.
Makdessi and fellow 155-pounder Mitch (Danger Zone) Clarke are the only Canadians involved in the UFC's international fight week, which culminates Saturday with a star-studded UFC 200 card at the new T-Mobile Arena. Clarke, a Saskatoon native who trains out of Edmonton, fights (Irish) Joe Duffy on Thursday's card. Duffy calls Donegal, Ireland, home but trains at the Tristar Gym in Montreal.
The six-foot-one Baghdad will have a five-inch height and seven-inch reach advantage over the Canadian.
Unlike the fight against Wade, who took Baghdad down and beat him up on the ground before submitting him, Baghdad has had plenty of time to prepare for Makdessi, a dangerous kickboxer in his own right.
"For this fight, I can show who I really am," said Baghdad, who lost to Julian Erosa on Season 22 of "The Ultimate Fighter."
Born in La Seyne-sur-Mer near Toulon on the southeast coast of France, Baghdad is of Algerian heritage and is extremely proud of his Arab roots. He served as a coach on the Arab MMA reality show "‘Al Batal" which aired on Fox in the Middle East.
Martial arts has taken Baghdad from France to Brazil and then the United States, where he has spent the last six years.
He was studying kempo karate and Muay Thai but switched his interest to MMA at the age of 18 when he saw a Pride Fighting Championship video.
"I thought 'Wow, this is the sport I want to do,'" he said.
He started working in construction and other jobs, saving enough money to go and train in Brazil. He spent three months there before coming home to make enough money to go back, repeating the process for more than three years.
His chef's diploma was quickly forgotten. "Sports and restaurants can't be together," he said.
Baghdad, who has trained in the past at both Team Quest and Black House in the U.S., plans to make a long-awaited trip home to France after the Vegas fight.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press