There has never been a UFC champion of Anglo-Asian heritage – but Faisal Malik is hoping to change that.
Newly signed to the European MMA Cage Warriors Tour and with a 5-0 winning record in the sport, the 27-year-old comes from Pakistani descent and dreams of one day leading a fight for the UFC title in Lahore.
Once overweight and overtaken by the wrong crowd, he’s a rising star awaiting his first fight against Cage Warriors – but is already confident to add his name to the list of more than 100 fighters who have gone from promotion to promotion. ‘UFC.
“This is clearly the path I want to take,” he told BBC Sport. “It’s a step forward, but it’s a step forward that I’ve wanted for a long time.
“I’m ready to jump into Cage Warriors and show what I’m made of. Since turning pro I’ve finished all of my fights in one minute. I’m looking to continue like this.”
Where did it all start?
Malik trained in boxing until the age of 15 and started learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at 16.
He developed a formidable reputation and says he was so prolific in tournaments that coaches of other fighters were waiting for him outside.
“They would say, ‘Show us your ID card. Who are you? You can’t do that,'” he said.
“Almost 16-19, I didn’t concede a point.”
It was also a time in his life where he could have gotten into trouble – until he discovered MMA.
“My older brother and a few friends were like, ‘Why are you wasting time on the road when you can channel that energy into a sport?’” He said.
From there he stumbled upon the UFC.
“I was looking for places to learn,” he says. “My brother found a place and so did my friends. So I went there and tapped a million times and I was like ‘fuck I need to learn this’.
“When I was about 22, I turned pro. My whole life is dedicated to MMA because it’s no joke.”
Having a good role model also helps – Malik’s grandfather had notable success in combat sports.
“He was fighting in Pakistan, Kashmir,” says Malik. “It’s always been a motivation and I still believe it’s genetic.
“He was a champion, so I always grew up listening to stories. He inspired me.”
Faisal also grew up watching former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, but it’s the two men painted behind him as he sat in his gym that now inspires.
“In MMA, it’s George St-Pierre and Khabib Nurmagomedov,” he says. “That’s why I have them in my gym. My biggest inspiration are these two and the way they define themselves as a human being, the way they behave – in the cage and outside. . “
Being an Anglo-Pakistani Muslim
One of Malik’s big goals is to bring the UFC to Pakistan.
“This is where my roots are,” he says. “So just to go back… imagine how crazy that would be.
“By promoting MMA in Pakistan it will promote the whole MMA scene and the guys will start to show up.”
Malik’s faith – as well as his heritage – is also very important to him.
“That’s the first thing, sport comes next,” he says.
“Everything happens for a reason. I’m just grateful that I got off the road, I’m in the gym and believe it’s a blessing from Allah.”
Malik says his family were initially anxious about his struggles, but they support him.
“What they didn’t like was when I started to get more and more serious, but my dad always supported me,” he says.
“At first they thought I was doing this just to lose weight because I was overweight until about 19 years old – around 110 kg,” says Malik, who now struggles at bantamweight, eats better and leads a healthier life.
“They support me. They don’t like it when I get punched in the face, but they still support me.”
Opening of a sports hall
Malik is still at the start of his career but is already planning to open a gym in Luton and offer free sessions to underprivileged young people to get into MMA.
“MMA is pretty new and where I’m from there isn’t really a gym,” he says.
“I have seven coaches for different disciplines. I want to bring everything in-house so these kids don’t have to travel across the country.”
Malik says his goal is to show that “anything is possible”.
“I was overweight and came from the streets and now I’m a professional fighter, 5-0 and about to shoot in UFC Insha’Allah,” he says.
“I want to help children with mental health issues, even adults. I believe that fitness is the number one medicine.
“My goal since the gym is pretty much to create top fighters, I’m talking about UFC world champion.
“I want to show that if I can do it, they can do it too, and I want to help as much as possible along the way.”
An animal without a cage
So how would Malik describe himself in a nutshell?
“Animal,” he said.
“I think in about two or three fights I’ll be in the UFC – it could happen. There’s so much more to my game than anyone has ever seen because I smashed that whole lot in a minute. .
“I saw the Cage Warriors champion, I saw all these guys. I’m going to smoke it.
“I have to stay humble and not waste my time. But it will come soon. I will be ready.”