New Delhi: The coronavirus pandemic has affected sporting events around the world and the premier mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was no exception to the rule. Even though UFC ran events that required their athletes to be part of bio-secure bubbles, the risk of someone testing positive for the virus always existed. One fighter who had to deal with the effects of Covid-19 was the welterweight Belal Muhammad, who tested positive in December 2020 just before UFC Fight Night 183. As a result, his bout against Dhiego Lima was pulled from the card.
Now recovered from the virus and with the fight set to instead take place on the preliminary card of UFC 258, Belal revealed how he had to work to rebound from contracting the coronavirus.
“It was mentally hard just because it happened literally the day I was supposed to go to Vegas for my fight week and I woke up just sick,” Belal said in response to a question from News18 Sports in a virtual interaction.
“It broke my heart because I had a big long camp and fight week is the prize – that’s where I’m the happiest. It’s the pot of gold and the end of the rainbow and I couldn’t get that.
“The biggest challenge was being depressed for a couple of weeks but other than that I’ve had no side effects or symptoms. It took me about eight days to get back to normal and start training again.”
But while Belal was keen to stress that his fight against Lima is a ‘big one’, he did admit that he would like to take on the higher ranked fighters.
He is currently ranked 13 in the welterweight rankings whereas Lima is unranked, and the 32-year-old Chicago-based Belal said that he is eager to prove that he deserves to be in the bigger fights.
“I think it’s more to do with fighters turning me down. I’ve always been trying to get these ranked guys but it’s always them who will say ‘I don’t want to fight him because he’s not ranked’.
“But now that I’m a ranked guy I have to go out there this weekend and put out a performance. Now that I’m on the ladder I can climb up rung by rung and start taking on these ranked guys. Now they can’t give any more excuses.
“To me it’s just about fighting the best guys. This weekend I have a big fight in front of me. I never want to look down on a guy so I just have to go out there and show them why I deserve these bigger fights.”
One fight that Belal said he was absolutely keen on was against Colby Covington, who is the number 2 ranked welterweight and one who has gained notoriety among a section of fans for his outspoken nature, often involving trading barbs using some very colourful language.
Belal admitted it would take a number of wins on his part for the fight to ever happen but he would love to take on a man he openly admits to hate.
“Colby Covington is always on my radar. I hate that guy more than anybody in the UFC. I don’t like to use the word hate but… I hate that guy!
“If I could ever get my hands on him – just to punch him in the face – I would do it. But I’m not stupid; I know it’s going to take more than one fight to get there. I will fight as many fights as needed to get to Covington.”
Watch UFC 258 – Kamaru Usman vs Gilbert Burns on February 14, 2021, LIVE and Exclusive on Sony Ten 2 and Sony Ten 3 (Hindi) channels from 8:30 AM IST.