The Severe Spotlight: Fares Ziam

The French flag flew high and proud in Paris Saturday night. Bon Gamin scaled the heights of the Arc de Triumph, planted the flag in the top, as he roared “Merci, Merci, Merci”. The rest of the French cohort shone out into the night sky like the entrance into the Louvre.

One of the Frenchmen that extra bright, is Fares Ziam. He had the difficult task of welcoming Michal Figlak to the UFC, the undefeated storming Cage Warriors prospect. Prior to Saturday night, he was 2-2 in the promotion since signing in 2019. Losses being to Don Madge and his most recent loss a first-round rear naked choke loss to Terrence McKinney.

The raw materials had always been there, but with every fighter that carries the frame of Ziam, the largest hurdle to climb is to fight in a style that allows their attributes to flourish. To determine the range that is most profitable for their attributes. Ziam cleared that hurdle in this fight as though he were trying out for the French Olympic team.

This fight was solid matchmaking, Figlak starts fast and did so in round one. A fighter that starts fast and wants to be the dominant presence with inside space can be difficult for a longer, rangy fighter. Ziam processed the gameplan and style of Figlak lightning fast, moved his feet and started to power up the circular saw that was his jab. Add to the jab a smattering of leg kicks, and body kicks. This was the scaffold of the performance on Saturday night.

You don’t go to France and not eat some fine cuisine and offered up at the Ziam restaurant as side dishes to the already fantastic menu items, was the grappling. One specific moment that shows the vast improvements in the Ziam grappling came in the first round.

With 50 seconds left in the opener, the fighters were engaged in a clinch battle, some reversals exchanged, some inside shots thrown and even a gorgeous foot stomp from Ziam. The Frenchman notices a pocket of space open to his left-hand side and steps his right leg across the hip of Figlak to initiate an Uchi Mata hip toss. Holding on tightly to his whizzer both fighters end up in a dogfight position, however due to the whizzer, Ziam can build hip height first, immediately attempting to trip Figlak, who rides it.

The pair square up, and come chest to chest, however Figlak now has double underhooks, bad news for Ziam. Figlak looks to capitalise on that by taking a step to his right, trying to cut the angle and force Ziam off balance and to the mat, Ziam reads the movement and takes his own step to keep his balance. The wizardry begins here. Figlak then smartly steps to the opposite hip of Ziam and looks to shelf the right leg of the Frenchman, collapsing his own weight to the canvas and using the bodylock to drag him to the mat. The result Figlak wanted was to end up in a side control at best, or a bodylock pass at worst.

Ziam had other ideas for the worst outcome. He limp legs his right leg, allowing his body to flow with the movement, so as Figlak arc’s his own body to complete the takedown, Ziam has both of his legs under him, posting his right leg to the mat, and cutting an angle with his left, to make sure he was square with Figlak. The bodylock grip Figlak has becomes a hindrance as Ziam has switches to double overhooks (with an S grip) of those underhooks, locking Figlak into this grip set and position. Figlak is momentarily on his knees which gives Ziam the time to take a further angle cut with his left leg as he turns his body, aided by the raising of his right elbow, and dumps Figlak to the mat.

Just an astonishing display of spatial and bodily awareness, balance and technique by Firas Ziam.

The second-round saw more lovely grappling, the single leg pickup and run across the cage – the chain wrestling to eventually get Figlak to the mat. The stuffing of the getup by using his hip positioning and weight over the knee line of Figlak, noticing the danger and dropping back into a butterfly with a reverse claw grip all wonderful. However the shin stapling from the off balance is wonderful, it allows him to settle for a period of time into a flattened out half guard with dominant upper body grips.

The most effective moment of striking in the round comes after a spinning elbow from the break of the clinch. It is evident that Ziam is looking to spin off the break given the placement of his shoulder is centre chest of Figlak, and his stance is bladed. Often the stance in the clinch is squarer than it is bladed, Ziam stuffs the wrist of Figlak with his right hand, the same hand he wishes to strike with. He limp arms out of the underhook he has on Figlak as he spins. Figlak makes a poor choice trying to exit out of the clinch to his right-hand side and gets caught perfectly to the temple with the spinning elbow.

From here, this is where Ziam can seek improvement. Noticing that Figlak is wobbled he throws four strikes, landing only one. He crowds Figlak, which allows the Polish native to get to the hips of Figlak and force a grappling exchange. For 15 seconds Figlak uses the grappling to hide his chin, whilst taking some hammer fists to the tops and side of the head, this is 15 second with which he can recover and allow his equilibrium to reset. Figlak then rolls to guard and uses that guard to further recover. This is a situation that should be managed better, the range is a vast asset in this situation, picking the shots from further outside and not crowding so drastically could have proved dividends in this fight.

The second opportunity for growth is in the gas tank. Ziam looked noticeably more tired in the third than his opponent, who had adopted the role of nail for the first ten minutes. Ziam did a good job of technically meandering the fight, and the dilemmas that he had solidified in the first two rounds were deterrent enough to ward Figlak from mounting an all out offensive. But this is something to work on, inside 50 seconds of the third round the fantastic range control began to slip. Figlak then catches Ziam with his legs too close together and gets the takedown. Ziam builds back up quickly, but an already tired fighter needs to invest in keeping himself off the canvas.

Overall, Fares Ziam showed vast improvements in his game. Offering up a delight of treats in the more difficult areas to improve. That’s an exciting development, let’s see those developments against a test like Paddy Pimblett in his next one.