(They call him "The Hurricane" because he makes opponents want to hide in the basement when he touches down on them.)
If you don’t know who Ferrid Kheder is, by this time next year you will.
Here’s the story of The Hurricane:
The French-born Tunisian judoka who placed seventh as a lightweight at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia has completely dedicated himself to becoming a mixed martial artist since discovering the sport in 2005 and has done so impressively, compiling an 18-5 record in the process.
Hooking up with Hector Lombard, a fellow judo competitor and friend who was living and training in Australia at Sydney satellite of The Lion’s Den, the pair soon became the best fighters in the gym and were looking for a change.
Out of the blue, Kheder received a MySpace message from Ryan Parsons, the manager of Dan Henderson’s Temecula, California branch of Team Quest, inviting him and Lombard to move to the states to train with the stacked fight team that at the time included guys like Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Krzystof Soszynski, Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Joey Warren.
He jumped at the offer.
“To make a living at MMA, I knew it would be hard because every day I had to work. I couldn’t even speak English, so I had to work doing jobs that I didn’t need to talk to do. I worked as a mover and security at a nightclub and I trained in the morning and at night between working. You can’t expect to be one of the best in the world living and training like that, so after I had a few wins, I was contacted by Ryan Parsons," he recalls. "He contacted me through MySpace and he wanted me and Hector to come over to train at Team Quest. That was why we decided to move to America. Hector didn’t get his visa at the same time as me, so I started in 2007 to train at Team Quest.”
Knocking out Drew Fickett in January 2009, Kheder figured he had earned his ticket to fight on a bigger stage like Strikeforce or the UFC, but the opportunity never came.
Instead, promoters found it impossible to find “name” opponents for him as everyone they offered fights to said it was too big of a risk to their careers to face such a dangerous opponent.
Instead of opening doors for him, the win had the opposite effect on his career.
"When I had my knockout win against Drew Fickett, I tried to contact the UFC. I told them I wanted to fight in a bigger organization, I had a huge background in judo, I love to fight, I will fight anybody and I would love to have the opportunity to fight for them. They didn’t reply. They didn’t give me any credit for what I had done. They kept saying I needed to ‘get another win, get another win,’ and each time I did, I contacted Joe Silva and he told me the same thing, ‘Just get another decent win.’ Here I am with almost 25 professional fights and I can’t find anyone to fight me,” Kheder explains. “[Promotions] have asked more than 20 guys to fight me and they always refuse the fight because they say it’s not a good match-up for them. This is a sport, but guys are treating fighting like a business and they won’t take a fight if they might lose and lose money. They say, ‘Nobody knows him. He fought in the Olympics. He can knock guys out and he can submit them. Why would I fight him for two thousand dollars?’ It doesn’t make any sense for them, especially when they are trying to build their own records so they can get to a bigger show as well.”
Team Quest was quickly becoming a ghost town as many fighters left the gym to train at other locales. Kheder figured that his wrestling skills had improved considerably in his two years there and decided that another change was in order.
He moved to Las Vegas where he began training at Joe Stevenson’s Cobra Kai gym briefly before moving on to his new home at TapouT Research and Development Training Center in Las Vegas, where he presently trains under the tutelage of renowned coach Shawn Tompkins — his former striking coach at Team Quest.
He says that the TapouT Training Center is quietly becoming one of the go-to destinations, especially for smaller-statured fighters, and that with an endless array of top-notch training partners including guys like Sam Stout, Chris Horodecki and Mark Hominick, his game has never been better.
“It’s a great place for lightweights. We have a lot of guys at 155 and even at 170-pounds, so I don’t think there is anywhere better for lightweights to train. We have a few big guys, too, like Vitor Belfort who trains here with us, but we’re more a team of lightweights and featherweights and welterweights,” says Kheder. It’s a great place for me to train right now. I really enjoy working with Shawn Tompkins. He’s a nice guy and a good coach. He has a very open mind and he’s very easy to talk to. I’m feeling good about training with him and at TapouT.”
Finally, everything seemed to be going right for Ferrid’s career at the beginning of 2010.
He had a solid team, good management looking after his career and he was readying to compete in the Bellator lightweight tournament in April when he became ill a week out from his first bout with the fledgling promotion.
Originally doctors diagnosed him with appendicitis, but further tests revealed that he had perforated his colon, possibly due to not having enough body fat to protect his organs because of the weight cut. The wound had become infected and that he would require the same surgery for the same misdiagnosed ailment that had UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar contemplating retirement last year.
But for Kheder, walking away from the sport that he loved and that he had dedicated the past five years to mastering was not an option.
"Surgery kept me out of training for a few weeks. I had a fight in July and I had my second fight since surgery just last week. I want to be ready when I fight. I train hard, but I can’t fight unless I’m ready," he says, noting that he wants to make up for lost time by fighting as much as possible. "I was pretty sick, which is why I’ve been away from the cage for a while. I’m going to fight a couple times before the end of the year.”
Riding a five-fight win streak with the latest coming a week ago against Steve Berger in Montreal at MFL 3, Kheder will fight again this weekend in China, where he will compete for the Fury welterweight title.
“I’m fighting for the welterweight title at Fury: Armageddon 2 in China against Eiji Ishikawa on Saturday. He’s a tough guy. He beat Ryo Chonan, lost by decision to Okami and had a draw against Marquardt. He’s tough. I’ll fight at any weight. I’m right around 175 pounds right now. I accepted the fight at 170 because I feel really good right now and I won’t have to cut any weight, which is good when you have to travel so far for the fight,” Kheder explains. “I’m in shape and I train hard every day, so I’m always ready to fight. If you ask me, I’m really a lightweight. I can cut to 155 easily. That was my weight category in judo, but when you have to cut a lot of weight, it’s lots of pressure. You have to stay away from food and you have to work hard to drop it, and it tires you, mentally. When you have to cut 20 pounds, it’s not the same life. I feel pretty good at 170. I don’t know. I’ll have to speak with Bellator and my manager, Ken Pavia. Maybe I will do the next tournament at 170.”
For Kheder, his goals are simple: He wants to fight quality competition and he wants to finish fights – two things he says many fighters these days don’t care about doing.
“A fighter has to jump in the cage to finish a fight. For me, if I jump into the cage and I don’t finish the fight, I didn’t win that fight. I’m 18-5 officially on [Sherdog’s Fight Finder]. I haven’t lost five times. Who beat me up? Nobody. Nobody beat me up. Of the five losses I have, I have always won the last round. It doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense at all,” he says. “Look at the fight between Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva. If you stopped that fight after three rounds, you’d give the decision to Sonnen., but Anderson Silva got the win. A fight is a fight and you have to go to the end. I don’t agree with decisions. Decisions don’t make any sense. I’m a martial artist. I don’t think like that. That’s why I always do an exciting fight. I’m not joking. When I fight, I want the win and the win is not a decision, it’s finishing my opponent by whatever means I can do it by. If I get the decision, I am really disappointed, even if I win.”
He says that the recent trend of stall and brawl MMA point fighting needs to be curtailed, whether it be by point deductions or stand-ups and that winning a fight by boring decision doesn’t prove who the best fighter is, which is why the sport was created in the first place.
“It’s ridiculous. I see guys with ten pro fights and they have ninety percent of their wins by decision. What is that? That’s not a record. If he has a 10-0 record and he won only one fight by stoppage, for me he’s 1-0 – that’s all. He only finished one fight. I really like when BJ Penn speaks about that. I really like Frankie Edgar. He’s a tough guy. I like him, but the truth is, when you look at his fights with BJ Penn, it looks like one guy shadowboxing around his opponent and another guy trying to win – to finish the guy. You can see the difference in attitudes. The guy who was trying to finish the fight didn’t get the win, he got frustrated and the other guy won, but you can see the difference in the attitudes of the two guys,” Ferrid explains. “You can see when a guy just wants to take you down, grip you and hold you on the cage and do a little bit of ground and pound that doesn’t do any damage. I don’t like that. I was watching Kenny Florian against Gray Maynard and you can see that Kenny Florian was trying to finish the fight and he was getting frustrated. He was trying to finish the guy and he couldn’t because he was smothering him, taking him down and holding him on the ground. That’s smart, but that’s not fighting. That’s like judo, or wrestling, but that’s not fighting.”
The bitter taste that fights like these leave in Kheder’s mouth as a fan, he says, push him to become a better fighter.
“We’re professionals. We need to be entertaining. When you go to a show and you see 10 fights and they all end in decision, you think you wasted your time and your money. When you go to a show and they fight hard and there are five wins by submission and five wins by knockout, you’re going to want to come back to the next show. I’m watching as a fan sometimes and when I’m in the cage, I try to do what I like to see fighters do in fights. Fighting is an attitude. It’s an extreme sport,” he says. “It’s shouldn’t be like judo where you get points for trying things and you can win a decision. When you do fighting, you need to fight. You need to go accept the fight and go punch the guy and try to not get punched and try to finish the fight. You can take him down and finish him on the ground if you’re better on the ground, but you have to try to finish the fight. It’s cheap to try to win by a decision.”
At 35-years old, Ferrid, who admits that his ultimate goal is to one day fight in the UFC, says that age is not a limiting factor of his career and he asserts that he is definitely a much better athlete than when he competed at the Olympic level. If “The Hurricane” has his way, he says will fight as often as possible against the best opponents he is offered, regardless of where he eventually ends up.
“I want to fight the best – guys who are exciting, you know. I would hate to fight boring guys who just jump on my legs and try to break them and take me on the floor over and over to get points. That’s boring for everybody. It’s boring for the people watching and it’s boring for the guy you’re fighting if you don’t want to fight. Controlling a guy for 15 minutes on the ground without trying to hurt him or submit him is boring. That’s not fighting,” Kheder points out. “Chael Sonnen said before his fight with Anderson Silva that he was going to take him down and beat him up,” Ferrid says. “Before the fight, he knew he couldn’t finish him, so he just kept him on his back for more than 20 minutes. Never am I going to tell my opponent that I’m going to keep him on his back for 15 minutes, I’m going to tell him, ‘If you can get out of the second round with me, you’re already lucky.’ That’s the way it should be."
Judging by his wish list of future opponents, it’s clear that Kheder isn’t fooling around.
“I like the guys in my division who try to finish fights and those are the guys that I want to watch and that I want to fight. At 155, the definitive guy is BJ Penn. He’s always exciting to watch and he has that killer instinct. I like that. I’m that kind of fighter. I would love to fight a guy like him. [Takanori] Gomi is another guy I would like to fight. Even when he loses, he puts on exciting fights. In the welterweight division, Nick Diaz is another one,” he says. “I would like to fight a guy like that. If it could happen, that would be wonderful. Right now I am under contract with Bellator, so at 155 we have Eddie Alvarez who is a great fighter who always tries to finish fights. I’m expecting to win the next tournament, and then I should get the opportunity to fight him, which would be a huge honor and I would be really excited by the fight.”