Said Hatim (center) cuts weight on a treadmill in Minsk, Belarus this week with student Andrei Arlovski (right) and coach Dino Costeas (left) | Photos via HatimStyle
By Elias Cepeda
MMA has come quite far in the past decade but very few fighters are featured on national television, sponsored by big companies and able to focus 100% of their energy on the sport. Many more put in the blood, sweat and tears without the bright lights or big bucks, filled with and fueled by love and an inexplicable drive to simply be a better fighter.
They hold down full-time jobs, have families and are known only to those truly in the know. They are the heart and soul of MMA.
Said Hatim is one such fighter.
The idea was initially proposed half-heartedly. Former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski had recently booked his next fight — a main event contest on the Battle in Minsk card in his home of Belarus on Nov. 29 — and jokingly asked his Muay Thai coach Said Hatim if he also wanted to fight on the card.
Said was a pro kickboxer and boxer for years and has coached and trained with high level fighters like boxer Mike Mollo, UFC veteran Clay Guida, top Bellator featherweight Mike Corey and TUF veteran Mark Miller but his lone, albeit successful, MMA fight had taken place five years ago. Since that time, Hatim has focused on coaching and submission grappling tournaments.
Sure, he’d make the trip to Europe with Arlovski to be in his corner as he usually does, but Hatim was now 38 years old and half a decade removed from his last fight. “The Pitbull” was suggesting that Hatim add to his coaching responsibilities on fight night with his own contest against a much younger competitor. Said didn’t hesitate.
“Andrei told me that he was fighting in a main event November 29 and asked me, ‘Oh, do you want to fight too?,’” Hatim recounts to CagePotato.
“We were joking like that. I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fight.’”
And, like that, Hatim was locked in. No, he didn’t have his opponent’s name yet. That would come and change several times in the coming weeks.
But the Morocco native had no concern for external factors like that.
“I thought it would be fun to do, and I have a house that we’re remodeling,” he says matter-of-factly about the experience and fight purse he’d get.
By day, Hatim is a sous chef for the oldest continuously operating Italian restaurant in Chicago, Italian Village. By night, Hatim is the Muay Thai instructor of Team Dino Costeas in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.
Said is up and working by 6am in the kitchen, off to the gym for several hours of teaching by 5pm and then puts in a couple hours of his own training in afterwards before he heads to he and his wife’s new home late each night. Tonight, Said chugs an energy drink while he thinks about the double duty he’ll be pulling in about a month when he will first fight and then rush back to warm up and then corner Arlovski in his own main event bout in Belarus.
“It’s pretty interesting. I don’t know if I’m going to worry about him or myself more,” he wonders out loud.
“For me, I can’t say, ‘Oh I’m only going to worry about myself.’ I’m really going to help my boy over there for his big fight in the main event in his own home town.”
From left to right, Bellator heavyweight champ Vitaly Minakov, Dino Costeas, Said Hatim, unidentified likely Russian bad ass, Andrei Arlovski | Photo via HatimStyle
With that said, Hatim has been doing all he can to prepare himself for his own fight, against Artem Kazersky. Said has focused on conditioning and making sure that his weight is on point for the 61kg weight limit fight.
He’ll be undersized for certain in the fight. In a few weeks, Hatim will land in Minsk weighing 62kg. There will be no big weight cut the day of the fight.
Hatim adheres to the Bernard Hopkins stay-in-shape-all-year-round philosophy. And, despite giving up size, youth, home field advantage and all-around MMA experience, it’s that constant readiness that gives Said his confidence.
“You always want to stay in shape,” he says.
“You don’t know when the fight is going to happen. You could walk out of the gym and you might have to fight two guys that try to rob you. I’m always training like I’m going to fight tomorrow or even like I’ll have to fight tonight after I leave the gym. People sometimes ask me, why are you training so hard? This is me. This is how I grew up training. I want to be like this until I die. I don’t want to train easy. This is me. I want to go 100% in anything I do.”
As for fighting a Belarusian in Minsk, Hatim couldn’t care less. He also admits to not knowing much about his opponent, having recently received his name and a tape of fight footage.
“Actually, I don’t know much about him. I just received a video yesterday and I fell asleep watching it because I was so tired from training. He’s a good wrestler, I can tell,” he says.
As for fighting in front of a potentially hostile crowd with hometown judging always a possibility for his opponent, Hatim is similarly nonplussed.
“It don’t matter where you fight,” he says.
“It’s going to be a little bit harder because you’re fighting in someone else’s home town. They’ll have the crowd in their favor. Those things, though, don’t matter to me. I could fight anywhere. I could fight on the bus, on the train, in the bar. It doesn’t matter to me. If you’re a fighter, you’re a fighter. You put your hands up and you do what you do every day in the gym and that’s about it. There’s nothing new.”
Hatim’s apparent lack of stress about fighting again for the first time in years doesn’t appear to be the result of arrogance, though. His relaxed nature likely has more to do with having already fought hundreds of times before, going back to his youth, and indeed fighting his way out of poverty in Morocco.
After being granted a visa to come work in the United States, Hatim started from scratch in Chicago with no English and only his Muay Thai skills and a desperate willingness to work. He trained, got a job in a kitchen and fought.
He did all this until he worked his way up to being a chef and a kickboxing champ and coach. None of it was easy but neither was his training as a child at the gym he grew up in in his hometown of Rabat, Morocco’s capital.
There, Hatim and other students would hop steps and jump rope for so long that once or twice a year, someone’s Achilles tendon would snap. Everyone around them would continue the “warm up” and that fighter would be back a year later, after recovering, training again. On other days, the coach would load up the young fighters up in a van to run in the desert.
There was a catch. The van would dump the fighters out in the desert, miles and miles away from the gym, and drive away. Students had to run back to the gym under the North African sun before beginning their real workout for the day.
Hatim is quite aware that he could end up either winning or losing in Minsk. You’ll forgive him, however, if he isn’t daunted by the prospect of either.
Seeming almost superstitious the way many athletes are, Hatim gets a slight smile when asked if he has visualized how he thinks the fight will go.
“I do, in my head,” he says with a glimmer in his eye that betrays visions of, perhaps, knockout wins dancing in his head.
“But you’ve always got to respect the fighter that you’re going to fight. You always have to respect him. Nowadays, everyone trains hard and does whatever they can can to win the fight. Me too. I do anything I can to win a fight.
“It’s going to be a fight. If the punch goes to the face you need to be able to take it and move on. It is what it is. I’m ready for anything, is all I can tell you. Anytime.”
Said fights Friday, Nov. 29 on the Battle in Minsk undercard. Then, he will corner Andrei Arlovski in the main event.