Growing up in Bandar Abbās, Iran, Behrang Yousefi had anything but an easy upbringing.
From being bullied in the streets to being beaten by teachers in school, Yousefi, now 30, weathered the storm that was the first 12 years of his life.
“Childhood sucked. Teenage years sucked. There’s a whole lot of suppressed memories back then,” said Yousefi in an interview.
“I hung a heavy bag in the backyard and hit it, just so people wouldn’t pick on me.”
When he was eight years old, Yousefi and his family packed up and abruptly fled Iran, looking to escape the political turmoil surrounding the country, and start a new life in Canada. While his father travelled directly to Canada, Yousefi and the rest of his family stopped in Sweden until they received word from his father to join him in Canada.
After receiving the go-ahead to venture to Canada, Yousefi and his family were detained in Germany for use of false names and identification. They were forced to spend four years in Germany, including one year in a refugee camp, before finally arriving in Toronto, Canada when Yousefi was 12.
Throughout his time in Toronto, Yousefi gained a strong interest in MMA, just through watching on television.
“I never knew fighting could be a sport. I always thought fighting was just fighting,” said Yousefi.
“As I watched old Pride footage, the Ultimate Fighter, and just random bootleg footage, I fell in love with what it was.”
MMA Journey Begins
In 2008, Yousefi ventured out on his own, moving to St. Albert, Alta., to begin training MMA, while also working for his friend’s flooring company.
Yousefi began training at Pix Martial Arts Centre (now Complete Fitness and Martial Arts) when he arrived in St. Albert.
After two years, Yousefi didn’t fancy the direction he was headed with his career in flooring and his living situation with his boss. So, he then decided to move in with his jiu jitsu coach, Jarid Bussemakers, and go another direction. Shortly after moving in, Yousefi made his professional MMA debut.
“I made my professional debut because I needed to pay rent, not because I was ready,” explained Yousefi.
“I was out of work, had no income, and had to turn pro for rent money.”
After the sudden move to the professional MMA ranks, Yousefi has now evolved into one of the more experienced fighters in Western Canada, amassing an 8-7 record, which includes a victory in his single appearance under the bright lights of Bellator MMA.
And while his childhood may appear to be all doom and gloom at first glance, Yousefi said all those tenacious years spent in Iran has helped mould him into the fighter he’s become today.
“I’m not really afraid of an ass whooping or being embarrassed in public. I’ve already taken those licks,” said Yousefi.
“It definitely helped take a bit of the edge off and prepared me for physical violence.”
While he wouldn’t turn down a chance to fight in the UFC or Bellator at this point in his career, Yousefi said he continues to train and compete in MMA for a far more fundamental reason.
He said he doesn’t enjoy the fight or fighting as much as he does the relationships he builds, and the lifestyle an MMA career requires.
“With having to get up at a decent time, go train, go work, and go train again, it brought discipline into my life where I had no discipline on my own,” explained Yousefi.
“It grew with me as I grew as a person.”
Throughout his MMA career, one of Yousefi’s biggest supporters has been his younger brother Behnam, who also made the move to Alberta shortly after his brother.
Behnam said he believes his brother’s success so far in life and his ability to overcome their tough upbringing can largely be attributed to his determination and his inability to accept failure.
“He just doesn’t accept the word no,” said Behnam in an interview.
“Whether it’s the problem of how to defend himself, or how to get someone to hire him, he’s always looking for that answer of how to get the job done.”
The bond Yousefi and his brother share is one that was formed way back in their childhood in Iran, where they would rely on each other for support and backup in the many violent or abusive situations they came across.
Behnam said the only true trust they had was in each other, and they knew they wouldn’t let each other down.
“We’ve basically had each other’s backs from the start,” said Behnam.
“Whether it was his bullies being too big for him, or just me being too small to defend myself, it was always just a matter of brother’s helping each other out.”
Up to this day, Behnam continues to have the support of his brother, including being in his corner for the majority of his MMA fights.
And although they now live a couple hours apart with Yousefi residing in Eckville and Behnam in Edmonton, Behnam said there’s no distance too far to be there for his brother.
“Whether it’s in Edmonton, or out of town, regardless of where he is, I’ll always be there if he needs me.”