The word artist in mixed martial artist often gets overlooked in the sport of MMA. But for Adam Sako, it’s a component he places a lot of emphasis on.
Having spent the majority of his life surrounded by or participating in a variety of arts, largely performing arts, Sako, 28, said he takes pride in his ability to turn what appears to be a tough, hard-nosed sport, to the average viewer, into a true work of art.
“Someone actually gave me the nickname ‘The Artist.’ The way I fight, I’m more of a striker, but I have a specific style. I want to make it efficient, but beautiful at the same time,” said Sako in an interview with MMA Empire.
“The word artist in mixed martial artist is really compelling to me, and it’s a challenge as well. To be in such a dangerous situation, and make it look good, graceful, and put on a show, that’s the most exciting thing to me. I grew up in arts, so it’s part of me.”
In comparison to the majority of MMA fighters, Sako began his journey in the sport later than most when he started training at Brawlers Club in Montreal, QC at 20 years old. Sako said the choice to take up MMA was driven largely by the need to fill the competition void left from no longer playing soccer.
Since then, he’s made the move to H2O MMA, also in Montreal, and put together a 6-1 amateur career, including capturing the MFL amateur bantamweight title in his most recent outing at MFL 15 in November.
Whether it’s just an average day of training or competing in the cage, Sako said he feels a strong sense of freedom with MMA, which is a rare feeling to find.
“It helps me be 100 per cent in the moment. Nothing else exists at that point.
“It’s weird because from the outside it can look brutal and violent, but on the inside it’s almost like I’m meditating. It’s good for me.”
Sako born for the spotlight
When it comes time to perform, especially in front of a crowd, nerves can certainly play a factor with many fighters, even at the highest level. But in addition to his MMA career, Sako has also had an extensive career as an actor, appearing in several smaller TV shows and movies.
And while acting and competing in MMA are two very different performances, Sako said there are some factors with being in the cage in which his experience in acting has benefited him.
“It’s so different, but it’s the same at the same time. You have to be someone that loves the attention, and even if you don’t love it, you have to be able to embrace it.
“In fighting, it’s real. It’s as real as it gets. You have real consequences, it’s unscripted, and you can get hurt for real. Energy is energy and attention is attention, and you have to channel it the best way you can and embrace it. That’s what’s really similar between the two.”
Being the centre of attention and someone who always likes to be on the go is nothing new for Sako.
His father, Nelly Sidibé, said Sako was very active growing up, and still is to this day, and was always a fan of the attention.
“He was very popular; a little star of the neighbourhood,” said Sidibé in an interview with MMA Empire.
“One day his mom took him to see me playing in a bar with my band, and he took the microphone to sing in front of everyone. He was just three years old.”
Sako knows where he’s headed
Although he’s yet to make his professional debut, Sako said that’s a shift that’s on the horizon in the near future.
And while his end goal is to eventually make a career of MMA and make it to the highest level of the sport, Sako said he tries not to focus too much on the specifics of that goal.
“The way I approach the game is I try not to think too much about it because I’m already an obsessive guy with those things. It’s already in my head. I try to distract myself by thinking about other things and take it one fight at a time. I know where I’m going.” said Sako
“If I just do my job, get inside the cage, book fights, and get my wins, I’ll get there eventually. I have a good team around me to make a run and see where I can take it.”
When Sako first made the decision to pursue MMA, Sidibé said he didn’t understand his son’s interest for MMA, but fulfilled his role as a parent in supporting him in achieving his goals.
But after seeing the success he’s had so far in his amateur career and knowing the traits Sako possesses in his personality, Sidibé said he believes his son will find success in the sport.
“He has a strong work ethic, great mental strength, and good discipline. There’s a great inner force in him,” said Sidibé.
“MMA is a great part of Adam. He worked very hard to win that belt, and he has to keep working hard. As a parent, I’m very proud of him.”
Across the world move
While he’s resided in Canada for the majority of his life, Sako was born in Mali, Africa, and lived there until he was four years old. Sidibé said he made the decision to move to Canada with his son after meeting a French-Canadian woman, who is now his wife.
Sidibé said the decision to leave home and move across the world with Sako wasn’t an easy choice, but ultimately was the right one.
“It was a tough decision to make. When I separated from his (Sako’s) mom, it was out of the question to leave him in Mali. Adam and I were very close,” said Sidibé.
Despite the majority of his family still living in Mali, Sako said he doesn’t visit there too often, with his last trip back being when he was 18.
Although he loves living in Canada and considers it to be home now, Sako said he had a unique, welcoming feeling when he last visited Mali.
“It feels weird because as soon as I touched soil I had this overwhelming sensation that I belonged there. I felt home. That’s where I was born and where I’m supposed to be, in a sense,” said Sako.
“But at the same time, there was something like they could tell I wasn’t from there. It was like I was black, but was obviously Canadian or American. It was a weird reality in that you feel so much at home, but you’re like a tourist.”
If Sako is successful in achieving his goal of reaching the highest level of MMA, he will be the first Mali-born athlete to do so.
And although he said he doesn’t speak too much on it, Sako said he would take great pride in representing Mali on the big stage, and showing the youth there what’s possible if you work hard and are dedicated.
“It’s something I keep to myself, but it fuels me. I don’t think too much about it, but it’s all going to be a byproduct if I can reach my goals,” said Sako.
“I would love to help grow MMA in Africa, starting from where I was born. It would be great, and I could help some kids grow and seek a purpose. It’s just a real big bonus to represent a country I was born in, but I’m also really proud to be Canadian.”