Stoney Creek, Ont.-based bantamweight and flyweight Gabe Sagman (6-4) —who last fought in Jan. 2020, just days before the WHO declared COVID-19 an international health concern—meets Matt Dawson (2-1) this Saturday at BTC 13 in St. Catherines, Ont., and is both anxious and excited to unpause his professional career.
Sagman, 29, said that while the pandemic forced immediate and drastic changes to his training regimen, he was able to gut it out during the initial lockdowns by channeling his focus on what was within his control, and counting his blessings both within fighting and beyond it.
“Right at the beginning when it (the pandemic) was first blowing up, it was really difficult because, for me personally, I wanted to be with my family,” said Sagman in an interview with MMA Empire.
“My parents, you know, they’re a little bit older, and they were very extra-cautious and paranoid about me seeing anyone else: intermingling, training. It was definitely a hindrance for the first three months. I couldn’t really get the same kind of training, especially grappling, rolling, that kind of thing. I was still doing a lot of cardio, roadwork, shadowboxing. Fortunately I had my brother (Ruben Sagman) with me, who’d been with me my whole martial arts journey, since my karate days. He’s a blackbelt in jiu-jitsu as well, so it was good that I was able to train with him.”
Since committing athletically to MMA, Sagman has competed at both flyweight and bantamweight, but said instances of the latter arose from a lack of competition lower down the scale, and that despite any impression his record might give to the contrary, the 125-pound weight class is where he wants to call home for the foreseeable future.
“I actually started my career at flyweight,” said Sagman.
“Like my very first fight, my pro debut, I fought Yoni Sherbatov, who I’d say is a pretty well-known flyweight in Canada. You know, he was 0-0 at the time, like nobody wanted to fight him. I ended up losing that fight; I got caught early in the first round. Next fight after that, 135, then next fight after that I went back down to 125, won that fight. Ever since then I’ve just been kind of fighting at 135 for the most part—some catchweights here and there. You know, I’ve never really been like a true bantamweight; I’ve always been undersized for that division. I think it’s just a matter of there’s not too many guys at 125 in Canada. It’s just such a small talent pool and it’s hard to find fights. It’s not like I was weak at 135, you know, I fought a lot of great guys and held my own. I’m just at the stage of my career where it (flyweight) is better for the level I’m aiming at: I want to fight in the UFC, I want to be fighting the best guys, and I can make the weight. That’s where I truly belong.”
Now that his coveted flyweight matchup is finally in the wings, it comes against an opponent with whom Sagman shares a notable, if somewhat awkward, piece of personal history.
“So my brother, who we spoke of, he actually beat him (Dawson) amateur back in 2015, and I was there cornering my brother for that fight. He (Ruben Sagman) picked up a split-decision win over him. So heading into this fight (on Saturday), I’d already known about him from way back. I heard about some of his fights in PFC (Prospect Fighting Championships),” said Sagman.
“As far as his skills, I think he’s just kind of a tough, gritty, scrappy guy—you know, just likes to get in there and fight. I don’t particularly see him as like, super technical. He probably thinks the best route to victory (in this fight) would be keeping it on the feet, stand and bang, but I think I’m just the better, more complete fighter everywhere. I feel comfortable pretty much anywhere with him, and I know I can finish this fight in a multitude of ways.”
Sagman’s interest in the martial arts began as a young boy when he spotted a sign advertising karate classes outside of a dojo ten minutes away from his family home in Toronto.
Eventually, Sagman would earn blackbelts in both jiu-jitsu and Shotokan karate, and in 2017 he moved to Stoney Creek to train at House of Champions MMA under the mentorship of current head coach Kru Alin Halmagean, who, interestingly enough, also mentored Sagman’s original coach in the sport of MMA.
“When I started my pro career I was being mentored by Claude Patrick, so he was my first true MMA coach. He has his own gym, Elite Training Centre in Mississauga (Ontario), and he had been trained under Kru Alin as well. Kru Alin cornered Claude through all his wins in the UFC, and Claude brought me to his (Halmagean’s) gym one time just to get some training there,” said Sagman.
“You know, Claude’s a fantastic coach: very cerebral, but he’s not really as involved with training fighters at a high level and he’s got his own thing going on, so it just kind of got to a point where he’s like ‘look, if you want to take your career to the next level, get some better connections finding fights, I think this is the smart move for you to start seeing Kru some more’.”