The goal is the same for Mandel Nallo and Saad Awad, but the path to victory is paved differently.
Canada’s Nallo (7-1) will look to rebound from his first professional loss when he takes on the United States’ Awad (23-13) in a lightweight contest at Bellator 249 in Uncasville, CT on Thursday night.
In his last bout at Bellator 231, Nallo, 31, suffered a third round TKO loss to Killys Mota, a finish which was caused by a leg kick that led to an ankle injury.
Nallo said his fight with Mota reminded him to stick to his creative style, and to not get comfortable trying to ride out a decision win.
“I need to remain creative, and not think too far ahead in a fight. That fight, I was pretty confident in my plan of winning a decision two rounds to one, and I was sure I was going to do that if I had landed a couple more takedowns in round three,” said Nallo in an interview with MMA Empire.
“You should be looking to close it out as soon as you can. I have the ability to be one of the more creative guys in the cage, and I let myself tunnel in on one win condition, rather than staying a little more free.”
Awad, 37, a 36-fight veteran, has seen it all inside the Bellator cage, competing against some of the best Bellator has to offer, including Benson Henderson, Paul Daley, and Goiti Yamauchi.
His experience, not only in total fights, but in quality of competition, is an aspect Awad said could work to his advantage against Nallo.
“I’ll be able to use certain things to my advantage, and the way I’m going to be able to do that is with experience. It’s harder to make adjustments during fights if you don’t have that experience to do so. I’ve been in there with the best of the best, and I’ve made mistakes in a lot of my fights and always try to correct myself after each fight, win or lose,” said Awad in an interview with MMA Empire.
“Coming into this fight, hopefully I was able to correct a lot of my mistakes, and go out there and show my experience, show why I’ve been in Bellator as long as I have, and show why I’m one of the best in the world still.”
Nallo not phased my losing undefeated tag
In losing to Mota in his last fight, Nallo also saw his undefeated record disappear, a record he put together with seven straight finishes without reaching the third round.
Despite losing the zero at the end of his record, Nallo said he didn’t dwell on the defeat for long, and knows his skills are just as good, with or without the undefeated tag.
“When you’re fighting guys who have a ton of skill, you have to understand that crazy stuff’s going to happen,” said Nallo.
“It doesn’t change my perception of my skill-set. I still think, skill-wise, I’m just as good as an undefeated fighter. It just didn’t work out on that day.”
On paper, Awad presents the toughest challenge of Nallo’s young career so far.
Nallo said he was unsure what type of opponent to expect coming off his loss, but said he was happy to learn he has the opportunity to face a fighter of Awad’s calibre.
“It’s huge. I wasn’t sure what kind of offer I was going to get, and to have a guy who’s as good and as seasoned as Saad is a great opportunity to refresh my skill-set in the eyes of a lot of people,” said Nallo.
Although Awad enters this bout on a four-fight losing streak, dating back to Oct. 2018, Nallo said he’s not looking past him in any way.
With his experience and overall skills, Nallo said Awad is a dangerous fighter, and is expecting a tough fight come Thursday night.
“He knows his stuff, he has a ton of experience, he’s fought great fighters, and he’s a great fighter himself, so I’m expecting a tough fight,” said Nallo.
“You look at his record and he’s got a few losses in a row, and a lot of the average MMA fans will overlook a person like that, but you can never overlook someone with that much experience and that much skill. I’m expecting a very tough night.”
Awad built to take deep waters
Awad is no stranger to going the distance when he steps in the cage, having done so 11 times in his career.
With Nallo yet to experience a full three-round fight, Awad said he believes he will hold a big advantage the longer the fight stretches out.
“I know he likes to stay really calm and wait for those openings, and that’s how he gets those knockouts. He’ll stay in your face, pretend like he’s controlling the fight and kind of hide behind his jab, but I’m not going to be that far away from him. I’m not going to telegraph any of my stuff and I’m not going to shoot for a takedown,” said Awad.
“I have a high punch count in my fights, and he doesn’t. When you have two guys that like to move forward and one guy who likes to put the pressure on more, usually the other guy ends up breaking, or I’m going to gas him out. I’m really confident in my gas tank, I recover a lot faster now, and I’ll be able to drag him into deeper waters. I hope he can swim because if not, he’s going to drown real quick.”
Awad enters this fight on the longest losing streak of his career, with his previous longest skid being two fights.
But despite being in unchartered territory, Awad said his training and preparation remains the same as if he was on a four-fight winning streak.
“It’s a s**tty thing to think about, but it’s reality. Regardless, I train as hard as I can and I push myself to the limits. At the end of the day, we’re fighting to be champs. We’re not fighting just to win one or two fights,” said Awad.
“When I was on a four-fight winning streak, I trained just as hard. Now, I’m on a losing streak and it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. I had some close fights I thought I should’ve won and fights I probably shouldn’t have taken, but, me being who I am, I won’t steer away from any fight.”
Thursday night will be both Awad’s and Nallo’s first venture into the no-crowd atmosphere, which has become the norm for the majority of sporting events since COVID-19 hit the world back in March.
Awad said although he enjoys fighting with a crowd, he believes the more quiet atmosphere could actually benefit him come fight night.
“I feed off the crowd; I feed of their energy. When they go nuts, I want to go out there and get a knockout. At times, its done me really good with early knockouts, but other times its made me throw when I shouldn’t throw,” said Awad.
“Without a crowd, I think I’ll really be able to use my arsenal. I’ll be able to think more, I’ll be more focused, and I can throw when I want to throw. I think it’s going to be really interesting, and I think I’m going to perform a little better.”
“I’d like to thank the guys at Millennia MMA, The Treigning Lab, Wrap Legacy for always having my back, Route 66 Meats, and to my wife for always taking care of me and keeping me in tip-top shape.” Follow Awad on social media: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM