Saturday night, Youssef “The Moroccan Devil” Zalal became the first fighter in the UFC to go 3-0 in 2020. Zalal scored a dominant Unanimous Decision victory over “Slippery” Peter Barrett at UFC Vegas 6 inside the UFC Apex center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Zalal may not have gotten the finish, but he certainly made a statement with his performance. The win extended Zalal’s winning streak to four in a row dating back to his final fight in LFA back in November 2019.
The 23-year-old Moroccan native fighting out of Factory X in Englewood, Colo., nearly ended the fight as soon as it started with a spinning back kick that flashed Barrett out and down to the canvas. Zalal swarmed in for the finish with heavy ground and pound, but the Boston strong Barrett was ultimately able to recover enough to survive the storm.
Simply put, Zalal outclassed Barrett. With all due respect to Barrett, especially on short notice, he was a great matchup for Zalal. Going in, it was known that the final fighter from the 2019 season of Dana White’s Contender Series to make his debut was going to be willing to trade on the feet. Barrett was originally scheduled to face Steve Garcia, which would’ve been a great brawl to see. However, once Garcia withdrew, in stepped the technician Zalal.
Zalal is a different animal. He is so fast, so precise, and so fluidly smooth that he will pick his opponents apart with his striking while staying safe from danger with his elusive movement. He will also put a pace on his opponents that will break them if they do not have the conditioning to keep up with him. With head movement like Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker and footwork like Dominick Cruz, he is hard to hit cleanly.
He is so high on his cardio that he said in a post fight interview that he believes that is a knockout weapon within itself. This has been a common theme in each of his UFC fights.
Winning in the UFC is hard, period. Winning three in a row at the age of 23 is spectacular, on short notice for all three fights nonetheless. What you saw on Saturday night was a bonafide superstar starting to believe in himself and his abilities while laughing, smiling, talking, and having fun the entire time.
Two judges scored the fight 30-26, with the third at 30-27. He checks all the boxes of being the next big thing. On top of his abilities in the cage, he will rock the mic in his own uniquely charismatic way.
One way that we can measure the impact and reach of some of these young fighters in the UFC is their social media metrics. To illustrate an example, before the fight, Zalal had roughly 15k followers on Instagram. At the time of this writing, his following has nearly doubled and is currently 28.7k and growing.
There is an old saying that goes, “A happy fighter is a dangerous fighter.” Last saturday night, “The Moroccan Devil” was as dangerous as it gets.
-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303