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Kurdish MMA fighter ‘Mr Finland’ crushes opponent

By Campbell MacDiarmid 21/6/2015
Kurdish MMA fighter ‘Mr Finland’ crushes opponent
Makwan Amirkhani celebrating his victory against Andy Ogle in Stockholm Sweden.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish mixed martial arts fighter Makwan Amirkhani showed flashes of future stardom in Berlin on Saturday with a second consecutive first-round victory in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

Fighting in the featherweight division at Berlin's O2 World Arena, Amirkhani defeated opponent Masio Fullen in the first round by securing a rear naked choke hold. Fullen tapped out with 1.41 on the clock.

It was his 10th professional win in 11 fights but only his second fight since signing with the UFC. His earlier fights were in other MMA leagues. 

In an interview after Saturday's fight, Amirkhani, an Iranian Kurd who grew up in Finland, was brought to tears speaking about his family and the difficulty of living away from home.

“Some young people, they don’t understand that [it’s hard] when your mom raises you all your life and you suddenly just disappear from the house and don’t visit the family that much,” he said.

Amirkhani was born in 1988 in Kermanshah, the largest Kurdish city in the western part of Iran.  When he was still quite young, his tight-knit family fled Iran to escape the violence of the Iran-Iraq war.
The family was transferred to the Al-Tash refugee camp, near Ramadi in central Iraq. During the mid-90s they were resettled in Finland by United Nations.

“It’s not easy to raise eight kids from in the middle of the war and come to Finland when you don’t know a single word,” Amirkhani said on Saturday.

In gratitude, Amirkhani said he planned to use his prize money to buy a gift for his mother.

“I will take good care of my family, they deserve that. My mom, she always goes to get water from a small river [for her vegetable garden]. Now, I can buy a pump so she can get water and doesn’t have to work that much.”

The Amirkhani family belong to the Yarsan religious minority, also known as Ahl-e Haqq. The religion, mostly practiced by Gorani Kurds, was outlawed by the Iranian government. There are an  estimated one million followers of the Yarsan faith, primarily found in western Iran and Iraq.
Despite growing up in Finland, Amirkhani remains proud of his Kurdish heritage. At the weigh-in ahead of Saturday's fight, a bare-chested Amirkhani held a Kurdish flag aloft as he stood on the scales, drawing cheers from the audience. He also posts support for the Peshmerga on his social media accounts.

Amirkhani is not the first Kurdish fighter in the UFC. Alan Omar, who emigrated from Erbil to Germany with his family when he was four, made his debut in April last year and also fought on Saturday. Omar was defeated in both matches.

Asked by a reporter if Kurdistan would be proud of his victory, Amirkhani joked: “Definitely, they don't care about war anymore, they are celebrating.”

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