LAS VEGAS — Garba Alhassan was a trader in Ghana and though he didn’t have much money, he did what he could to provide for his small family. His son, Abdul Razak Alhassan, was very young when he went to Liberia to acquire goods for his business.
It was a short trip, but it changed the Alhassan family’s life forever.
The first Liberian civil war broke out, and Garba was stuck there with no way out. His family didn’t hear from him and presumed he was dead.
“It was very hard for our family,” Abdul said. “He was there and we all loved him and then, boom, he’s gone like that and we don’t hear from him at all. We had nothing and we had to scrape by on what we could. We’d eat once a day, if we even had food.”
The hard times shaped the man that Abdul would eventually become. He studied judo and became a black belt, knowing that athletes got privileges that others did not.
He then became a fighter and on Saturday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+), will meet Kalinn Williams in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 14 at Apex.
He’s coming off of a loss to Mounir Lazzez in a bout on July 16 in Abu Dhabi. It was an incredibly fast-paced bout and Lazzez improbably survived Alhassan’s early assault.
The bout was named Fight of the Night, but Alhassan didn’t reap the benefits of that. He’d missed weight by three pounds, coming in at 174, and he said he felt like he had nothing in the bout.
“I just felt like paper, and I had no strength,” he said. “I was throwing punches, but they weren’t like what I normally do. Everything in that camp for that fight was bad, just really bad. A lot of people talked about me not making the weight, but so much went on that I can’t even begin to tell you. But I’d gained a ton of weight — way too much, to be honest — and I was like 230 pounds when I started.
“I felt like I would take a chance and see if I could make it, but it was a bad situation.”
He’s been dealing with those bad situations for much of his life. He was close to his father before his father’s disappearance, and remembered him for his kindness and his eagerness to put his family ahead of anything.
The family was poor even when Garba Alhassan was around and working, and eating more than one meal a deal was a treat for him.
“My dad, he was the kind of guy, when we had nothing, he gave everything he had to us,” Abdul said. “If we had a bowl of rice to eat that day, he’d take a spoonful and give the rest to us, because he felt we needed it and he wanted the best for us.”
One day, several years after Garba’s disappearance, a stranger found the family and delivered a cassette tape that Garba had recorded. They’d presumed him dead and were overjoyed to hear his voice.
They had no idea of how to reach him, and recorded on the tape begging him to come back.
“We just said, ‘We don’t care what happened, we just want you home alive,’” Abdul said. “We told him we didn’t care if he had to come home naked, with nothing, we just wanted him.”
The family was eventually reunited, and it was a happy day. His sister sliced her leg by jumping up and down joyously and bumping against the edge of a license plate.
Abdul decided to come to the U.S. to try to use his fighting abilities to buy a home for his parents. His parents were evicted from their home and were living in a room with a friend.
But before Abdul could earn enough money to buy the home, his father died.
His father’s memory is with him in every fight.
“He showed us what love meant by sacrificing everything, giving everything, to his family,” Abdul said. “He put my mother and sister and myself above himself so we could do better. I think of him often and he’s always with me when I’m in [the Octagon]. He motivates me like nothing else.”
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