By B.J. Koubaroulis
Monday, January 11, 2010; D03
As he thought about how to describe himself as a fighter, welterweight Amir Sadollah paused for a moment and said "handsome." When asked who his heroes are, Sadollah listed his parents, family, training partners, other fighters "and Oprah."
A Richmond native who earned a six-figure contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship after winning the seventh season of Spike TV's reality series "The Ultimate Fighter," Sadollah's quick wit and charisma are a big part of what sets him apart.
Part wordsmith and part showman, Sadollah's magnetism has pulled in a wide variety of fans and helped him ascend UFC's ladder faster than other perhaps more talented martial artists.
The 29-year-old Sadollah (2-1) will be the only semi-local fighter participating in Monday's Ultimate Fight Night 20 -- an 11-card UFC event at Patriot Center. It is the first UFC event in Virginia's brief, but budding, mixed martial arts history.
Sadollah's matchup with Brad Blackburn will be the first of four fights televised live by Spike TV, which is headlined by a rematch between lightweights Gray Maynard (8-0) and Nate Diaz (10-5).
"Fighting for me was the one thing that totally gratified me and totally made sense," said Sadollah, a former surgical technician who speaks four languages -- English, Dutch, Farsi and Spanish. "I never questioned why I wanted to do it, it just seems like the path for me. It just opened so many doors in my mind and it just really clicked for me."
As UFC President Dana White attempts to crack the Washington area's fight and entertainment market, he will pit Sadollah, an inexperienced local attraction, against Blackburn (15-9-1, 3-0 UFC) -- a 32-year-old veteran with 22 more professional fights than Sadollah. It is the first step in what White says will result in a pay-per-view event being held in the area. As of Thursday night, Monday's event had sold more than 7,000 tickets, according to White.
"I didn't expect [Sadollah] to win 'The Ultimate Fighter' and I don't think a lot of people did and I think he proved a lot of people wrong," White said. "This is a kid that everybody counts out all the time, including myself . . . I'm not going to count the kid out anymore."
Sadollah is "good, but on paper I think he's in over his head," said Blackburn, a stand-up specialist who has won eight fights by technical knockout or knockout. "Amir sells tickets. He has a name. He has fans and that's why I'm taking this fight, because of his fame. I live in Washington state, they would not allow this fight. If you tried to set me up against a guy that's 2-1 as a pro, they'd say, 'No way, he can't have that fight.' The only reason this fight is happening is because it's UFC and [Sadollah] has a big name."
Sadollah, who said he was more interested in girls than playing sports at J.R. Tucker High School in Henrico, did not get into fighting until much later and he entered the reality series with more experience as a community college graduate and surgical technician than a brawler with a mere 4-0 amateur record.
After submitting CB Dollaway on the season finale, Sadollah has earned a foothold in the UFC, earning a black belt in Sambo and experience in muay Thai and Brazilian jujitsu while training with Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
He enters Monday night's card with a 1-1 record since his win on "The Ultimate Fighter" -- a loss to Johnny Hendricks in UFC 101 followed by a unanimous-decision win over Phil Baroni in UFC 106.
"Sadollah is promising, but there are numerous unanswered questions about him," said MMA expert Luke Thomas, an editor of martial arts Web site BloodyElbow.com. Inexperienced fighters "need to fight strikers, grapplers, wrestlers, fighters with good cardio, strong chins, good camps, different body types and mentalities. In short, they need to see a lot of looks before they ever enter the UFC. Sadollah doesn't have that benefit. He'll have to learn on the job."