Above: Bahadurzada spoke during the post-fight press conference at UFC Rotterdam By IMMAF.org lead writer, Jorden Curran Afghan MMA star Siyar Bahadurzada made a triumphant return to competition on September 2, picking up his 23rd professional career victory after a 17-month layoff due to injury. The 33-year-old completed his emotional return at UFC Fight Night: Volkov vs. Struve taking place in the Netherlands, his adoptive country. Bahadurzada (23-6-1) bested the previously undefeated Australian, Rob Wilkinson (11-1), via TKO in the second round, seeing through his incredibly precise prediction of finishing the bout within 8 minutes of action. Leading up to the Rotterdam event it had been noted that Bahadurzada is fast becoming a national hero in Afghanistan. At the post-fight press conference he discussed his motivations and MMA’s surge in popularity among the youth of Afghanistan. “I could do anything else and be successful at it, but I’m fighting because this touches people in Afghanistan. If I was a successful businessman, a few people would know me, but because I’m a professional athlete I get to reach a lot of people and touch a lot of hearts with my talent and give people hope back home. When I was a little kid I didn’t have that, but now I’m trying to give this to my country and my people. “That doesn’t make me any less Dutch. I love Holland for giving me a second chance to be able to do what I do for Afghanistan. “MMA is almost the number one sport right now in Afghanistan. Everybody is talking about MMA, everybody is doing MMA, there are thousands of children in gyms, training. It’s saving their lives from doing drugs because you can easily get drugs in Afghanistan. Now they have this dream of becoming a champion and making it to the UFC one day. This is something that inspires me to fight for them.” Afghanistan does not currently have a recognized MMA body under the IMMAF umbrella, but nevertheless shows tremendous potential for grass roots development and regulation with athletes such as Bahadurzada flying the flag as national level engagement continues to build momentum. While competition at IMMAF championships is reserved for member nations, amateur athletes representing Afghanistan have been welcomed in recent years to open championships hosted by the All India Mixed Martial Arts Federation (AIMMAA), India’s recognised sanctioning body and affiliate to IMMAF. Furthermore, the Afghan government and National Olympic Committee has shown support for mixed martial arts – via ToloNews.com: Afghanistan’s National Olympic Committee (ANOC) said Bahadurzada will hopefully pave the way for more free fighters to participate in the UFC. “We will try to provide the best opportunities for Bahadurzada in order for him to put as much effort into training Afghan athletes,” said Mohammad Zahir Akhbar head of ANOC.