Youssef Zalal: Checking in with “The Moroccan Devil”
Youssef “The Moroccan Devil” Zalal is a man of opportunity. The Moroccan native has seized many crucial opportunities from his youth, which has allowed so many doors of life to open up for him. Long before he ever knew he wanted to be a mixed martial artist.
-Chasing The American Dream-
Uprooting his life in his native country of Morocco, Zalal, also known as “The Moroccan Devil” separated himself from his mother and sister at the early age of 12. Traveling to America with his father and older brother, “I really didn’t make my opportunity as much as I can until I’d say until like 19 and 20. When I really started really want to do something with my life. And just kind of move on from there”, Zalal remembers. “You get one opportunity”, Zalal says with authority. “You gotta do everything to take it! So, I really had one opportunity to really change my life instead of being a regular, average person. You know? I was like, I wanted it, to.. you know…I wanted to be the best me! I learned throughout my journey being in the United States. Its so much maturity I’ve learned. Just being here and experiencing life in general. And I feel like in life in general you experience that. And if you’re not, then you’re doing something wrong. You know what I mean? If you’re not experiencing adversity or stuff like that. So, I just take it day by day man. I’m blessed with this opportunity. It’s my worth ethic” he points out, “is the one thats going to take me where I need to be! It really doesn’t matter my skills and all that. It’s all my worth ethic that I do day to day!” Finishing with, “and the stuff that I do, basically, daily! And push it to the next level!”
Zalal was always close with his family and siblings. Especially his older brother…Whom supported Youssef’s dreams. Pictures can be found online of the two brothers embracing each other with Youssef’s hands wrapped. Clearly, a pre-fight/post-fight picture with his elder sibling. A true bond, which was unfortunately and untimely cut short after a car accident that would change the course of his life. “When my brother passed away. And thats where I got these moments. You know? I almost committed suicide. But that moment, it really changed my life. And I will never forget that moment! It’s because of that I am where I’m at today. And I’ve got more to prove to myself!
-Fighting for a Legacy-
Zalal started his young MMA career with Sparta Combat League from his amateur to early professional days. It wasn’t long before “The Moroccan Devil” stormed into Legacy Fighting Alliance. Working his way up the ranks, Zalal went 4-2 in the organization, improving his overall professional record to 8-2. Then, another life changing opportunity came knocking at his door, and it was too good to refuse. Two weeks after his fight with Jamie Hernandez at LFA 79, he received the call to “the big show.” An opportunity to fight in two months against Austin Lingo at UFC 247: Jones vs Reyes. A fight which Zalal won via unanimous decision.
Hoping for a quick turnaround, Zalal “was talking to my manager. I was ready to go cuz I was like…Let’s try to fight before” as he briefly pauses to explain the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. ”So, I have Ramadan coming up. And basically I don’t eat or drink. So, its like for a whole month I don’t eat or drink until sun goes up all the way to sun goes down. So I’m not eating for a couple hours. You know like 12 hours or drinking. So, I cant fight during that time. So, I was like ‘lets try to get a fight before April and then we can relax in April and go back at it in June or July”.
Having this understanding with his family and team, “I was like ‘Ok!’. I was all excited (with) starting. Like, diet on point, and everything on point! He recalls. “Ready for short notice again and then all of a sudden…then all of this happened!”
“What is going on?!” Zalal exclaimed as he recollected hearing the news of Covid-19. “Like I almost didn’t believe it the first time! They were like ‘Corona virus’ and I’m like ‘What’s Corona?’ like I don’t watch the news. I’m the worst person possible! He says with a chuckle. Adding, “If it’s not fight news, or something like that, that I don’t like to watch then I’m not doing it.! I’m not watching it! I don’t bother my time watching that…But my wife tells me everything.”
“I didn’t take it serious the first time!” Zalal remembers. Once the news inched closer and closer into the sports world, the severity proved to be a lot more than he anticipated. “I seen one card stopped. And then one card had…You know, just no fans! And I was like somethings going on! As soon as they canceled the NBA, I was like ‘Whew! They’re not playing. So, It was very weird to experience that!”
-Making the best-
Since the spread of the initial Covid-19 virus. Different parts of the world have different protocol for accessing the crisis. As for the Colorado resident, Zalal; He’s “getting to spend my time with my wife and my dogs.” He says. “Its little things we forget about, you know? See how much you really love your wife and how much you really love your dog. So, you get to experience it completely different.” He says about being in home quarantine. “And to really check on the loved ones. You know? It’s pretty much the things you needed to do when you basically have time to do. That’s like, helping me a lot right now!”
Discussing limited options of things to do, Zalal enthusiastically shares, “Oh, bro! Me and my wife are playing this game. It’s called Portal 2. I’m not a big fan, like, of robot games and stuff you gotta do. But its pretty fun, man!” He convincingly says. Telling the fans, “You guys should check it out! It tests your skill, like your relationship skills…who’s more dominant!” he says with a laugh. “It’s very cool. It’s like a science experience.” Continuing with “She wants me to play chess. We got a whole chess (set) now. But we’re doing things (together). When I play video games, she paints and stuff like that.”
-Staying in Shape-
In the profession where your first job is to make a particular weight. Staying in shape in decent shape is essential. But when everything is closed down, where do you go? Where can you train? The world is practicing social distancing of 6’ in an effort to stay ahead of the virus and stopping the spread. Which ultimately eliminates sparring/grappling/training with others, in a nutshell. However, in Zalal’s eyes, “There’s no excuse man. You can always get a workout! It’s just how you want it. And how you do it!” He says with authority. “I go outside and run my runs everyday. That’s the only thing I can do. You know? I cant do it that much!” Zalal says with a tone of cabin fever. “I’m just running and then studying, obviously. Studying fights and stuff like that. I feel like sometimes you want to give that body a little break and study as much as you can.” He wisely suggests. “You need to improve the brain as well and not just your physical and you know, your skills.” As he emphasizes, “But your brain is apart of your skills! So, I’m learning that. You know? When I run, usually I like running on the treadmills but the treadmills are closed now. If I run on a treadmill and just run, like watch fights while I’m running for a long distance. “But, besides that, man”, he says, “I know a lot of people have stuff like a gym garage. Like a home gym. Something like that!”
With the UFC trying their best to keep their schedule flowing on course during the pandemic, fighters are staying near their phone. “The Moroccan Devil” is no different as he stays ready to report to the office. Unfortunately, to date, “I haven’t heard nothing and to be honest. I really don’t care! This is the biggest promotion in the world. You know? Like, I’m not going to be those guys that are really picky or something like that. I really don’t care, man. I’m trying to be the best fighter I can be for myself. Not for the world. To me! You know? So, I’m like whatever they give me, I want to shine and thats what I really want to do.”
-Spreading light in dark times-
With the Moroccan people behind their countryman, and Zalal’s entertaining style of fighting; He has accumulated quite a fan base at the early age of 23, and it only continues to grow. During the rough times of Covid-19, Zalal offers words of encouragement for all of his fans and any listening ears.
“I learned the best thing is when its dark, that’s when you see the stars! And I really feel like thats a big thing as far as us as humans and everything.” Adding, “I understand hope and god and all this. I believe in god as well! You know? I do my hope as well. But you can’t like just really sit down and not do nothing about your life, or anything in general.” He says. “You can really change your life in doing small things! He emphasizes. “It doesn’t have to be nothing crazy. I did not want to be a fighter when I came here. I just came here. I was that American dream! You know?”
“It means the world to me! I did what I did not expect myself to do!” He says. “That’s the biggest thing. You know? I proved to myself that I really can do anything I want in the world if I want to. It really don’t matter to me! And I will always take that! Continuing with, “I’ll take that to my children. And I will take that to anybody who needs help with that. And I feel that MMA is one of the sports I can do that! Directing his focus to his home country, “I can show, especially in Morocco man! There’s not a whole lot of opportunities down there. I have a lot of fighters texting me how to get here and reach their MMA career.” Adding, “I want to see them where I’m at! I’m a giving person, man. I like to give away before I even give to myself!”
Everyone has goals they want to accomplish throughout their lifetime. Peoples ideals and goals vary from person to person. For Zalal, he has goals “To make opportunities happen and especially MMA-wise in my home country!” As he expresses thats “my biggest goal to do man. To make opportunities happen and especially MMA-wise in my home country!”
“That’s what I really want!” The Moroccan native says. “You got guys not sleeping at 3am, watching you fight”, he says with a sense of gratitude. “I feel like I need to do something back to my country. The country that raised me and that has my family in there! You know? And the country that I love and I’ll always represent.” He proudly exclaims. “I want to do something that can really change millions of peoples lives! Not just one person or two person. You gotta start slow, you know? You change one persons life, then it’s two. Now it keeps going. And then it goes to thousands. And then (before you know it) all you know is your in the millions!”
Tune in above as MyMMANews checks in with Youssef “The Moroccan Devil” Zalal during the worldwide pandemic to see how he and his family are holding up, ideas for quarantine, fight news, and much more!
Currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Wilmington University, Adam’s passion for the sport only grows stronger when a fighter’s voice can be heard. He thrives on asking detailed questions to inspire the thoughts behind the punches in hopes that each fighter can find their proper justice. Specializing in pre and post fight interviews for MyMMANews, Adam strives to keep the fight fans up to speed with the most recent and authentic MMA news possible.
He is Co-promoter of Delaware’s premier kick-boxing and Muay Thai organization, IBF Promotions. Recently he has also accompanied MMA organizations Global Proving Ground and XCC as Co-host and ringside commentator.