'He’s a bit crazy:' Marvin Vettori's obsession with MMA finally paying off

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5-min read

LAS VEGAS — There are few more staunch advocates for their athletes than Ali Abdelaziz, the prolific MMA manager whose high-profile clients include Khabib Nurmagomedov, Frankie Edgar and Kamaru Usman.

Abdelaziz also manages former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum, who recently signed with the Professional Fighter’s League. For years, Werdum’s primary sparring partner was an Italian middleweight just learning the nuances of the MMA game.

Werdum would deliver a frightful beating to Marvin Vettori and then wonder if he’d see the young middleweight again. Sure enough, Vettori was there, ready to roll.

Abdelaziz did not begin to manage Vettori until last year, but he couldn’t help but be impressed by Vettori’s toughness, determination and willingness to do just about anything to make himself a factor in the UFC’s middleweight division.

“No one works harder than Marvin and we’re in a sport where guys just work so hard to make it,” Abdelaziz said. “He is not normal. He’s a bit crazy. He wants it so bad.”

Vettori’s work with Werdum at King’s MMA has paid off. He’s won three in a row and is now ranked 13th in the UFC’s middleweight division. On Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+/ESPN2) at Apex, he’ll face No. 4 Jack Hermansson in the main event of UFC Vegas 16.

Vettori was training for a bout with Jacare Souza when Kevin Holland withdrew from his fight with Hermansson because of COVID-19. When the UFC approached Abdelaziz with an offer to move up to the main event, it was a no-brainer.

“We didn’t even negotiate or anything,” Abdelaziz said. “When you’re offered the No. 4 guy, you say yes and worry about contracts and stuff like that later. Marvin could go 10 rounds and I wouldn’t worry. It will be interesting to see how he handles the main event pressure, but he will be ready for this, believe me.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 13: Marvin Vettori of Italy celebrates after his submission victory over Karl Roberson in their middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on June 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Middleweight contender Marvin Vettori gets a chance to prove himself against a top-five opponent at Saturday's UFC Vegas 16. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Vettori is one of a number of UFC fighters who have run afoul of contaminated supplements. In 2018, he tested positive for the banned substance, Ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) that behaves similarly to an anabolic steroid.

He was one of four who tested positive for that at the same time. He vehemently proclaimed his innocence, but when it comes to the public and anti-doping, a positive test is almost always considered a sign of guilt.

Vettori was, he said, mortified.

“I would never cheat,” he said, adamantly. “Never. I don’t believe in that. I knew I didn’t do anything but you still have to go through the process.”

It was a long journey to prove his innocence and he had almost no income. He was on the sidelines for nearly 18 months as he waited for the adjudication process to run its course.

Every day, though, he continued to train, usually multiple times a day. Rolling with Werdum was taking a toll on his body, and the lack of paychecks was wreaking havoc on his finances.

He made a small profit trading Bitcoin, and he did a couple of private lessons to make some money, but he got so desperate that he nearly got a job.

“When this happened and I knew I wouldn’t be fighting for a while, I realized that I had two options,” Vettori said. “I could either find a way to make money and take time away from my training or I could find a way, even though I knew I would struggle, to find a way and get through the day and train the proper way. I made a commitment to my career that even though I didn’t have any income and I didn’t know when this was going to end, I had to keep my training up.”

It’s paid off. After working with Werdum, Abdelaziz said that Vettori’s jiu-jitsu is as good as any black belt’s. He has become outspoken in his bid to get high-profile opponents.

The struggle to clear his name overwhelmed him, and he said he is a far different, and better, person for having gone through it.

“It taught me so much,” he said. “Patience was one of those things. I realized that I had to be happy with the person that I saw in the mirror when I woke up and not worry about what someone on the outside would say or think. It’s [expletive] hard to be accused of something when you know you didn’t do it. I try so hard to be a good person, but I came to understand that even if I was the nicest guy in the world, we live in an era when people can say whatever they want whenever they want and they have no consequences for it.

“There was so much I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I just kept working and believing in myself and now, finally, all this time later, it’s starting to pay off.”

It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Fortunately for Vettori, he is only 27 and he has a lot of time. His goal is to be the world champion and Abdelaziz said it’s not a far-fetched thought.

“He’s obsessed with this sport,” Abdelaziz said. “He’s never happy with his performance, no matter how good he does. He sees little things he did wrong or feels he could improve and he gets on them. We know that Jack is a handful. It’s not going to be easy to get through him. But he is one of those special guys, I think, and in a year or so, you’ll look back and be amazed at how far he gets.”

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