Nick Moghaddam still savors victory. But the former Newport Harbor High and Orange Coast College football standout turned mixed martial artist does not fight to have his hand raised. In many ways, he fights to show that he can in fact raise his hand.
After a recurring shoulder injury ended his football career following his junior season at East Carolina, Moghaddam, then a 6-foot-4, 266-pound defensive lineman, drove home and immediately spent more than $600 of his remaining $700 to join a mixed martial arts gym and purchase equipment to try his hand at fighting.
"I've always been a fighter," said Moghaddam, who began learning jiu jitsu in high school to avoid being pummeled by his twin brother Chris' wrestler friends. "I always had a mean streak in football, just a competitive fire, you know. On special teams at ECU, I stopped looking for the ball and just started looking for people to hit. I was like: 'Maybe I should start fighting.'"
Inspired by "The Ultimate Fighter," television show that helped popularize MMA in the mid-2000s, Moghaddam, an All-Newport-Mesa defensive tackle as a senior at Newport Harbor, directed his warrior spirit to the octagon. He fought on a Bellator MMA card, one of the many organizations considered a rung below the UFC, in 2009.
But a few days after a fight in Citizen's Bank Arena in Ontario, Moghaddam tore his pectoral, biceps and shoulder muscles in what he called a horrible jiu jitsu accident while training.
"I retired, but I came back a year later," he said. "It changed my life and I had to reinvent myself as a fighter. I'm right-handed and I hurt my right side. I had to build myself up from the ground up again."
Moghaddam, 30, recently signed a three-fight deal with Newport Beach-based Bellator, which televises some of its fights on Spike TV. Moghaddam (7-5-1) will battle 31-year-old Virgil Zwicker (11-2) in an under-card bout Friday at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula.
Competing in the light heavyweight division (205 pounds), he had been on a five-bout winning streak before losing his last two fights, one to a 280-pound heavyweight, he said.
Moghaddam owns a Gracie jiu jitsu school in Anaheim Hills and trains at Reign Training Center in Lake Forest under UFC middleweight Mark Munoz, a two-time All-American wrestler at Oklahoma State who won the 2001 NCAA title at 197 pounds.
"Every day, I wake up and do this, even though I'm sore, tired and beat up," Moghaddam said. "I get my coffee, get in my car and head to the gym. Monday morning, its wrestling; sparring on Tuesday; jiu jitsu on Wednesday; kick boxing on Thursday; and sparring again on Friday. I have my routine."
Moghaddam also teaches in the evenings at his jiu jitsu facility, which has grown to the point that he could walk away from fighting.
"I don't have to fight anymore if I don't want to," he said. "But I want to see how far I can take this. I'm very competitive and I think I could be one of the best 205-pound fighters in the world."
Moghaddam said Friday's fight marks a new beginning with the Bellator organization and he is optimistic, though also practical about the future.
"I want to keep fighting until I'm at least 35," Moghaddam said. "I don't care about winning or losing. I worry about performing. I want to do well for the fans, for my [Reign] teammates and for myself. Sometimes you can't win them all. I just want to keep doing my best, training my hardest and move on to the next fight."
Moghaddam said Thursday that he was excited about Friday's bout.
"This is the biggest thing for me since [winning] the CIF [Southern Section Division VI football] championship in 1999," Moghaddam said. "I am the underdog. He is supposed to win. He is a really, really aggressive striker who is going to come out swinging and attack me right off the bat. But I'm going to hit him back and take him down and submit him."