Unlike death and taxes, growth is not always a given. Growth is progress. Growth is increasing maturity, as opposed to just plain old aging. Growth creates economic prosperity and a sense of direction.

In some cultures, growth is far behind the times. While the West has made advancements in science, technology, economics, social acceptance and overall industry, parts of the Middle East are still entangled in territorial, religious and social conflicts that have slowed growth in the area, particularly the Arab Peninsula, for decades. The Palestinians are one of the most dramatically affected cultures in the region.

The Palestinians are an Arab culture that were pushed out of their homeland, part of which is modern-day Israel and Jordan, along the western coast of the peninsula. Although things have recently settled down in the area, political tensions are always high in the region. Even when there is no conflict, at the government level, there are always sides. The people themselves really just want to live in peace.

Nijem (R) scores with an uppercut (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Nijem (R) scores with an uppercut (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

Ramsey Nijem is the only Palestinian-American fighter in the UFC. He was born in California, raised in Washington and attended college in Utah, but his father is a Palestinian immigrant. Many of his family members are still in the Middle East, some in refugee camps. Nijem has long been an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian people and has always been proud to represent them in the fastest growing global sport.

Nijem first entered the UFC through season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. During the season, he was a lighthearted, funny guy that earned the nickname “Stripper Ramsey” through his sophomoric antics, including what could only be described as amateur Chippendale acts. However, one thing about Nijem that always drew in fans was that the kid was all business as soon as the cage door closed.

Nijem blew through the competition with two submissions and a TKO, earning him a spot in the finals against Tony Ferguson. Although he lost his match in the finals, he earned a UFC contract anyway, and he has gone 4-2 in the promotion ever since. His last opponent was fellow TUF alum and teammate Justin Edwards. After three hard-fought rounds, the man they used to call “Stripper” had shown a great deal of growth as he maintained his composure, avoided any major mistakes and took away a unanimous decision victory.

“I focused all my skills,” Nijem told The MMA Corner. “I felt like it went really good. I followed the game plan. I didn’t get beat up really. I landed quite a few good shots. I was able to hit and move and not get hit.”

Nijem made some changes to his training before entering the camp for his last fight. For the majority of his career, he had been training primarily with The Pit Elevated in Orem, Utah. John Hackleman’s satellite gym is run by some solid guys, including Jason Mertlich, the gym’s head MMA coach. Nijem and the others had also done some cross-training with Tareq Azim, Jake Shields’ head coach, at Empower Gym in the heart of downtown San Francisco.

For his last fight, the California native decided to conduct the majority of his training camp with Azim. He was happy with the results.

“I felt in good spirits,” Nijem intimated. “I felt fast and strong. I felt like I could hang with Justin on the strength. He was coming down from 170 pounds, so he’s a really strong 155er. I felt really good in our clinches and grappling. I know he’s got a tight guillotine, so I worked with Jake Shields to learn how to defend that a lot better.”

Nijem felt so good about his fight with Edwards that he decided to take his life journey full-circle. He made the move back to his native land to continue training with Empower Gym. His younger brother, Adam, who is also an aspiring MMA fighter, used to be at The Pit Elevated also, but he made the move with Ramsey. Now, they can always be there to support each other’s training.

“We live together. We train together. We both work at the gym,” Nijem explained. “I know where he is all the time. Sometimes, it’s hard to track down training partners, but since we live together, he has no chance of getting out of any workouts.”

The Palestinian-American professional was born in Concord, which is just outside of San Francisco, so he is very close to his original home. However, for his next fight, he will be heading a lot closer to his father’s homeland.

On April 11, for the second time in the history of the promotion, the UFC will be returning to Abu Dhabi, UAE, for UFC Fight Night 39. Not only is this the second time in Abu Dhabi for the promotion, but it is only the second time in the Middle East. Nijem has found himself on the main card, opposite native Iranian Beneil Dariush, who also trains in California.

Dariush is a highly decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who has won many medals in BJJ competition. In MMA competition, he has gone 7-0, finishing all but his first opponent in 5:43 or less. Dariush made his UFC debut on the same card as Nijem’s last fight in January. That night, Dariush choked out Charlie Brenneman at 1:45 of the first round.

“He’s a lot more methodical, and I’m a lot more explosive,” explained Nijem. “I have a lot more experience, not just in the UFC, but I have a lot more fights. I have more cage time, and he’s more of a jiu-jitsu practitioner that fights. I think I’m more of a mixed martial artist. He may not be there yet, but he might get there one day. Right now, I’m definitely on a different plane. I’m out here to make statements and really put damage on people when I fight ‘em and be violent. I feel good.”

Nijem has enough experience to understand that this is not going to be a walk in the park, and he knows the crowd will be very polarized, considering the geography of the event. Abu Dhabi is literally directly across a very small portion of the Persian Gulf from Iran, but it is also on the same land mass as the Palestinian nation. There is a lot of cultural voltage going into this fight, even though the Iranian and Palestinian governments have never really been in direct conflict.

“I see him coming out and really putting on a great performance,” Nijem stated. “It’s going to be big stuff in there. I’m the first Palestinian in the UFC, the only Arab in the UFC right now, and we’re in the United Arab Emirates, and I’m fighting an Iranian kid. That’s pretty crazy. A lot of people in America don’t realize the implications behind that and how big of a deal that’s actually going to be. I have a lot of family out in the Dubai area. I have a lot of cousins and a lot of my dad’s family friends. There’s going to be a lot of energy and it’s going to be pretty intense. I really see myself finishing him in a violent approach from the beginning.”

One would have to assume that being on the Arabian Peninsula, Nijem would have time to make the trip over to Gaza after the fight, but it’s not that simple. After a long camp and a long journey overseas, he will have very little downtime before getting back to the United States to get back to work.

“I’m just going to spend a couple days in Dubai, vacation on the beach, and then head back to Seattle, because I’ve got a signing in Seattle and I’ll see my family,” said Nijem. “Then, my good friend Brock Jardine is fighting in Kansas, so I’m going to go out to Kansas and corner him. If I had the time, I would. I have a feeling, after I make this statement, I’ll be traveling out to the Middle East a couple more times.”

With the growing global popularity of the sport and the plans for UFC expansion, one can be sure that the promotion will be making a trip back sooner, rather than later, and Nijem will be a huge draw, being the most popular Arab-American fighter in the world. Either way, he’s still young and has big plans for growing his future.

“I definitely want to keep fighting,” admitted Nijem. “This is where I want to be. I’m a UFC fighter, and it’s my full-time job. I don’t think I want a quick turnaround, but I can definitely take a couple months off, turn around, and hopefully get four by the end of the year. At the end of the summer, fight again, hopefully, and, if everything goes by the plan, go fight again and be in a contender spot. After this fight, I want to start making noise and get a bigger-name fight, wait for that opportunity to come and jump on it.”

As things have settled down in the Israeli-Palestinian region over recent years, there is still room for improvement and a desire for peace. Social, territorial and religious disagreements are always on the back burner at a bare minimum, but, as with Nijem or anyone else, there is always room for growth.

For now, all a fighter can do is constantly work on improving himself, his game and his understanding of what direction he wants to take his life. It’s a process, and the best Nijem can do is work his tail off for a better future.

“I just turned 26. I’m a lot older, a lot more mature, and I approach everything a lot more different. I’m a lot more mature in my camps. Everything is done to perfection. No more cutting corners and doing things half-ass and just for fun. I’m not a kid anymore, and I see this as my job. I’m going to go out there and make statements, be a contender, make a living, and do all the dreams I’ve had. I know I can achieve them now. I just need to go out and do it.”

Nijem would like to dedicate this fight to the Palestinian people. He would also like to thank all of his family, friends, coaches and training partners, as well as his sponsors: Red Dragon Gym, Abul World, Puget Sound Computer Repair, Lexani, RBP and Dethrone. Follow Ramsey on Twitter: @RamseyNijem