For years, Niko Sahamis has helped feed Abbotsford’s hunger for Mediterranean cuisine through his role as owner and operator of the Greek Islands restaurant on South Fraser Way.
The 34-year-old does it all at the popular establishment – he cooks and does prep work in the back, runs the front in the evening and ensures that every customer has a pleasant experience.
The Abbotsford resident is no stranger to martial arts, as he trained in taekwondo from the age of five to 23, and competed at the provincial level in the sport. After stepping away from the martial arts scene to focus more on his duties at the restaurant, Sahamis fell back in love with training when he rejoined the Mamba Martial Arts Academy in west Abbotsford.
He said it was now or never for him to enter the ring.
“I joined Kultar’s [Gill, Mamba owner] place about six years ago and went on and off, and then got engaged, married and became a father,” he said. “But the last few years I’ve been training a lot harder and I figured I may as well do it now. I’ll regret it if I don’t.”
Sahamis admitted the transition from taekwondo to kickboxing has been a challenge.
“There’s no punching in taekwondo so probably the toughest thing to learn was just remembering to keep my hands up to block,” he said, noting that punches and kicks are legal in kickboxing. “But training with Kultar has me feeling very prepared. He has fought all over the world against some of the best fighters on the planet. It’s an honour to train next to him.”
Another obstacle to preparing for the fight was the weight cut, which was even more difficult considering that Sahamis is around food all day at his job.
“I feel overall good but pretty hungry,” he said, laughing. “It’s been a huge diet change for me and, as soon as Christmas came, I stopped drinking alcohol completely. I also cut out carbs in the evening and it was difficult but I was also excited to eventually eat my vegetables because I was so hungry. Eating chicken and rice everyday gets a little boring. I love steak, pasta, burgers and pizza but I had to make weight.”
Sahamis will fight at 178 pounds on Friday, and noted he lost 30 pounds in 10 weeks thanks to the diet and training. He said his wife and family are behind him.
“It’s been a bit difficult for my wife,” he admitted. “But at the same time she’s been very supportive. It’s something I’ve really waned to do. I just love martial arts. As for the safety, we wear headgear, shin pads and gloves and the whole event is run by the B.C. Athletic Commission and there are doctors around at all times so I feel safe.”
Sahamis will fight a maximum of three rounds of two minutes, and admitted he knows very little about his opponent, who is also making his first appearance in the ring.
“I don’t know anything about him,” he said. “It’s a fight so when we get out there I’m sure I’ll figure it out. The first 30 seconds will be me feeling him out and seeing what he does. I’m sure he will come out hard.”
As far as strategy, Sahamis keeps it simple.
“I’m going to try to not get punched in the face,” he said, chuckling. “I want to weather the early storm and hopefully my cardio is better than his. I want him to feel and respect my power.”
Gill, who will be in the show’s main event, said he respects what Sahamis has done to prepare for the big fight.
“He trained really hard and has some awesome potential as a fighter,” Gill said. “It’s about stepping up and competing against yourself. He’s had to cut weight, miss time with friends and family and it’s a big sacrifice. There is so much excitement, fear and nerves all together, but in the end you’re really testing yourself.”
Gill said it can always be a little nerve-racking watching students of his enter the ring, but he wants them to take it all in.
“The only expectation I have for any student of mine is that they compete to the best of their abilities and come out injury-free,” he said. “They should feel like they accomplished something special.”
Sahamis said there’s been a buzz around his restaurant for months, with many customers planning on attending the show. He also said he expects a lot of friends and family in the crowd.
“Anyone who says they aren’t a little nervous to fight in front of a few thousand people is lying to you,” he said. “But it’s pretty exciting. I’m sure there will be a little anxiety but it will also feel good to have so many friends and family out there to support me. No matter what the outcome, I’ll be happy.”
The Sahamis fight is one of 13 bouts on the jam-packed card.
Doors open at the Abbotsford Centre starting at 4 p.m., with the first bout occurring at 5:30 p.m.
For more information on the event, visit mfn.mambamma.com.