It’s a cold December morning when I walk down the stairs at Allstars Gym in Stockholm, and the sparring session has already started. Reza spars the younger friends Sirwan Kakai and Mohammad Babadivand, and they don’t go light on each other. After the training he walks around doing what he always does – laughing, dancing and making jokes with everyone. It’s impossible not to smile when he’s around. We go to a local café to start the interview. The staff and several of the guests greets the famous fighter as he walks in, he is recognized by many. When we start talking, he laughs and asks me to stop him if he talks to much, since his mouth is like 7-Eleven, open 24/7. During the next two hours he speaks many interesting and fascinating words, and they are mixed with both laughter and tears.


Baba Reza

Reza Madadi came to Sweden from Iran in the early 90s when he was 11-12 years old. His memories from the first school years in his country of birth are characterized by mainly one thing: beatings. “Prior to the third grade we were getting a new teacher, and we knew who was kind and who was not. We were all the worst kids in the same class, including me, and we got the worst teacher possible! He was called Amo Ezrail, meaning Grim Reaper. At the smallest incident he would scream ‘MADADI!’ and I had to walk up in front of the class and hold up my hands. I remember he had a red plastic stick, 30-40 cm long, which he used to hit us with. He beat us badly, and it was considered normal!”

We get in on parenting, and I ask if all this beating made them behave any better. “Sure, for the moment we were quiet. But it was like a volcano with pressure being built up inside. During the 45 minutes of class we were quiet to not get beaten, but the second the teacher was out of sight we got crazy! It was the same thing with my brother who beat me at home. I’m totally against the beating of children. But I think it’s important to have clear consequences if they behave in a bad way. They need boundaries and not only praise and hugs."


"I love my kids more than anything. It’s crazy, I’ve never felt a love so strong for anyone before. But I know that if I don’t set boundaries and consequences for them, it won’t work. They run me over already now! It’s so much easier said than done, when they look at you with their puppy eyes, making you melt. Before I became a father I told myself I would raise my future kids in this or that way, but I had to admit later on that it wasn’t so easy when the time came. It was just like my first MMA fight. I walked around the months prior to the fight, talking cocky how I would knock my opponent out, throw jumping knees, takedowns etc. But when I finally stepped into the ring I was terrified and asked myself what a hell I had gotten myself into!”

The problems of today's society

A few days after our interview, Reza is taking his family to Thailand for vacation. We talk about the countries his children have visited and I asked if he hasn’t taken them to Iran. “No, not yet. But I will do it, 100%. I think it’s important. But I want them to feel Swedish. They live in Sweden, not in Iran, and they will not work in Iran. Sweden is their country and I want them to feel that they belong here. I will tell my kids that they’re 100% Swedish and their father has roots in a different country, but I won’t say they’re Iranians, half Iranians or anything like that. This is their country.”


During the autumn Reza has been a columnist for the newspaper Metro, and the latest chronicle was about a guy in the gym’s youth group who claimed to be 16 years but later turned out to be 33. Reza was bothered by people’s reactions when he questioned the guy’s age and felt that it was a topic forbidden to talk about. “There is no one on this earth who can call me a racist, extremist or anything of that kind. I’m an immigrant, muslim, grew up with people from all different cultures and religions. People don’t talk about certain things today because they’re afraid to be called racists, some topics have become taboo to touch upon. It’s tragic! Why do the Swedish democrats (Swedish right wing party, Ed’s note.) get so many votes? Because they dare to speak about the questions and problems that we have in today’s society, while the other parties refuse.”

“If you come to my home I will ask you to follow my rules. It doesn’t mean that I’m an evil, unfriendly person. I just want you to follow the rules we have in my home. You might do different in your home, which I totally understand and respect, but we’re not in your home now. In my place, it’s my rules. The same thing applies in the society! I see these problems and I want to bring attention to them. Some tell me to shut up, that I’m a criminal who served time. Sure, but isn’t it good if I write about what’s wrong so we can affect it? After 39 years I’ve learned the incredible power of the pen, and how much it can affect people!”


From limousine to police car

Few people have missed Reza’s jail sentence that came in 2013 for aggravated theft in a designer handbag store in Stockholm. He brings it up as an example when we talk about how fast life can change. “I was in a limousine with Alex (Gustafsson) and Andreas (Michael), did photo shoots, hit some pads and got a load of money for it. My sponsors begged me to accept more of their clothes, but I said no; I already had too much. We were taken to luxurious restaurants and I complained about the lamb filet because it wasn’t cooked exactly as I wanted it. The next day I’m in a fucking cell. The limousine was replaced with a police car. Instead of a lamb filet, I had a cold soup in front of me and the fat formed a thick layer on top of it. It was the darkest moment of my life, and I actually started laughing when I thought about the contrasts. So fucking tragic, how life can change from top to bottom in no time!”

The district court sentenced Reza to 18 months in prison, which was appealed. “I remember the day I came to the Court of Appeal and got the verdict. One year and nine months was what the paper in my hand said. They increased my jail time with three months, and my punishment was harder than the principal client’s. I just stood there, shocked… fuck! Imagine that the first time you find out that you will become a father is when you’re in custody and the second time you’re in jail. What a role model dad, huh? You don’t understand the anxiety I felt. You don’t understand what a failure I felt like.”


”I’ve experienced some crazy shit in my life. For example, my psycho brother locked me up in a chicken cage for two days when we were kids. However, nothing compares to my worst memory, a memory I will have to carry with me to the grave. I had a 24 hours leave half time into my sentence. My son was 6-7 months old, so cute crawling around with his pacifier in his mouth. I kissed, hugged and played with him, but every hour felt like a minute. Eventually I had to hurry to make it back to my cell in time. When I called home the same night my wife told me that my son thought I was still at home, in a closed room where we played that day. So he was sitting outside for hours, trying to open the door. He refused to stop pounding and pushing on the door. When my wife finally opened the door and he realized I wasn’t there, he burst out in tears, inconsolable. This might not mean anything to a lot of people, but to me it was the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. It left me with a big scar inside.”

Reza’s eyes are filled with tears when he talks about this, and I realize that his toughest fights haven’t been in the octagon, but in life.

Part one of this interview ends here, and in the second part, Reza talks more about how he thought his career was over, the UFC comeback, his criticism towards the Swedish MMA federation and much more!