#26 – Nordine Taleb on his Post-UFC Career, Fighting Sean Strickland and Training with Dricus Du Plessis

May 28, 2024 by VAHVA Fitness

Eero interviews Nordine Taleb, a former UFC veteran with 14 UFC fights. What it takes to become a professional fighter? What is Taleb doing after his career?

Introducing Nordine Taleb

“Where Do You Get More Adrenaline Than Going In The Cage?” - Taleb


A few months ago we published a piece covering the ancient triangle system after training with Nordine Taleb, and recently we had the opportunity to welcome Taleb as our first guest on the Vahva Fitness Podcast.

Taleb is a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Top 15 Welterweight contender, and the owner and head coach at TNT Combat Sports and Fitness in Dubai.


For the last year we have been training under his coaching, learning MMA, striking and wrestling. We have noticed massive improvements in our martial arts ability thanks to his expertise and experience.

Taleb is a self-described adrenaline junkie, with an interesting fighting style. He is a strong striker with explosive speed, powerful takedowns, and has very good transitions and distance control.


Still to date, Nordine Taleb holds the UFC record for takedown accuracy at 76.2% of all time!

In this post we’re going to talk about who Taleb is, what he’s achieved, his training background and what kind of knowledge he has to offer.
 

We will cover:

  • Taleb’s surprising martial arts background 
  • Training at Tristar gym with Firas Zahabi, and in Thailand with the masters of Muay Thai
  • The costs of MMA and cage fighting
  • Taleb’s life outside the cage: working with A-list celebrities
  • Our experiences training with Taleb for almost a year, and finally
  • Taleb’s top 3 martial artists of all time

We’re very excited to share this post with you all. Taleb is an incredibly interesting person with an impressive background as you’ll soon learn.

Taleb's Martial Arts Background

Taleb with his training partners in Tiger Muay Thai, Thailand. On the right you see Khalil Rountree, a fighter who will possibly be a UFC champion soon.

Taleb was born in St.Tropez, France and has lived in many different countries throughout his life.


Taleb’s passion for fighting came from his brother, a huge Bruce Lee fan, who practiced Jeet Kune Do. He looked up to his brother and was his earliest sparring partner (or punching bag).

After practicing taekwondo for a year in his youth, he traveled to Brazil to learn capoeira and stayed for almost a year. He returned to France after that but nobody knew what capoeira was so he resumed his usual hobbies of motocross and jetskis.

Later, he moved to Mexico to surf, but he found Muay Thai and fell in love with this Asian fight style.

 
He moved to Canada shortly after and started looking for a Muay Thai gym, but was told “if you want to train mixed martial arts (MMA), then Tristar is the gym”, so he just showed up.

Firas Zahabi was the first person he bumped into. Zahabi is one of the most respected and knowledgeable coaches in the world of MMA. He has coached countless UFC fighters including the former UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre.


Zahabi holds a black belt in brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) under John Danaher – one of the best BJJ masters in the world. He was a Canadian Amaetuer Muay Thai champion and still the owner of TriStar gym.

Zahabi told him to come on Monday to spar with a man called David Loiseau. He agreed, and did some training before showing up for the sparring session on Monday. Taleb had no idea who Loiseau was but he soon found out.

“You put your life on the line. It’s not ‘we won’, it’s you. You’re locked in the cage, and you can get seriously hurt”
- Nordine Taleb

He learnt the hard way that Loiseau held a black belt in BJJ and taekwondo, and that at the time he was an active fighter in the UFC. In Taleb’s own words, Loiseau “completely smashed” him for two minutes. He “was not able to finish the round. It was brutal.”

But Taleb couldn’t accept taking such a beating and it inspired him to train more. Zahabi kept him in the zone and didn’t let him quit.

After a year and a half, Taleb had his first amateur fight. Zahabi didn’t tell Taleb his first opponent had over 100 fights, but Taleb ended up winning the fight with a knockout in the second round.

His amateur phase went quickly as he had the chance to spar with high-level fighters and learnt quickly.


He went professional shortly afterwards, in 2007, which he credits to being able to train with such world-class fighters at Tristar.

Training at Tristar Gym with Giants and The Greatest of All Time of MMA

Nordine Taleb's fight team, with his head coach Firas Zahabi.

Taleb considers his experiences at Tristar Gym to have been a true blessing.


“It’s like a chess game, you anticipate as much as possible” - Taleb


The way Zahabi trained his fighters was simple: “you must not like to get hit. ‘Hit, but not getting hit as much as possible’. This sounds logical, but not everyone teaches this.”


He advises to go all the way in, and then all the way out, never to stay in the pocket. If you found yourself in mid-range, his advice was to clinch and take control, not go toe-to-toe.

At Tristar, it was casual to train with giants. The coaches were not part time. They had dedicated coaches and when they put their mind into a technique and refined it, they’d put everything in the situation as it might happen. This quality was instrumental in Taleb’s development.

Taleb has sparred and trained with many big names: Jon Jones, Diago Sanchez, Keith Jardin, Gordon Ryan, Dricus Du Plessis, Khalil Rountree and Alexander Volkanovski to name a few. 


There was a huge rotation of martial artists between Tristar and the Renzo Gracie gym in New York.

Taleb says, “If you were paying attention at Tristar, you would learn 5 techniques a day and this would go on for weeks and months.” This meant that “if you were out for a week or two, the guys in Tristar were a lot better than you.”

It was this sharp learning curve that helped Taleb improve so rapidly.

When Taleb started training with Tristar, Loiseau was the only one in the UFC, but
Georges-St. Pierre (GSP) was about to have his first fight.

As old school as it gets: Nordine Taleb with Georges St-Pierre in Tristar gym.

GSP is a 11-time former UFC Welterweight Champion, and took the UFC Middleweight title late in his career as well. 


He was the fourth UFC fighter to become a multi-division champion, and is consistently rated as one of the most accomplished fighters in MMA history.

Taleb explains that before GSP was on the scene, Tristar was a fighting gym. “You would train, learn a couple of skills and then throw down, but it became far more complex.”

“GSP had a vision and he started to go left and right to find the skills to fill his vision. He brought on John Danaher and Greg Jackson. He firmly believed in finding whatever it took to get better”, says Taleb, describing GSP as incredibly generous.

“Some people keep their trainers for themselves. But GSP shared everything he knew. He invested in himself and then shared that with his team.” - Taleb

He explains that GSP had everyone's support from the beginning.

“There was something different about him. He was doing things no other fighters were doing and exploring different areas. Gymnastics and powerlifting were part of his routine.”

Later, when Ryan Hall, winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 22 (and viral celebrity after a video of him restraining a drunk patron came to light), came to Tristar to train, he influenced Zahabi first, then everyone at the gym.

Taleb describes Hall as having a small frame, almost skinny-fat, but “he was tapping everyone. Brown belts, purple belts, even black belts. He was killing them.” Taleb got more interested in the ground game from there and started doing mobility exercises to improve.

Taleb found BJJ and wrestling very difficult, but learnt by getting his ass whooped and submitted and slowly refined his style.

But Taleb always loved Muay Thai, and after hearing from GSP about Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, he traveled many times to Thailand to refine his striking. At one point he lived 2.5 years in Thailand.

When he got there, Taleb had a training session with 
Lamsomkram Chuwattana who had around 300 fights and who was a former WBC world champion. It was another mind blowing experience for Taleb.

Nordine Taleb with his Muay Thai coach in Thailand

“When I sparred with these guys I was nothing. I went back to suck my thumb (like a child). They were so good. It wasn’t that they sparred me hard and beat me, these guys were playing with me like a game.”


And imagine that Nordine Taleb was already a high level fighter, yet the skill of Muay Thai champions completely forced him to rethink his striking and push his skillset to the next level. 


“There’s nothing compared to a sparring session” - Taleb


Later, his main sparring partner in Thailand was Dricus Du Plessis, the current UFC Middleweight Champion, given that they had similar weight classes. 


Taleb describes the relentlessness of Du Plessis as phenomenal. “He was very athletic, never quit, defended well against takedowns, and gave everything to the mat.”

This relentlessness, according to Taleb, is one of the most important aspects of becoming a high-level fighter.
Without it, the costs of MMA will crush you.

The Costs Of MMA Not Many Are Willing to Face

It’s not all training with highly skilled athletes and learning as you go. There are real consequences and sacrifices to becoming a professional MMA fighter.

Taleb tells us “you have to be relentless and obsessed. You have to think about it day and night. You have to show up and ignore the critics, including yourself when you're saying no. You find out that nobody cares. You have to kick your own ass.”

There's no one skill that makes an MMA fighter. There are many. You have to have a sense of discipline and be prepared to sacrifice everything.

You have to know that it's a very selfish sport, but also very much a brotherhood. You have to be generous, but you can't forget yourself.” - Nordine Taleb 

The sacrifice is fundamental, everything is built on that. Many people want to do it, but very, very few people can do it. And when you're not training, someone else is. You might want to take a day off but the other guy has not taken a day off. You have to be relentless.

The sacrifice includes who you spend your time with. Taleb explains that he was either alone or with his training partners in the gym.

“You have to block out the noise. When you are a dedicated fighter… you can’t mix with the people who don’t do what you do. You have to be deep in your world.”

And of course, there are the serious risks of injury.

After Taleb fought Erick Silva, he flew to Thailand to refine his striking. He was destroying the pads and absorbing knowledge, but he flew back to Canada to finish up a training camp and slept on the flight.

He describes landing well rested, but it's not good to fight on a flying day, so he avoided the day training and decided to go for the night-time BJJ.

He was on his back in butterfly guard, the mat was slippery, and his opponent fell onto his open leg. He could hear the sound his adductor made as it popped out.

Taleb describes the pain as “at once hot and cold. It felt as though someone put their fingers into my thigh and ripped it open.”

The doctors confirmed that his adductor had moved 4 cm (1.5 in) from its insertion point and that surgery was an option. But rather than go for surgery, Taleb found Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy. After two rounds of PRP he started the recovery process.

He lost some mobility, and was out of fighting for a year and a half, but after a lot of rehab had no pain and was ready to go.

Besides this, he’s broken his hand (and managed not to show it), has broken ribs (and managed not to show it), and has had knees pop out (which nobody noticed). 

Not only this, he has broken his nose, has missing teeth and many smaller injuries from just training and fighting professionally. This is the grit that a fighter requires.

But when Sean Strickland broke his orbital bone he couldn't hide it. The orbital bone supports the eye, and when it broke Taleb immediately began to see double.

He says “I was punching the other guy rather than Strickland and Strickland saw this. He's a predator. He caught the weakness and attacked."

“You Got To Be Ready To Die” - Nordine Taleb

The recovery didn't require surgery, but he was out of training and sparring so the eyes could regain precision. To date, looking up still causes him double vision.

Finally, part of life as a fighter is losing, and those first losses hit hard. Taleb describes how the winning streaks lead to invitations to everything, and everyone loves you, but then you lose and overnight 50% of those success-hangers disappear.

You either get stronger or weaker from this, but Taleb describes only getting stronger. “It’s a reminder that nobody cares about you”. It helped him to recognise true loyalty, and that the wins he had were just for himself.

Taleb’s last professional fight was canceled as a result of the pandemic. He decided not to take another fight as he wished to exit the sport on his own terms rather than having the sport retire him.

“I wanted to leave with some fight in my pocket.” - Nordine Taleb

Working as a Celebrity Bodyguard and Becoming a Business Owner 

nordine taleb bodyguard with neymar jr

Nordine Taleb with Neymar Jr, a soccer star.

Taleb also worked as a bodyguard for a side hustle. Through this experience he learnt that he liked to operate in the shadows from behind the scenes.

It helped him develop a wider vision, allowing him to recognise potential risks and be proactive to them, rather than reactive.

He worked as a bodyguard for high profile actors and rappers, but one instance went viral when working as a bodyguard for Neymar Jr, a football star who has over 220 million followers on Instagram. The Paparazzi caught the above photos of Neymar and Taleb, and it went viral.

When the pandemic hit, opening a gym wasn't Taleb's first plan but after his career ended unexpectedly he wasn't sure what to do next.

He lived in Spain for a while and considered it as an option, but the people were too into soccer. Then he moved to Russia but the language barrier was too substantial and after the war broke out, he moved to Dubai.

Dubai has a thriving MMA scene and Taleb saw that as a gap in the market, and TNT Combat Sport And Fitness was born.

Our Experience Training With Taleb

eero westerberg and samuli jyrkinen with nordine taleb

“We can throw punches and kicks but the skill of punching and kicking isn’t enough. The ability to keep composure and stay calm is much bigger than just the skill.” - Nordine Taleb

We have made noticeable progress since training with Taleb. We have learned a lot but also everything we have already learned has gotten a lot more realistic.

You actually need a coach with absolute realism to make the techniques and strikes practical.

You cannot find more experience than inside the MMA cage where the opponent is trying to knock you out with his full power and everything he has. The referee and the limited rules are there just to keep it safe enough.

We also found Taleb's and Tristar's fighting style to be very intelligent where you are trying to minimize the damage to yourself and have the ability to control where the fight goes with powerful takedowns.

Like Taleb said: "all the way out or all the way in". Control where the fight goes and you can always have an upper hand. This is what made GSP so dominant as a champion.

Taleb also has lots of influence from many different martial arts, even Wing Chun & Aikido.

The way Taleb trains clinching and controlling the arms feels as though it's kung fu in terms of how the arms move. He describes it as “like jiu jitsu, but standing”. He encourages us to use the energy of the opponent and roll with it, go effortlessly and then lock into a position.

He is teaching strategic fighting, and we are learning to master the transitions and control our egos, which aligns perfectly with the core values of Vahva Fitness.

Taleb sees that we are reaching the target and landing more hits, planning and executing our setups and generally have a much better fight IQ. There's a day and night difference in our calmness and composure than what it was before.

This speaks to Taleb’s skill as a coach, and reflects those fighters and athletes who have influenced him. 

In many ways what we have learned goes far beyond the skills of MMA. It's just pure realism of fighting with the proper techniques and a strategic approach.

The fundamentals have to be mastered by everyone (you have to know how to perform and defend takedowns) but otherwise every martial artist would be able to learn a lot from Nordine Taleb and Tristar's strategic way of fighting.

Taleb’s Top 3 Martial Artists

Taleb is obviously an incredible coach and great fighter, but he credits many people who came before him as influences and inspirations. We asked him about his top 3 martial artists or fighters for this piece.

First place goes to GSP. Taleb describes his work ethic as one of a kind, and his personality matches up to it. “He’s been the Who’s Who, and he’s back-to-back champion but he still has time for his fans.“

Second place goes to Mohammed Ali. Taleb mentions that, in 2024, it’s easy to forget what Ali was fighting for as a black man in the 60s. His ideology combined with his incredible boxing prowess make him an easy pick for the GOAT list.

Third place goes to Bruce Lee. Although the world never saw Lee in a competitive fight, his philosophy and approach to fighting, combined with what he did to bring martial arts to a global audience, cement him as one of the GOAT's.

From this list, it’s easy to see that Taleb values more than sheer strength or power in a fighter. Humility, their beliefs, what they do for the sport, and their skills combine to make a good fighter great.

And we couldn’t agree more. You aren’t measured just by your kicking and punching, grappling and wrestling, but by how you live outside the cage and what you do for the community.

Stay strong!

P.S. Let us know your top 3 G.O.A.T martial artists/fighters in the comments below.


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samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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