Avid MMA fans that have been following the sport for some time might recognize the name Tristar Gym. It is one the most respected academies in the world - producing world class MMA fighters and BJJ athletes.
The mastermind behind the success of Tristar gym is owner and head coach Firas Zahabi. He is highly regarded as one of the best MMA coaches in the world!
Let’s take a look how that came to be. Everything from his introduction into martial arts game and how he became the head of Tristar.
Firas Zahabi's Story
Firas is the son of Lebanese parents that settled in Quebec, Canada. As a kid, Zahabi was obsessed with American football. He and his brothers spent most of their childhood playing for amateur teams in Montreal.
This habit of Zahabi’s to get completely immersed in anything he liked would benefit him later on. His first interaction with martial arts was at 18 when he watched UFC 2 on VHS. Firas had no knowledge of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu before watching the event and couldn’t believe what he saw.
He watched Royce Gracie dispatch bigger and stronger opponents with ease by using Jiu Jitsu for a 2nd time. Zahabi was amazed at the techniques Royce was using. After he finished watching the event, Firas made it his mission to learn Jiu Jitsu.
Unfortunately for Firas, this was in 1998, when there were no legitimate Gracie Jiu Jitsu schools in Montreal. This didn’t stop Firas as he decided to at first study on his own with his brothers and friends. Zahabi grabbed any book or tape he could to study and then he would drill the movements.
Zahabi Finds Tristar
This would go on for two years before he met Renzo Gracie purple belt Angelo Exharkos. Angelo had just started coaching Jiu Jitsu at a gym at Tristar in Montreal. Firas was so excited that he finally found a gym to legitimately learn Jitsu from a trained grappler.
Zahabi would immediately begin training Jiu Jitsu with Exharkos, as well as learn Muay Thai. He spent every moment he could on the mat trying to pick up everything about Jiu Jitsu.
Since Faras was such a gym rat obsessed with Jiu Jitsu, he would earn his blue belt in just 6 months. Immediately after earning his blue belt, Zahabi was offered a part-time coaching position at Tristar.
Firas got the offer, because Exharkos could only coach 3 days a week. The reason Faras got the offer was because he was the most dedicated student, knowledgeable, and well liked.
It was only a little time later that Firas would become the head Jiu Jitsu coach at Tristar. Exharkos could no longer coach due to professional obligations, so Firas stepped in.
After Zahabi became head BJJ coach, he would begin solely training No Gi, It would be 9 years before he would begin training in the Gi again.
Firas, The Philosophy Major
If you have ever heard Firas speak, you immediately understand how intelligent he is. While being the head Jiu Jitsu coach at Tristar, he was also a philosophy major at Concordia University.
Since Firas was occupied as a full time coach and student, he unfortunately didn’t have time for a fighting career. Although he did sporadically compete in a few grappling tournaments and Muay Thai fights.
Firas and Wagnney Fabiano
Since Firas was still only a blue belt, he was still developing as a grappler. Fortunately for him, Nova União black belt Wagnney Fabiano moved to Montreal in 1999 and later opened a school.
Firas needed a trainer, so of course he would seek out Fabiano to improve his game. During a period of a few years Zahabi would frequent Fabiano’s school weekly to learn some new techniques.
Zahabi becomes Owner of Tristar
In 2007, the owner of Tristar Conrad Plas began opening other businesses in Montreal. Since his time became too occupied to run the gym.
Plas didn’t want to shut down the gym, but came up with a solution. He would hand over ownership to Firas giving him complete control of Tristar.
Later on, Firas would outright buy the business from Plas. Now, Firas was living a dream he always wanted. Being able to train and coach Jiu Jitsu full time in his very own academy.
Firas meets Georges St-Pierre
Soon after taking full control of Tristar gym, Firas would become the head coach of Georges St-Pierre. Arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time.
Georges was coming off the most devastating loss of his career against Matt Serra losing the UFC welterweight title. Pierre needed a change to coaching and he would come to Zahabi to become his head coach.
This would prove to be one of the biggest accomplishments in the career of Zahabi. It would also be the start of another life changing opportunity for him.
Firas meets John Danaher
In sort of a funny twist, George’s actually trained part-time at Renzo’s Gracie’s school in New York. The very same school, where Zahabi’s first coach trained and earned his purple belt.
At Renzo’s, Georges would primarily learn Jiu Jitsu from the phenomenal BJJ coach John Danaher. Firas would make the trip to train in the blue basement at Renzo’s with Pierre and Danaher.
There was instant chemistry with Danaher and Firas. They would spend hours exchanging ideas about martial arts and philosophy since both were philosophy majors.
Zahabi would not only benefit from training with Danaher and St-Pierre, but with other world class grapplers at Renzo’s. He would train with the likes of Braulio Estima, Roger Gracie, Igor Gracie, and Renzo himself.
This opportunity to train at Renzo’s with Danaher took Zahabi’s ability as a coach and martial artist to another level.
Zahabi earns his BJJ Black belt
After beginning training at Renzo’s with Georges, Firas Zahabi would return to training in the GI. In 2011, after working tirelessly under Danaher, Firas was awarded a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Something he had always wanted to accomplish since he first developed a passion for Jiu Jitsu.
Firas MMA Coach Achievements
From the start of becoming the head MMA coach for Georges St-Pierre, Firas Zahabi quickly became a well respected MMA coach. In a little over a decade, he has become revered as one of the world’s best MMA coaches.
Under the coaching of Firas, St-Pierre never lost another fight. Winning 12 straight fights, regaining the welterweight title and defending it 9 times.
After a 4 year break, Georges would then come back and win the middleweight title submitting champ Michael Bisping shocking the MMA world. There’s a reason GSP is considered as the MMA GOAT!
The next biggest name that Firas coaches is Rory MacDonald. One of the most elite welterweights in the world today.
With the help of Firas Zahabi, Rory has fought for the UFC 170 title in an epic fight with Robbie Lawler. Later in his career, Rory would go on to win the Bellator 170 title.
Firas Zahabi has tirelessly put in the work in being one of the best martial arts coaches in the world. Today, he continues to teach world class athletes at his gym Tristar in Montreal.
Firas Zahabi is a phenomenal teacher and any martial artist can learn a lot from him. If you’d like to hear his insights or watch him teach techniques check the link to his Youtube channel.