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So, when Ramsey became good friends with David Ney, one of the few Jewish kids at his school in Washington state, no one in his family gave it a second thought.
“It’s never really fazed us,” Nijem said. “Obviously, my dad really embedded in our heads the importance of the Palestinian people being free…. He’s always said that something needs to change, but you can’t take it out on Jewish people, or people of Jewish descent.”
Things got a little tense later on, as Nijem and Ney grew up and made separate trips to the Middle East. At 21, Nijem visited Jerusalem, as well as the Palestinian territories. He was stunned by the hardship and tension brought on by the conflict in general, and by the Israeli occupation in particular.
“You can feel the tension. I [was] around Arab-Palestinian kids that are no different than me; the only difference is that I was luckily blessed to be born in America,” Nijem said.
Ney, meanwhile, visited Israel on a Taglit-Birthright trip and came back with a changed and more pro-Israeli perspective. That led to a few charged discussions, but their friendship remained intact.
Nijem was a star wrestler at Henry M. Jackson High School in Mill Creek, Wash., and later earned a spot on the team at Utah Valley University, an NCAA Division I school.
Through interactions with mixed martial arts fighters in the area — some of whom came to practice their wrestling with his college team — he made the transition to the sport himself. He got his break when he appeared on the star-making “The Ultimate Fighter.”
On the show, he was mocked by his fellow fighters for enjoying the Fox show “Glee,” and earned the nickname “Stripper Ramsey” for his wild dancing in the house. Still, he proved tough in the ring and advanced to the finals of the tournament that was part of the reality show. Since then, Nijem has fared well, holding a record of 6–2.
Today, Nijem continues to take on some of the toughest competitors in the UFC, all the while trying to do his part to promote peace — even if it involves fighting in a cage.
“I believe that the majority of people want peace, and it’s the minority that is extremists,” he said. “People don’t want to live in fear that they’re going to get killed that day, or their family.”
Elliot Olshansky is a freelance writer living in Hartsdale, N.Y. He has written about mixed martial arts for SI.com, UFC.com and UltimateFighter.com.