Saudi Arabia in talks to host Brave MMA fight night

Ahmed "The Butcher" Amir is just one of a number of Arab MMA fighters taking the sport up a level across the region.
Updated 16 April 2018
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Saudi Arabia in talks to host Brave MMA fight night

  • Fight night set to take place in Kingdom later this year or in early 2019.
  • MMA growing in popularity across the Arab world.

Played out in front of a boisterous Brazilian crowd on Friday night, Brave 11 was hailed by the country’s local press as “one of the best MMA nights of the year.”
Now Arab News can exclusively reveal discussions are taking place between fight organizers and officials in Saudi Arabia to host a Brave event in the Kingdom later this year.
Brave Combat Federation is considered one of the fastest-growing sports promotions companies in the world. The weekend’s event in southeastern Brazil was the 11th Brave event in 18 months and the 13-bout fight card provided everything, from titles and tap-outs to sold-out seats, pools of blood and last-minute, gut-wrenching breaks.
Founded by Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, the organization has already held fight nights in seven countries, including Jordan, UAE, Mexico, India and Kazakhstan. The next event, on May 11, will take place in Jakarta, Indonesia, but Mohammed Shahid, CEO of Brave, revealed a similar spectacle in Saudi Arabia is already in the pipeline.
“Saudi is a country that enjoys MMA,” Shahid said.
“There are a lot of fans there that love MMA and there are Saudi fighters who have competed at the regional promotions. We are very excited to be putting on an event there either later this year or early next year, but we are still in discussions. It’s definitely a part of our plan though — there is no question of if; it is a matter of when.” 
Shahid continued: “We want to do many events in Saudi Arabia, but we want to do it the right way. We want to make sure that when we enter the market and give an event to them in their country that we do it properly. We want to make sure we provide them with the best product, the best fights and make sure we all enjoy a great night.”
On Friday, the main event featured Lucas Martins, a former UFC fighter who hails from the host city. He won the Lightweight belt in front of his friends and family with a fifth-round TKO. It came at the end of a ferocious night of fighting that included the fight-card’s two Arab fighters, Ahmed Amir of Egypt and Lebanon’s Georges Bardawil, both leaving the venue bruised and defeated. Amir lost by TKO, while Bardawil lost by unanimous decision.
Shahid said regardless of the results, watching Arabs fight on international cards brings the company “great satisfaction” and is “a sign of the success that Brave is creating.” He insisted however that there is no favoritism when it comes to selecting fighters. While the long-term goal of the company is to eventually change the entire sport in terms of the way it is organized — “to move it away from where the promoters decide the futures of the athletes” — for now Brave is focused on giving opportunities to athletes from parts of the globe that traditionally MMA has overlooked.
“Certainly when we see Arab fighters competing on such important cards around the world it gives us great satisfaction and is a sign of the success that Brave is creating,” said Shahid.
“It is crucial for us to have Arab fighters involved. But it’s also important that we have fighters from Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Europe, Latin America. We want to give everyone an opportunity.
“The Arab fighters are a great example, however, of how we have given a platform to guys from a new region. It is not that they did not have a platform before, but we are giving a platform to compete at the highest level, to get more fans internationally, and showcase their talent around the world. We provide them with a chance to step outside the GCC and test themselves at a higher level.”


Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’

Updated 20 October 2018
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Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’

  • Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club
  • A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table

KUWAIT CITY: Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club, predicting his new coach can inject some much-needed confidence into the team.
A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table with one draw and four losses from their opening five games.
Ramon Diaz was sacked as coach after just two matches, with Bilic (below) parachuted in three weeks ago to replace the Argentine.
The first game of his reign ended in defeat away to Al-Fateh and on Friday they drew 1-1 at home with Ohod, but Australian Jurman, who moved to Al-Ittihad from Suwon Bluewings in the summer, believes it is only a matter of time before Bilic transforms the club’s fortunes.
“It’s not a situation I’ve seen before, a coach being sacked after only two games,” Jurman told Arab News. “It shows that it is cut-throat here but the players and coaches have to respond positively to that pressure.
“A club the size of Al-Ittihad has to be winning games and I think that Bilic and his coaching staff will take us in the right direction. It’s mentally tough when you keep losing, but we have great players in the team and we know we should be higher than where we are.
“We just need more belief and I certainly feel the new coach will give us that. Then I’m sure we’ll shoot up the table.”
On a personal level, Jurman now has the opportunity to work with a coach who enjoyed a distinguished career playing in his position. An uncompromising center-back, Bilic reached the World Cup semifinals with Croatia in 1998 and also played in the Premier League with Everton and West Ham.
“He’s right up there with the best coaches in the league and of course was a great player,” Jurman said. “Obviously he played in my position so I’m excited to learn from him and I’m sure he can help make me a better player.
“It’s been a difficult start to the season but now we can look forward and I’m sure that the new coach and his staff are going to get us back on track.”
Jurman made a bold career move by deciding to swap Suwon Bluewings for Al-Ittihad in July after a successful 18-month stint in South Korea.
But despite the tough introduction to life in Saudi football, the Australia international insisted he has no regrets.
“It’s been a big change coming to Saudi Arabia. Training at night, the temperatures we’re playing in every week — these things take time to get used to. But it’s a great opportunity to experience a culture I’ve never seen before.
“It would have been easy to stay in Korea but when you get a call saying one of the biggest clubs in the Middle East are interested in you, it’s a no-brainer. I was told about the Pro League expansion, how they wanted more foreigners on each team.
“I knew I was going to play against quality players, quality strikers — I wanted to come and test myself.”
As well as enjoying the challenge on the pitch, Jurman has been particularly impressed by the fans off it, playing in front of some huge crowds at King Abdullah Sports City.
“Al-Ittihad is such a big club and even at our away games, our fans usually outnumber the home team. Seeing that type of support is fantastic. The fans are crazy, the best supporters I’ve seen.
“It seems you can’t go anywhere in Jeddah without finding an Al-Ittihad fan and that’s been eye-opening, to see just how much they love football in Saudi Arabia.”
Jurman was not the only Australian to arrive in Saudi Arabia this summer, with Socceroos goalkeeper Brad Jones moving to Al-Nassr from Feyenoord.
And after fellow Aussie Mark Milligan’s summer departure from Al-Ahli, Jurman has been grateful to have another compatriot to speak to.
“I chatted to Mark after our last game in Russia at the World Cup and he helped me make up my mind to move here. He was living in Jeddah too so it was a real shame that he left soon after. The new coach came in there and that’s how it works sometimes in football.
“Now Brad is here too and that’s been great. We’re always chatting on WhatsApp, talking about life and how we’re settling in. It’s always good to have that kind of support.
“Unfortunately for me, Brad’s team is flying at the moment. But I’m sure that before long we’ll turn things round at Al-Ittihad and then we can both be up there.”