Mixed martial arts: Arab stars fight for global honors

Ahmed Amir is flying the flag not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East.
Updated 13 April 2018

Mixed martial arts: Arab stars fight for global honors

  • Arab MMA fighters have been overlooked by major promoters
  • Egyptian fighter Ahmed Amir wants to change the perception of Middle East MMA

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Ahmed Amir was born in Giza and grew up with a view of the Pyramids from his bedroom window. Tonight, a long long way from home, he will continue his ascent toward the pinnacle of his sport, flying the flag not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East.
Brave Combat Federation, a Bahraini organization founded by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa — the son of King Hamad — is considered one of the fastest growing sports promotions companies in the world. In a little more than 18 months, it has held 10 events in seven countries across four continents. Tonight, Brave 11 will take place in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Amir, nicknamed The Butcher, will represent the Arab world.
In an arena a throw of a stone away from where Brazil’s football team famously lost 7-1 to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, the headline event will be a unification fight between two local fighters, Luan Santiago and former UFC fighter Lucas Martins, for the light-heavyweight title. Yet it is further down the 13-bout fight-card where Brave’s most tangible success story may lie.
Amir arrived in South America as one of only two Arab fighters involved in tonight’s event. Alongside Lebanon’s Georges Bardawil, Amir knows how important it is he returns to his training base in Kuwait having enhanced his record of eight wins and one loss. For too long, he said, Arab fighters have been overlooked by major promoters and those few Arabs that have been contracted, such as Ramsey Nijem and Belal Muhammad, tend to have been born outside the region. He wants to change the perception of Middle East MMA.
“I’ve spoken to so many managers and promoters about this,” Amir, 27, told Arab News from inside the luxury Ouro Minas Palace Hotel, the lobby of which this week has been awash with testosterone, tattoos and tight fight T-shirts.

“We in the Arab world have many amazing fighters, but they need to be given a chance. I really don’t know why they are not. Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s the fact we tend to be more respectful toward our opponents instead of mouthy and offensive. I really don’t know, but it needs to change and I’m here to help do that.”
In preparation for his fight against Belo Horizonte-born Cleiton “Predator” Silva, Amir trained with John Kavanagh at the Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, Ireland. Kavanagh is Conor McGregor’s coach and Amir worked alongside the UFC superstar on occasion.
“It was a good experience to see how Conor trains,” he said. “He’s an amazing, dedicated fighter, but he’s also open and approachable. What we see now though is that, because of Conor, Ireland has this reputation of creating great fighters. That’s what we need to happen in the Middle East — give one of us a chance and the perception will soon change.”
Amir, who describes his style as “a mixture of smart and heart,” quit his job in Kuwait three months ago to focus full time on pro fighting. He is giving himself a year to reach UFC and although concerned his unwillingness to trash-talk might hinder his chances, he uses a sinister ski-mask to stand out from the crowd.

“I can’t be fake, but I can wear a mask, ” he said. “I’m always respectful, but if somebody does not respect me, I’ll kill them.” 
His Brave debut in late 2016 saw him take on American jiu-jitsu specialist Richie Martinez in Manama. He won in the first round with a series of punches to leave the audience — and organizers — in shock.
“I was given that first opportunity because I think they expected me to lose,” he said. “It was the first event and they had Richie fly in from the US, so I felt like I was just being put up to lose, but that just made me more determined to win. They thought I was small, but I know I am a big. People then said that win was lucky, but I won my next fight and my next fight so, finally, I think I am starting to get the respect I deserve.”
Before Amir enters the cage, Lebanon’s Bardawil will make his Brave debut. The 24-year-old won the second season of Desert Force Academy, a reality TV show that pitted 32 Arab fighters against each other in a battle to be the best. The finale, held in Jeddah in December 2014, saw him beat Lebanese compatriot Philippe Massoud to claim the title.
Now, having since taken his record to six wins and a loss, he will face Carlos Soares of Brazil, whose own record reads 8-1-0. “So many UFC legends are Brazilian, so it’s a dream to be here,” said the diminutive Bardawil, 24, clad in sponsor-laden shorts and hoodie and sporting a clipped beard.
“Of course, it’s more pressure and responsibility because myself and Ahmed are the only Arabs fighting and we know we need to represent the region well. But that’s why I joined Brave. I’m here to show the world that Lebanon — and the Middle East — has great fighters and that we can be the best in the world.”
The event is due to start at 1 a.m. Makkah time.

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.