‘Arabian Warrior’ Zuhayr Al-Qahtani looking to train in the US as he plots path to the top

Zuhayr Al-Qahtani hs won all four of his professional fights so far.
Updated 28 July 2018

‘Arabian Warrior’ Zuhayr Al-Qahtani looking to train in the US as he plots path to the top

  • Saudi Arabia's first professional boxer has sights set on US training and titles
  • Al-Qahtani has hopes he might be on the undercard of the Groves-Smith fight set to take place in Jeddah in September

Zuhayr Al-Qahtani is a boxer with big ambitions, but the Jeddah-born southpaw has a small problem he needs to fix if he is to fulfil his dream of becoming a world champion — a quest for perfection that may take him to the US.
The unbeaten lightweight, Saudi Arabia’s only professional fighter, took his record to 4-0 earlier this month with a comfortable points win over England’s Dylan Draper, but the bout highlighted an ongoing dilemma for the Jeddah-born southpaw.
Al-Qahtani stands at just 5ft 6ins, which means the 29-year-old gives a significant height advantage to his opponents.
He combats that with his hand speed and rapid movement around the ring but, as the 5ft 10ins Draper showed at Bethnal Green’s York Hall, taller, slower fighters try to disrupt his rhythm by leaning over him and forcing a clinch.
Before his next fight, which he hopes will be in Jeddah on the undercard of the George Groves-Calum Smith bout announced yesterday, Al-Qahtani is working intensively with former British light middleweight Richard “The Secret” Williams at Miguel’s Boxing Gym in south
London on how to counter the tactic.
Al-Qahtani told Arab News: “In a lot of fights, they’re taller than me, so they just want to hold on to me. I always had it as an amateur, people would feel my punches and they just wanted to grab me. It clearly shows the individual and the kind of fighter they are.
“It’s a move to try to get you out of your comfort zone and rhythm. It becomes more of a chess game. It’s a technical thing, to get in and out quickly or, if he puts his weight on me, how I get out without using too much energy.
“I’m the one always being grabbed so I need to learn to get out quickly without getting frustrated and doing something silly.
“It’s about mastering the little basics. Boxing is an art, it’s not always about the quick knockouts, it’s a gradual thing about breaking the opponent down. Every fight I’m improving my intelligence and what I need to do to beat different opponents.”
Al-Qahtani’s desire for constant improvement also means he plans to spend significant time in the US to work with some of the world’s best trainers in honing his craft.
He has served all his boxing education in England but his wishlist of trainers feature Pedro Diaz, Virgil Hunter and Naazim Richardson, as he believes a visit stateside will help him reach the pinnacle of the sport.
Manny Pacquiao, Sergio Martinez and Vasyl Lomachenko are three of Al-Qahtani’s favorite fighters, and although the trio are not American, their time in the country helped them realize their potential.
With an undetermined fight scheduled for September and another likely in early 2019, Al-Qahtani is confident he can capture an Asian title in the next 12 months, elevating his status and giving him the chance to study new techniques in the US.
“Hopefully, after a few more fights I can go to (the US) and work with some world-class trainers who can bring the best out of me. I’m going to wait for my Asian title and then head (there),” Al-Qahtani said.
“America is the boxing hub. It’s the next step of achieving ultimate greatness. The best trainers, the best fighters — there will just be more opportunities to develop.”
The Draper bout also presented its own unique challenge for Al-Qahtani as a packed card by promoters MTK Global meant the Arabian Warrior did not get in the ring until 11:30 p.m. — more than four hours after he was due to appear.
Counting down the hours in his dressing room, Al-Qahtani tried to stay calm and focused, but admitted once the fight started he was so wound up by the delay, he came out swinging with emotion and did not box enough with his head.
“I was warming up, shadow boxing. I was impatient. I was getting into my zone, preparing, just remembering what I was doing this for,” he said.
“Every fight is nerve-wracking and to wait for more than four hours plays on your nerves. It was frustrating but the hungrier I am the more vicious I become. I just wanted to get in the ring and get it started.”
Keeping Draper penned in the corner or on the ropes, a first-round combination finished with an overhand left which opened a cut above his opponent’s eye and forced him further into his defensive shell.
Despite struggling with Al-Qahtani’s southpaw stance, the 36-year-old Englishman seemed content to stay on the backfoot and throw little in reply as the Saudi fighter’s frustration grew, even though he was well on top throughout the four-round contest.
“I need to work on not letting my emotions get the better of me, to stay cool. I would have been better had I not been angry,” Al-Qahtani said.
“Richard Williams was in my corner telling me, ‘your emotions are taking over, relax.’ The second and third rounds was when the work started and by the fourth round I was landing a few left hands and his eyes were rolling.
“But he kept grabbing me, not letting me finishing it. If I had another two rounds, I would have put him down.
“It’s very difficult to force a knockout in just four rounds. When it happens, either the guy is not a good fighter at all and doesn’t know what he’s doing or it’s just a case of a freak power-puncher like Mike Tyson.
“That’s why I need to start fighting over eight, 10 or 12 rounds. I like to break opponents down and that’s when you’ll see the best of me.”
What relaxed Al-Qahtani was the victory, as the referee raised “Triple Zee’s” left hand close to midnight following a dominant display. But his post-fight celebration also helped him unwind — not partying the night away, but the simple pleasures of a pizza and doughnut.
The strict training regime fighters undergo in the build-up to fights and the need to make weight means all treats have to be sacrificed in order to be in maximum condition; something Al-Qahtani admits is the hardest part of being a professional boxer.
“I got a pizza and a Krispy Kreme and munched them in my car. That pizza was so amazing. People won’t understand how good that tasted. It’s impossible to put into words.
“Before the fight I was on the train and trying to make weight, and there was a woman who offered her boyfriend a chocolate and he didn’t want it. I was sat there staring thinking, ‘you don’t understand what I’d do for a chocolate right now.’
“I was trying to make weight, I was so hungry and, man, I have such a sweet tooth — I love my milkshakes, I love my chocolate bars.
“The hardest thing about boxing is not the fighting part it’s making weight. You have to rid yourself of all the things you like to eat. It’s pure dedication.”


Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver proves childhood dreams can come true

Updated 21 November 2019

Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver proves childhood dreams can come true

  • Reema Juffali will make history this weekend when she competes in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Diriyah E-Prix
  • Reema Juffali: When I got my first car in Boston in the US I would just take it out on drives whenever I needed time to think or I was stressed

RIYADH: From playing with toy cars to becoming a professional racing driver is a dream for many children but one that few achieve.

However, for Reema Juffali of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the fulfilment of that childhood ambition will be especially poignant when she becomes the first woman from the Kingdom to compete in the Kingdom.

It will be yet another watershed moment for Saudi Arabia, as Reema takes to the track this weekend (on November 22 and 23) competing in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the Diriyah E-Prix at the Diriyah Circuit, part of the epic Diriyah Season, a month-long festival of sport.

And for Reema it will be the latest chapter in a love affair with cars that began as a young child.

She said: “Somewhere in the album there will be pictures of me driving in my dad’s lap or waiting in the car on the driver’s seat making car sounds.

“I was always a very active child, I didn’t do ballet I did karate. I didn’t play with Barbies I liked little model cars so from a very young age. I liked things that weren’t simply classed as feminine. My parents encouraged me to go after what I wanted to do, I played in a football team, I played basketball, I played baseball, I tried all these different sports and I find happiness in sports.

“Cars was something though I was always interested in, I liked reading about them, what new cars were coming out, all the classic cars. It wasn’t until I until I went to college that I started watching and learning about racing. Ever since then it has been a question mark ‘how can I do this?’. 

“When I was my teens the movie Transformers came out and so my friend gave me a nickname of ‘Opty’ after Optimus Prime because she knew how much I liked cars.

“When I got my first car in Boston in the US I would just take it out on drives whenever I needed time to think or I was stressed so I nicknamed my car Opty too. Being behind the wheel is my happy place.”

Reema made history by becoming the first Saudi female race licence holder to compete in the TRD 86 Cup at Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi in October last year, taking second place in the Silver Category and fourth overall. Her previous racing experience also includes the MRF Challenge in India.

That moment came just months after Saudi Arabia announced that women could drive as part of the Kingdom’s evolving social landscape. For Reema it was a pivotal moment.

She said: “I knew the day was going to come when women would be able to drive. If you had asked me when I was 12 I was adamant I was going to get behind the wheel, then I left and moved abroad and got the chance to drive and I thought how great it would be to drive at home.

“For me it wasn’t about the fact that women could drive, it was what driving brings, that freedom and that independence. It was an emotional moment, I had to celebrate with a drive and the first time I saw another women on the roads I waved to her. My sister asked if I knew her and I was like ‘no, I’m just so happy to see another woman driving’.”

Reema made one of her first appearances in the F4 British Championships at Brands Hatch last October. Just last month she was back at UK circuit driving for Double R Racing, the Woking-based team formed in 2004 by 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen and his race manager, Steve Robertson.

For the 27-year-old though competing in Saudi Arabia, on the Diriyah Circuit in the heart of the UNESECO World Heritage site, will be something special, especially competing in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY, the support race to the opening double header for the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

She said: “I am very excited, I never thought this day would come, or at least I didn’t know when and it came a lot sooner than expected. I’m a year into racing and here I am now about to race at home which is an incredible feeling.

“My family are very happy and excited. I told them I was going to be racing in Saudi and its going to be a big thing for me and us and they were like ‘that’s nice’ and then when it was official I sort of dawned on them and there were like ‘oh my, are you ready for this?’ I think I am.

“I came to racing quite late in life, some people start karting at the age of six, they have a path for them, for me my path was go study, then go work and it wasn’t an option for me to drop it all and race. Thankfully I got the opportunity to try this itching passion that I had for cars and just drive on the tracks, and then just give it everything.

“That was last October and it’s been very positive since then. I have a lot of learning to do, it is still the beginning for me, but it’s just been an amazing experience for me. I want to be a better driver and grow, at the end of the day I love it and I want to improve, I am doing it because of that.”

Reema also hopes her debut in the Kingdom will inspire other young men and women to get behind the wheel and consider a career in motorsports.

She said: “With Formula E and the Saudi Dakar Rally it’s amazing to see what is happening with motorsport and the opportunities that are opening up for Saudi drivers, especially girls.

“For me connecting with other women is definitely a plus. Having other people to look up to, especially for me at a younger age, would have been amazing. Now I get the chance to influence and if I can do that for one gender great, if I can for both genders even better and I feel like I am doing that.

“The questions I am getting from a lot of people such as ‘how do you do this, how can I do this?’ are from both men and women. It is a whole new world of motorsports for everybody in Saudi Arabia and they just want to learn and understand how its going to work and how they can be a part of it.