Saudi Arabia shock volleyball favorites Indonesia to make statement of intent at Asian Games

Updated 22 August 2018

Saudi Arabia shock volleyball favorites Indonesia to make statement of intent at Asian Games

JAKARTA: At times it seemed nothing would quieten the raucous crowd. As Saudi Arabia surprisingly beat hosts Indonesia 3-1 in Men’s Pool A at the Asian Games, the home fans inside the Gelora Bung Karno Volleyball Arena made a din so deafening and chanted so incessantly that it felt more like a final than a first-round group stage match.

Not a Saudi Arabian serve close to topping 100kph nor a spike with such accuracy it kissed the boundary line threatened to dampen the Indonesians’ spirits, as they continued to cheer and light-heartedly jeer until the end. As their defeated compatriots headed for the changing rooms after dropping the fourth and final set 25-22, impassioned fans pleaded for hand-slaps and bottles of Pocari Sweat.

“It’s incredible, right?” said Ibrahim Al-Moaiqel, the 22-year-old Saudi Arabia player. “This atmosphere… Indonesians are so full of energy. I love them so much. We’ve seen nothing but good energy everywhere we go. They cheer for Indonesia, but they also cheer for the other teams, so it makes us all so happy to be here.

“It was a pretty tough match with both sides having to play clean to win. Indonesia had a quick offense from the right side, so that put us at a disadvantage and that was clear in the second set, but luckily we were able to fight some questionable calls and get the result. We knew we would have to fight to win because last year we lost, but this time we came through. Indonesia are a great team though and we expect to see them again later in this tournament.”

Saudi Arabia, having beaten Kyrgyzstan 3-1 last week, faced Indonesia knowing a victory would secure top spot in their group, but also aware that their opponents had the upper hand having beaten them the last time they met. The Kingdom’s coach, Zharko Ristoski, had billed his side as the underdogs, but watched them race to a one-set lead, playing not only with style, but with smiles as wide as the varnished court to edge it 25-23.

Concern crept in after a second set in which they made several unforced errors and conceded three aces, losing 25-16. Having shown a similar drop in concentration in their previous match, Ristoski will be keen to focus on improving his team’s mentality before their classification round match on Sunday. 

“We played a great game and it’s important to get those two victories, secure the first place in the group and ensure that in the next round we will meet a second-placed team. That is so important for us,” said Ristoski, the Macedonia-born coach. “We opened the game very well, but then had problems in the second set, same as in our first match. We dropped our concentration a little, but again we showed very strong character to come back and win the next two sets.”

Whatever was said after the second set worked as Saudi Arabia reappeared determined to regain the lead, racing to a 5-0 advantage and eventually closing out the set 25-19. On match point in the crucial fourth, Ahmed Al-Bakheet smashed a spike through a flurry of bodies to seal a memorable victory, prompting choreographed celebrations and selfies with the scoreboard. 

“Indonesia were the team who we expected to finish first in the group —  they were favorites,” said Ristoski. “If you watch the last few years, Indonesia always defeated our national team and that is why this victory is bigger than usual. I am really happy.”

Al-Moaiqel refused to be drawn on how far he believes this team can go. Saudi Arabia finished bronze medallists in 2006, but this is a young team, a new generation of talent, many of whom are representing their country at this level for the first time. 

“Our whole strategy is taking things one step at a time, be that one game, one point, one rally, we will see what we can do this tournament,” he said. “To be honest, we have high hopes, but we will see. We’re hoping to make some history this time. Gold medal is our goal, but we just need to see what we can do.”


UFC Fight Island delivers goods as Kamaru Usman reigns supreme in Abu Dhabi

Updated 12 July 2020

UFC Fight Island delivers goods as Kamaru Usman reigns supreme in Abu Dhabi

  • Alexander Volkanovski, Petr Yan and Rose Namajunas also score big victories at UFC 251
  • Main fight courted controversy with fans questioning the referee’s decision

DUBAI: It might have taken place behind closed doors, but Fight Island in Abu Dhabi delivered on its promises, with Kamaru Usman retaining his welterweight title after defeating Jorge Masvidal in UFC 251’s main event on Yas Island.

MMA fans in the Middle East had to set their alarm clocks for the early hours of Sunday, July 12, to watch the biggest international sporting event since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, with action at Flash Forum in the UAE capital kicking off at 2 a.m. local time.

At the weekend Masvidal had called Usman “weak-minded,” but the man who had replaced Gilbert Burns on only six days’ notice would come to regret those words, losing (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) to the “Nigerian Nightmare, ” who had words of praise for his opponent nonetheless.

“Gamebred [Masvidal] is the biggest, baddest dude out there right now,” Usman said. “I had to switch gears on six days’ notice. I know a lot was made of him taking this fight on short notice, but he was preparing. All these guys are preparing for one guy—and that’s me at the top of the mountain. I had to make a mental shift. I trained for Gilbert and had a completely different game plan. I had a lot of other things coming into the fight, but that’s no excuse.”

With the champion curiously focused on stomping on his opponent’s feet, the fight initially lacked the entertainment value of earlier bouts on the main card.

The challenger had edged the first round, but by the end of the second Usman looked to have squared it at 19-19. With the American fighter’s early energy subsiding, Usman took control of the fight to shade rounds three and four by taking the fight to the canvas. 

Kamaru Usman on his way to victory over Jorge Masvidal. (Getty Images/ UFC) 

“Gamebred is tough and he showed it out there,” he added. “He took a lot of big elbows on bottom, but he kept getting up and fighting. He didn’t quit.”

Masvidal needed to overcome Usman’s grappling tactics with a stoppage in the fifth and final round. This proved beyond his reach and Usman’s UFC record now stands at an impressive 12 wins and no losses, emulating the starts made by Anderson Silva and Khabib Nurmagomedov in MMA’s premier organization.

“I’m at the top of the mountain, I’m the champion,” Usman said. “Everybody’s looking at me. So there’s never going to be a shortage of contenders.”

The two fights leading up to the main event had arguably been the highlights of Fight Island, at once brutal and not short on controversy.

The American Max Holloway had looked set to avenge his loss to Australian Alexander Volkanovski in December’s UFC 245 after dominating the first two rounds comfortably. A stoppage or even knockout looked on the cards. However, Volkanovski reasserted himself in round three, and though he still looked to be trailing by most estimates by the end of the fight, was surprisingly awarded a split decision victory (48-47, 48-47, 47-48). The champion remains unbeaten after 19 professional MMA fights.

“It was a tough fight. He stood there and didn’t take a backwards step,” Volkanovski said. “He made it tough for me in the earlier rounds, I didn’t use the kicks as much as I would have liked, but I got the job done. That’s the main thing. I knew it was two rounds a piece going into that last round. I had to win that last round. I wanted a finish. He went for the finish. Unfortunately, neither of us got it. I won the decision and that’s what counts.”

“He’s a gamer,” he added. “We’re both hard workers, but I got the job done. Nothing but respect to Max. We had words, but maybe he was just trying to get in my head.”

The decision, however, did not go down well with fight fans online. Across social media, audiences voiced their dismay, many calling the fight 3-2 in favor of Holloway, and others posting barbed comments and memes questioning the judges’ competence and eyesight.

Just prior to that dramatic conclusion, the vacant bantamweight title had gone to Petr Yan who defeated Brazilian legend Jose Aldo in another controversial fight, though for entirely different reasons. As the undefeated Russian pounded his opponent mercilessly, the referee inexplicably allowed the fight to continue when a stoppage looked inevitable, and much needed. On Twitter,  “stop the fight” trended alongside #UFC251.

Russian champion Petr Yan lands a punch on Jose Aldo of Brazil. (Getty Images/ UFC)

“I expected it to be a hard fight,” Yan said. “He hit my leg and I was forced to change stance. It got me off my game a little bit. It is a crazy situation in the world to prepare for this fight. The world was closed, but we worked hard to prepare. Aldo is a legend. I have only respect for him.”

Yan revealed that he had planned to put pressure on his opponent, tire him out and then attack after the third round.

“That’s exactly what happened,” he said. “In the first and second round, he had hard punches and low kicks. I waited and pressured him. After the second round, I started to work. It was a good knockout. I liked it. My division has very tough fighters in the top five. The nmumber 1 contender is Aljamain Sterling. I will fight everyone. I like it, it’s my job.”

After the main card had kicked off with Amanda Ribas forcing Paige VanZant into a quick submission, one of the most anticipated fights of the night saw Rose Namajunas regain her straw-weight title by defeating Jessica Andrade by a split-decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29), the American having lost the title to her Brazilian rival at UFC 237 in May, 2019.

Rose Namajunas overcame Jessica Andrade at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images/ UFC)

“It was fun, man,” Namajunas said. “I was just in the right state of mind. That’s everything. Early on in the fight, I was doing great. Then I think she hit the desperation button and started really unloading. She caught me a couple times, but I just stayed strong.

Namajunas v Andrade was later named the fight of the night.

The prelims had seen Jiri Prochazka, on his UFC debut, showed why he is one of MMA’s most exciting talents by knocking out Volkan Oezdemir; Muslim Salikhov edged Zaleski dos Santos on a split decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28); Marcin Tybura overcame Maxim Grishin; Makwan Amirkhani stopped Dan Henry in the first round; and Leonardo Santos beat Roman Bogatov (29-26, 29-26, 29-26).

In the Early prelims Maxim Grishin of Poland won his heavyweight against Russian  Marcin Tybura (30-27, 30-27, 30-26); Raulian Paiva overcame Zhalgas Zhumagulov (29-28, 29-28, 29-28); Brazilian Karol Rosa defeated compatriot Vanessa Melo (30-26, 30-26, 30-27); and Davey Grant had kicked UFC Fight Island with a knockout win over Martin Day.

UFC Fight Island is set to air three more pay-per-view fight nights on July 15, 18 and 25. All will take place at Flash Forum.