‘Focused’ Zuhayr Al-Qahtani prepared for biggest fight of his career

Zuhayr Al-Qahtani is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares to become the first professional Saudi boxer to fight in the Kingdom. (MTK Global)
Updated 27 September 2018

‘Focused’ Zuhayr Al-Qahtani prepared for biggest fight of his career

  • Zuhayr Al-Qahtani is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares to become the first professional Saudi boxer to fight in the Kingdom
  • Al-Qahtani, 29, takes on powerful Georgian puncher Giorgi Gviniashvili as part of the undercard for Friday’s World Super Series super middleweight final in Jeddah

LONDON: Zuhayr Al-Qahtani is leaving nothing to chance as he prepares to become the first professional Saudi boxer to fight in the Kingdom, so much so he had to turn down tickets to watch Anthony Joshua’s heavyweight title fight with Alexander Povetkin at Wembley.

Al-Qahtani, 29, takes on powerful Georgian puncher Giorgi Gviniashvili as part of the undercard for Friday’s World Super Series super middleweight final in Jeddah between George Groves and Callum Smith.

The Arabian Warrior was due to attend Joshua’s bout with Russia’s Povetkin last Saturday and had prime tickets for the showpiece event but his commitment to training and concerns about the cold causing injury and illness meant he passed up the opportunity.

It shouldn’t come as a great surprise as Friday’s contest at King Abdullah Sports City is a fight Al-Qahtani has been working towards since he first slipped on a pair of boxing gloves as a schoolboy.

“I got tickets but I didn’t want to go. Big boxing events in London, there’s sometimes fighting in the stands, drunk people. I just didn’t want to leave anything to me get injured. It was late, I didn’t want to get tired with training the next day. I just wanted to focus on my training,” Al Qahtani told Arab News before flying to the Middle East earlier this week.

“I didn’t want to jeopardise anything. I went to Joshua v (Wladimir) Klitschko and being sat on the ground at Wembley, it’s so vast and cold and I didn’t want to risk getting sick. The last thing you want to do is get a cold before a fight.

“I just don’t want to leave anything to chance. I want to be 100 per cent fresh for the show. I’ve got the weight of the Middle East on me and I can’t leave any excuses out there. I want to be focused, I want to be ready, I want to go.”

Gviniashvili represents a stiff challenge at super-lightweight over four rounds as the 29-year-old has 12 stoppages from his 29 fights but Al-Qahtani is confident he can get the job done and put on a show for his home fans.  

“He’s a tough kid. He’s got a good record with 12 stoppages so we’ve got a bit of fireball. I’ve seen footage of him, the way he boxes, his style. He’s alright. Every fight I go to is a challenge and it’s for me to adapt and I learn as I’m fighting,” Al-Qahtani added.

“Once I bring my A-game, there’ll be no trouble at all. I believe I belong with the best. But every guy I get in the ring with is a serious threat. He’s good but I believe in myself, I believe in my skills and I believe in my hard work, so there’s nothing to stop me.”

Al-Qahtani has been a bundle of nervous energy as the time has ticked down towards fight night. Having worked intensely at his craft under the guise of former IBO light middleweight champion Richard ‘The Secret’ Williams, who will be in his corner in Jeddah.

On Friday he will rise, attend prayer, “to ask God for guidance and success” before returning to his hotel to relax. That involved pouring over footage of classic fighters like Marvin Hagler and Manny Pacquiao to help him get in the zone.

“I’m a very boring man – I don’t really watch TV or films, I just watch boxing,” he laughs. “Even my Nan tells me that, she only knows boxing because of me!”

Then he’ll tuck into his traditional pre-fight meal of Spaghetti Bolognese before spending time with his younger brother Naseem and his cousins, who have travelled from all around Saudi and Dubai. Although, Al-Qahtani admits at this stage he’s in a state of isolation.

“I’m in the zone, I black out everyone. For me, it doesn’t matter who’s there, it’s a journey I have to take on my own. Boxing is a serious business,” he explains.

Then he and his entourage will make their way to the King Abdullah Sports City around three hours before fight time, giving him a chance to explore the ring, “so it’s nothing new to me when I step in there for the fight”. Then it’s game face on in the dressing room, hydrating and going through his game plan before calling up his Mum for her to wish him good luck.

It’s a meticulous routine he has honed over 16 years of being in the sport to finally realise his dream of fighting in Saudi, the first major step on the road to competing Asian and world titles.

Al-Qahtani will enter the ring in his trademark black and gold shorts soundtracked by a traditional Saudi war song which, he says, should send the crowd “crazy.” Then it’s down to business. “I’m going to war,” he admits. “I respect my opponent but he better be ready. It’s showtime.”


World number one Ashleigh Barty wary of US Open return

Updated 05 June 2020

World number one Ashleigh Barty wary of US Open return

  • Australian surged to the top of the rankings last year and has stayed there since
  • ‘I’d need to understand all of the information and advice ... before making a decision on the US events’

SYDNEY: World number one Ashleigh Barty voiced caution Friday about resuming tennis too soon, saying she needed more information before committing to the US Open in August.
The Australian, who surged to the top of the rankings last year and has stayed there since, said it was not just her but her entire team she must consider in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s exciting that tennis is being talked about again and things are moving in the right direction for us to start competing,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“But I’d need to understand all of the information and advice from the WTA and the USTA before making a decision on the US events.”
The WTA and ATP schedules have been on ice since March with action not set to resume until the end of July at the earliest.
Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II, while the French Open has been shifted from May-June to September-October.
A decision about the US Open — played in New York, which has been a hotbed for the virus — is yet to be made, but its main draw is scheduled to begin on August 31.
Barty said she was concerned about travel exemptions for her support staff.
While players could be exempt from a 14-day quarantine period, it remains unclear whether that also applies to their teams.
“It’s not just me, it’s my team I have to consider,” she said.
On Thursday, Rafael Nadal insisted tennis should not start again “until the situation is completely safe.”
“If you told me to play the US Open today, I would say ‘no’,” said the Spaniard, who captured a fourth US Open and 19th major in New York last year.
“In a few months, I don’t know. I hope so. We have to wait for people to return to normal life. And when it does, wait to see how the virus evolves.”