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!”
Saudi boxer @zaqboxing: ‘@MannyPacquiao had the Philippines, @HitmanHatton had England, I’m going to have Saudi Arabia behind me. I cannot wait to get in the ring.” #fightingtalk #Jeddah #GrovesSmith @WBSuperSeries@arabnews pic.twitter.com/P04CHGPuCx
— Mark Lomas (@marklomasSport) September 27, 2018
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.”