From fencing and football to the wrestling ring: the incredible rise of WWE’s first Saudi star

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Mansoor Al-Shehail in the ring. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Updated 18 February 2020

From fencing and football to the wrestling ring: the incredible rise of WWE’s first Saudi star

RIYADH: Mansoor Al-Shehail, World Wrestling Entertainment’s first Saudi star, celebrated another career milestone last week, in front of a hometown crowd.

The rookie defeated veteran Swiss wrestler Cesaro in their first one-on-one encounter, during the WWE Crown Jewel 2019 event at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium on Oct. 31.

Mansoor introduced himself to the global WWE audience in memorable style in June when, during the televised Super ShowDown event at King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah, he outlasted 50 other wrestlers to win the largest Battle Royal in WWE history.

The 24-year-old said that training to become a wrestler had been a completely different experience from the sports in which he had participated when he was younger.

“My sports history was with football (soccer) in Saudi Arabia, and fencing in America,” said Mansoor.

His interest in fencing grew out of a love of the Star Wars movies, in particular their sword-fighting-style lightsaber battles.

“Fencing wasn’t what I expected — in a good way,” said Mansoor. “It required a lot more finesse and tremendous footwork and balance control. Football, meanwhile, was a lot more about conditioning, precision and also footwork, to a different degree.”

The training that was required when he decided to switch to wrestling was completely different from both of his previous sports.

“There are people who look at what we (wrestlers) do and say, ‘Hey, I think I could do that.’ But so many of us are specially trained and are good at what we do, we make it look easy — and that’s by design.”

Mansoor was invited to train at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, after he was spotted by WWE scouts during tryouts in Jeddah ahead of the Greatest Royal Rumble event in 2018. He said that many of the athletes he met at the center who had come from other sports, including boxing and American football, told him that training for the wrestling ring was the hardest thing they had ever done.

“It’s something that you need to have a passion for and love, otherwise the punishment and the pain that you experience just simply isn’t worth it,” he said. “If you don’t have that love for what we do, for the sport, in your heart then your body is not going to be able to withstand the punishment.

“It’s different in the sense that it’s an emotionally grueling process — I can’t even describe it. Physically, it puts you at the absolute top of your game. The strength and conditioning they have with the coaching and the program is something that I had never encountered before coming (to the WWE Performance Center).

“I was not on a really strict regimen — I was always sort of athletic, in a sense, so I could naturally do quite a bit and I was very grateful for that — but the limits that (the coach) can push you through and the maximum potential that he can push you to is amazing.”

The performance center, which has 26,000 square feet of training facilities, is at the heart of the WWE’s talent-development program. It has seven full-size wrestling rings, a fully equipped strength and conditioning room, a sports-medicine facility, and a promo room with a private studio for perfecting on-camera techniques, including character development and performance skills. There is also a cutting-edge production and editing suite with a studio and voice-over booth.

Mansoor said that thanks to the training he received there, wrestling moves are now second nature to him.

“When I’m in the ring it’s not so much as case of thinking about what I’m going to do next, its that I’ve done this so much I just naturally know what to do in any situation, at any given time and in any scenario,” he explained.

“I think that’s what I’m most grateful for: the ability to make wrestling second nature, to make what I do in the ring more of an instinct than a planned thought. I think that will help me a lot in the long run.”

Al Somah double condemns Al Ittihad to another alarming defeat in Saudi Derby

Updated 10 August 2020

Al Somah double condemns Al Ittihad to another alarming defeat in Saudi Derby

  • A goal in each half by Syrian international Omar Al Somah had just secured a 2-1 win for fierce rivals Al Ahli
  • With only six matches of the Saudi Professional League left, the eight-time league champions are now facing the real danger of relegation

DUBAI: At the final whistle, the haunted faces of Al Ittihad’s players told the whole story.

A goal in each half by Syrian international Omar Al Somah had just secured a 2-1 win for fierce rivals Al Ahli, and the slumped, crestfallen players, not to mention Brazilian coach Fabio Carille, were coming to terms with the enormity of the defeat and its consequences. 

With only six matches of the Saudi Professional League left, the eight-time league champions are now facing the real danger of relegation from the Saudi top flight. Al Ittihad now sit only one place and one point ahead of Al Fateh who currently occupy 14th place, the last of the relegation spots.

Despite several underperforming seasons, relegation for the country’s oldest club would still have been unthinkable at the start of the season, but after their defeat in the Saudi Derby, is now an alarming possibility.

Al Ahli had started the brighter of the two and stopped the home team from playing out from the back. The visitors eventually took the lead after 30 minutes, Al Somah tapping from close range after a shot by Abdulrahman Ghareeb had been saved.

However, Al Ittihad hit back 11 minutes later after some fine work from Fahad Al Muwallad, the ball eventually finding its way to  Romarinho, whose flicked pass was volleyed home brilliantly by Abdulellah Al Malki.

Al Ittihad had the majority of the early possession in the second half, with Al Ahli happy to play a patient, containment game and hit them on the break.

And it was from one of these counter-attacks that Al Ahli settled the match on 64 minutes, Al Somah collecting a long pass from captain Hussein Abdulghani on his chest before finishing in typical deadly fashion. A desperate Al Ittihad could not find a way back.

The 43-year-old Abdulghani said he had missed taking part in this derby over the last 13 years, a period in which he enjoyed a nomadic career at Al Rayyan, Neuchatel Xamax, Al NAssr, Very and Ohod.

“Every player looks forward to playing these games,” he said. “Perhaps today the match lacked a little bit of excitement. You know that the fans of Al Ittihad and Al Ahli usually give these matches a unique flavor. But for reasons we all know that was missing today. On a personal note, I’ve missed these derby matches, and I’m glad today we managed to get the three points.” 

Al Ahli had struggled for results before the enforced break, but have now recorded two wins since the resumption of the SPL under Serbian coach Vladan Milojević, who replaced the departed Christian Gross before the enforced break.

“Earlier in the season, the change of coaches affected the team in several ways,” Abdulghani added. “Maybe not all teams benefitted from the break in a big way. But in the three weeks of training after the break we got accustomed to the coach’s methods better.”

Al Ahli’s captain also had some comforting words for the beaten opponents.

“I always say that in big or derby matches, the technical difference between the two dreams is not the decisive factor,” he said. “Perhaps the extra pressure on Al Ittihad affected them more. No one expected to see Al Ittihad in this situation, they are such a big club with many domestic and international trophies. I’m sure they’ll be back, and I see that Al Ahli and Al Ittihad complement each other, in terms of competing against each other and improving each other.”

Match winner Al Somah was happy for the three points that kept Al Ahli on the tails of Al Nassr. in second place, but missed the presence of the fans.

“It was strange derby, a sad derby,” he said. “But I’m grateful we could make our fans happy. After the break, we didn’t win any of our friendly matches. The team needed a bit more time, and we still have a few players absent as well. Thankfully, today I was able to take advantage of the two chances I got to score.”

Al Somah’s double brings him closer to Abdulrazak Hamdallah of Al Nassr at the top of the goalscorer’s charts, the Moroccan having last season also succeeded the Syrian as the SPL’s leading marksman.

“Of course there is always ambition to be top scorer,” Al Somah said. “But the team is always a priority. To compete with Abdulrazak Hamdallah and Gomis, you must work hard and push yourself, and there are still six matches left. But the most important thing is for the team to keep on winning.”

A clearly dejected Ittihad captain Karirm El Ahmadi lamented the defensive mistakes which had condemned his team to a second straight defeat since the league’s restart.

“The match was like the one against Abha,” he said. “Getting back to 1-1 restores your confidence in yourself, but then the mistakes came at a bad time, you saw the second goal we conceded today, it is similar to the second goal against Al Abha.”

“I really don’t know why the mistakes keep happening,” El Ahmadi added. “It’s not possible to win matches when these mistakes happen, it’s important to focus. A draw today against Al Ahli would have been positive going into the next match against Al Ettifaq.”

In the earlier matches Al Ettifaq had kicked off round 24 of the disrupted SPL season with a 3-2 win over Al Fayha, second-bottom Damac gave themselves a slim hope of escaping the drop with 2-1 home win over Al Faisaly, and fourth-placed Al Wehda and Al Raed in sixth played out a 0-0 draw.