Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

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Dubai-based Tunisian Mounir Lazzez on his way to victory over Abdul Razak Alhassan in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Calvin Kattar wins his fight against Dan Ige. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania after defeating Andrea "The Spartan" Michailidis (Getty Images/UFC)
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Brazilian Taila Santos and Molly McCann of England during their Flyweight fight in Abu Dhabi. (Getty Images/UFC)
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Updated 16 July 2020

Local hero Mounir Lazzez delights fans with UFC debut win

  • Calvin Kattar defeats Dan Ige in All-American featherweight clash at UFC Fight Night 1 in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: Four days after Fight Island launched in Abu Dhabi with UFC 251, MMA’s premier promotion returned to Yas Forum with Fight Night 1 and victories for local hero Mounir Lazzez over Abdul Razak Alhassan in the Welterweight division, and for American contender Calvin Kattar over Dan Ige in their headline Featherweight clash.

The Dubai-based Tunisian Lazzez — the only born, bred and trained Arab fighter on the card — was making his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut after getting his first call-up only in early June, and he kicked off the main card of the night by dominating the Ghanian Alhassan in a unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 28-27) victory.

Outside the cage, UFC boss Dana White was one of the first to offer his congratulations to the delighted winner.

“I love to be the underdog and to show my skill, and that’s exactly what happened tonight,” Lazzez said. “I came in as the underdog and I enjoyed the victory. When he put me in the first round against the cage, I said, ‘what, this is all that you got?’

“I still have a lot of weapons and just step by step I killed his will with the kicks, moving around, high kick, low kick, I showed my wrestling, my takedown defense,” he said.

In the climax of UFC Fight Night 1 the No 6-ranked American contender Kattar unanimously defeated fellow-countryman Ige (49-46, 49-46, 48-47). The winner then declared his readiness to take on Australian Featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, who defeated Max Holloway at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi on Sunday morning. 

“It’s a good opportunity, I was happy to go out with my team and finally give ourselves a main event win, and what better spot than out here in Abu Dhabi on Fight Island,” Kattar said. “Anywhere, anytime, that’s my mindset. We just follow where the opportunities are at, we had a big one here in Abu Dhabi, like I said, I’m just happy to go and capitalize. It’s a great check point for me and my team.

“I feel great, my lungs were great, my cardio felt good,” he said. “It was good to go and get five rounds because we’re eyeing that belt and we’re ready for five-round fights. We had to do that with a guy like Ige, you let him get momentum, it might be a long night for you. We figure we go out and get the momentum early and keep it as long as we could through the entirety of the fight. Everything was happening off the jab, so I was sticking to the jab, listening to my corners and we were able to go and get the job done.”

But for Middle Eastern audiences, all eyes were on Lazzez, and he did not disappoint his growing army of fans. The fighter, whose MMA professional record now stands at 10 wins and one loss, revealed the mental toughness that was needed to come in at short notice and produce a winning performance.

“I kept visualizing this over and over as just another fight, don’t put pressure on yourself and just go enjoy what you do,” said Lazzez. “I love this craft, I loved when I get clipped and I see the will inside the eye of my opponent, that mental game, I love that, I love that deep-water stuff. I’ve said it before, maybe you can be more technical and maybe you can be more powerful, but my will and my mental game, you can’t beat it.”

Before the event, Lazzez had revealed to Arab News his pride at being the only Arab-based fighter at UFC, as well as his gratitude that more events would be taking place on his “doorstep” in the UAE.

Lazzez also teased a potential fight with fellow welterweight Mike Perry. The Tunisian barely hid his disdain for the American, who recently made headlines by trading insults with UFC’s Darren Till on social media.

“I’m healthy, 100 percent,” Lazzez said. “I swear to God I’m ready to go in two weeks, but I’ll let my management speak to the UFC, and when that idiot is ready, I’m ready to go.”

In the penultimate fight of the night 33-year-old American Tim Elliott beat compatriot Ryan Benoit (29-28, 29-28,29-28) in a close Flyweight clash, and Jimmie Rivera defeated Cody Stamann with another unanimous (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) win in their Featherweight All-American clash.

In a Flyweight clash just after Lazzez’s victory, the Brazilian Taila Santos had overcame Molly McCann of England with a unanimous (30-27,30-27,30-27) points victory.

“I’m really happy with my first win in the UFC,” said Santos. “In the first fight, I couldn’t loosen up, but today I had a great fight, I was focused and I won the fight. I have my roots in Muay Thai, but we expected her to come and try to take the fight to the ground. I train with the best grapplers, so I was ready for that. I started training with my father, so I know he is very happy and very round right now.”

In the prelims, Middleweight Khamzat Chimaev (Sweden) defeated John Phillips (Wales) with a second-round submission, and the American Jared Gordon took a unanimous decision against Chris Fishgold of England in a Featherweight clash; Lerone Murphy, another Featherweight from England, beat the Brazilian Ricardo Ramos with technical knockout in round one.

In the battle of the Light Heavyweight debutants, Modestas Bukauskas of Lithuania, nicknamed “The Baltic Gladiator”, defeated Greek opponent Andrea “The Spartan” Michailidis via another TKO in the first round; Liana Jojua of Georgia made light work of the Romanian fighter Diana Belbita with a first-round stoppage in their Flyweight division bout; and Welsh Bantamweight Jack Shore maintained his perfect MMA career record with a second-round submission win over the American Aaron Phillips.

UFC Fight Night 2 will take place on July 19 at Yas Forum in Abu Dhabi, with the flyweight rematch between Deiveson Figueiredo of Brazil and the American Joseph Benavidez headlining the event. Fight Night 3 will take place on the morning of July 26.


Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 12 August 2020

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.