Iraqi MMA fighter Adel Altamimi forges new path for Arab athletes

Born in Baghdad, Adel Altamimi’s love of martial arts started at a young age, even before he began taking karate lessons at the age of nine. (Facebook)
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Updated 19 September 2020

Iraqi MMA fighter Adel Altamimi forges new path for Arab athletes

  • Altamimi, who is also a black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu, made his debut in January 2019
  • In Altamimi’s corner at the recent Bellator 214 event was A-list actor Chris Pratt

LOS ANGELES: Iraqi mixed martial arts fighter Adel Altamimi is hoping to pave the way for other Arab fighters to follow in his footsteps after he became the first from his country to enter the ring in the Bellator MMA Championship.

Born in Baghdad, Altamimi’s love of martial arts started at a young age, even before he began taking karate lessons at the age of nine.

After moving to Los Angeles as an adult, he began fighting in regional MMA matches, winning the majority of them. After 12 fights and 7 wins, Adel “Kyokushin” Altamimi was signed by the Bellator MMA championship.


Altamimi, who is also a black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu, made his debut in January 2019, during which he won his first match, defeating featherweight Brandon McMahan within 76 seconds.

“That was like a dream come true, to fight in front of a crowd of more than 35,000 people in the arena,” Altamimi told Arab News.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I never get panic attacks. Whatever I got was after the fight at the dinner. I got a panic attack and I didn’t believe what exactly was happening.”

In Altamimi’s corner at the recent Bellator 214 event was A-list actor Chris Pratt. The two met and became friends at the Unbreakable MMA gym where Altamimi works as a martial arts trainer for Pratt and other stars such as rapper Wiz Khalifa. 

“I train a lot of celebrities,” Altamimi said. “My close people I work with and are like family to me are Chris Pratt, Wiz (Khalifa), there’s a lot of names, but it’s awesome to work with people like that. Amazing people. Good heart and spirit. And they love to work with me and learn martial arts.”

While his win-loss ratio remains balanced toward victories, Altamimi is most excited about the future of MMA in the Middle East.

The sport already has a foothold in the region with younger Arabs becoming MMA fans, and that fandom is attracting major promotion companies to the region.

In 2019, a five-year deal between the UAE and UFC, potentially the most well-known name in MMA, was signed.

The championship will be holding all their MENA region events in the UAE, with one event a year in Abu Dhabi. The most recent of these events was July’s UFC 251, which took place on Yas Island, dubbed “Fight Island” for the event. 

At the same time, more Arab fighters such as Altamimi are joining the sport.

“We have a lot of talent. We have very strong fighters and athletes, but they don’t have the opportunity,” he said. “Now the opportunity goes to them. This is really exciting. I know MMA is new in the Middle East, but it’s growing right now, it’s really growing.”

For Altamimi, the growth and opportunities are just the start. He’s had two more Bellator matches since his debut and is starting a career in movies. Altamimi confirmed to Arab News that one of his first action films is in the works, though he could not reveal full details yet. 

As Chris Pratt said in an interview on ABC’s “Live with Kelly and Ryan” when asked about Altamimi: “He’s got an extraordinary story, but the next chapter of his story is just beginning.”


Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

Updated 20 October 2020

Lower expectations for Barcelona entering Champions League

  • Barca have not won since 2015, but since then have never embarked on a new campaign amid so much disarray

MADRID: Despite managing to hang onto Lionel Messi, Barcelona begin its Champions League campaign with reduced expectations after one of their worst seasons in years.
The Catalan club appears to lack its confidence from previous seasons following an embarrassing elimination to Bayern Munich and a troubled off-season in which it nearly lost its talisman.

“Knowing what happened recently, we are not the top favorite,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Monday ahead of the team's debut in this season's competition against Hungarian club Ferencvaros. “But we are a team that can go far.”

Koeman arrived to put Barcelona back on track shortly after the 8-2 collapse against Bayern Munich in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, which capped their first season without a title since 2007-08.

“Barcelona always plays to win titles, in the league and in Europe, but there are other strong teams,” Koeman said.

Barcelona have not  won the Champions League since 2015, but since then they had never embarked on a new campaign in the competition amid so much disarray.

The club avoided losing Messi after he said he wanted to leave, but it continued to endure political turmoil and even financial difficulties. President Josep Bartomeu is facing a censure motion that could force him to leave his post before the end of the year.

Koeman was given the task of revamping the first team, and he quickly got rid of veterans such as Luis Suarez and Ivan Rakitic, but the club failed to bring in any of the players he wanted in the transfer window.

Koeman said Messi is fine despite scoring just once so far this season.

“Maybe his performance could be better, but I see him happy,” Koeman said. “I see him training well and focused. I have nothing to complain about him in that sense.”

He said “a bit of bad luck” has played a role in keeping the Argentina star from scoring more goals so far. Koeman also downplayed criticism of Antoine Griezmann for his recent poor performances, though he admitted that “everyone in the attack” can improve.

Barcelona opened the Spanish league with two convincing wins under Koeman, but then it drew 1-1 with Sevilla at home and lost 1-0 at Getafe on Saturday.

Hungarian champions Ferencvaros return to the Champions League for the first time since 1995. They needed to get through four qualifying rounds to reach the group stage.

The other Group G teams are Juventus and Dynamo Kyiv.

“We want to start with the right foot,” Koeman said. “We want to win the match and gain tranquility.”