Ali Al-Qaisi looks to bring Jordan its first ever UFC win at Fight Island 2 in Abu Dhabi

Ali Al-Qaisi says fighting without an audience is strange, but after doing just that against American Irwin Rivera at UFC Fight Night 174 in Las Vegas, he says he thinks he’s ready. (UFC/Getty Images)
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Updated 08 October 2020

Ali Al-Qaisi looks to bring Jordan its first ever UFC win at Fight Island 2 in Abu Dhabi

  • The Bantamweight fighter, Ali Al-Qaisi, will take on Tony Kelley at Yas Island on Sunday
  • Al-Qaisi is aware that he, like Tunisian UFC fighter Mounir Lazzez, are blazing a trail for aspiring MMA fighters in the Arab world

DUBAI: Few people haven’t had their lives turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic. As the spread of the virus spiked in March, almost all sporting competitions around the world came to halt.

Athletes were left uncertain about their immediate and long-term futures. Worse still, many found themselves in lockdown, away from family and friends – for some - on the other side of the world.

For Jordanian Bantamweight fighter Ali Al-Qaisi, at the time on a training camp in the US, it meant being stuck away from his homeland for almost seven months. 

There was nothing else he could do but make the best out of a bad situation.

“All the gyms were closed, there was no one to help with training,” Al-Qaisi said. “But I tried to take the positive out of the situation. I created my own schedule. Which meant training alone, conditioning, training outside. I tried to make sure I retained a good balance.” 

Al-Qaisi was born and raised in Jordan, where he still lives, and had been involved in several sports since a very young age. He only became involved in mixed martial arts (MMA) in 2015, when he was 25.

After stints with Desert Force, Phoenix Fighting Championship and Brave had given him a career record of 8-3-0, he became the first Jordanian to join UFC, the sport’s pre-eminent organization, earlier this year.

On Aug.3 8, he fought, and lost by a split decision to the American Irwin Rivera at UFC Fight Night 174 in Las Vegas. Despite the disappointment, he got the call to take part in Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island 2 a few weeks later, while restarting his training camp.

On Sunday, Alqaisi, nicknamed “The Royal Fighter”, will take part in Fight Night 2, the third of the five-event series, which kicked off with UFC 253 on Sept. 27 and which will conclude with UFC 254 on Oct. 24. 

“The location is excellent, it’s very comfortable,” he said of Yas Island, which has been turned into a safe zone for all fighters and staff taking part. “I landed here on Oct. 3 and then had two days of quarantine in my hotel room. I had a mat in the room so I could train. After that I had to work on bringing my weight down and doing all my media duties with Abu Dhabi Sports.”

Friday will see him at the weigh-in before he takes on Tony Kelley on Sunday morning. 

Fight Island 1 was the first post-coronavirus lockdown international event to attract athletes from around the world, and its success encouraged the organizers to go bigger with the follow-up. To keep the fighters entertained through some of the down time, Yas Island has provided plenty of activities and facilities, such as golf and private beaches, for the fighters.

But with his second UFC fight so close now, Al-Qaisi insists he’s only focused on one thing.

“To be honest, I’m only thinking of making the weight, my training and the fight,” he said. “Yes, there are a lot of activities but I have to be focused at the moment.”




On Aug.3 8, he fought, and lost by a split decision to the American Irwin Rivera at UFC Fight Night 174 in Las Vegas. (UFC/Getty IMages)

On Sunday, Al-Qaisi and the other fighters will be performing to an empty Yas Forum. Having fought Rivera in similar circumstances, he feels ready for the challenge.

“It’s a strange sensation,” he said. “We are so used to fighting in front of an audience. I’m very grateful that I have a large fanbase and I’m used to having them present and supporting me. The fight I had in August without fans was a little strange, but I acclimatized quickly and now I’m used to fighting (behind closed doors).”

“In my training camp, we made sure that in the gym I was there only with my training partner and coach, to get even more used to this normality,” he added.

Still, as one of only two Arab fighters taking part in Fight Island 2, Al-Qaisi has been overwhelmed with messages of support that have been reaching him in recent days.

“I’m getting such strong support from the Jordanian fans, the Arab fans,” he said. “I’m very grateful, it gives me good energy ahead of the fight.”

Al-Qaisi is aware that he, like Tunisian UFC fighter Mounir Lazzez, are blazing a trail for aspiring MMA fighters in the Arab world. It is a role he relishes.

“I’m very proud to be representing Arabs, and Jordan in particular,” he said. “Especially that I’m the first Jordanian to take part in UFC. I’m very excited for the coming fight, and hoping that it will be the first ever Jordanian win. Of course, I’m honored to be thought of as a role model for a new generation of athletes and MMA fighters in the Arab world.”

Like most athletes during these uncertain times, Al-Qaisi sees little point in looking too far ahead. The bout against Kelley, for now, consumes him.

“All my thoughts are on this fight,” said Al-Qaisi. “After that I will return to Jordan. Once I get back home, I’ll start training again, and only then will I start looking to the next steps in my career.”

A win on Sunday should secure that his third UFC fight, in Las Vegas, Abu Dhabi or elsewhere, is not too far off.


Racing in the streets: Jeddah to host first Saudi F1 Grand Prix

Updated 29 October 2020

Racing in the streets: Jeddah to host first Saudi F1 Grand Prix

  • Kingdom’s inaugural race to take place in city while purpose-built track at Qiddiyah is being completed

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s inaugural Formula 1 Grand Prix next year will take place on the city streets of Jeddah.
The Saudi Grand Prix appears on the provisional F1 calendar for 2021 that has been distributed to race teams. It is expected to be the penultimate race of the 2021 season, which will conclude
with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina circuit.
Jeddah will host the Saudi race while a new purpose-built track at Qiddiyah is completed, which is expected to be in 2023.
It is one of 22 races on a provisional 2021 schedule as F1 plans to return to a calendar as close to normal as possible after this year’s disruption. The first 10 races of the 2020 season were either postponed or cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

HIGHLIGHT

The Saudi Grand Prix is one of 22 races on a provisional 2021 schedule as F1 plans to return to a calendar as close to normal as possible after this year’s

The 2021 season will begin in Melbourne, Australia in mid-March and then goes on to Bahrain. It includes nearly all the races that had been due to be held this year.
That means a return for grands prix in China, Japan and Canada, which had to be cancelled because of the disruptions to international travel caused by COVID-19, as well as the debut of the Vietnamese Grand Prix.
F1 has been in conversations with the relevant national governments and all are said to be in agreement the races can take place, unless the pandemic worsens.
In 2018, Riyadh hosted the first Formula E championship in the Middle East in Diriyah with 23,000 in attendance. The second Formula E championship was held in late 2019.
This year, Saudi Arabia held its first Dakar Rally, a 7,800km race that began in Jeddah and finished in Qiddiyah.