Belal Muhammad proud to display Palestinian roots in bid to upset Demian Maia at UFC

Belal Muhammad proud to display Palestinian roots in bid to upset Demian Maia at UFC
Belal Muhammad on his way to win in three rounds over Dhiego Lima at UFC 258. (UFC)
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Updated 08 June 2021

Belal Muhammad proud to display Palestinian roots in bid to upset Demian Maia at UFC

Belal Muhammad proud to display Palestinian roots in bid to upset Demian Maia at UFC
  • Chicago-based fighter goes into UFC 263 on back of 8 wins from 9 bouts

RIYADH: In the early hours of Sunday morning, June 13, Belal Muhammad will step into the famous UFC Octagon to take on the world’s 10th-ranked welterweight Demian Maia of Brazil. And two things will be on his mind.

First, considering the global platform of UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 263 and caliber of his opponent, the Chicago-born and based fighter will have the biggest opportunity yet to showcase his skills to the world.

And second, it is likely he will raise the flag of Palestine at the end of the fight.

Muhammad, as similar displays in previous fights have shown, is very proud of his family’s Palestinian roots.

The 32-year-old said: “For me now, I have a voice for the voiceless. There aren’t a lot of Palestinian athletes that have a stage or platform where they can carry the flag. And now, especially during these times, I need to carry that flag higher than ever. To show the world that we do exist, that we are a country, and there are real people there.

“For me it means a lot now, you’re fighting for more, now I have a voice for people that don’t have a voice, for people that the world wants you to forget about. So, if I keep shining a light on that, raising their morale, raising their hearts, I’m going to do whatever I can.”

He goes into the fight on the back of a five-win streak, and for the first time this year will be fighting in front of a live audience.

“I had a long training camp, I’m feeling good. It’s going to be my third fight of the year. I love being active so that will help me a lot and I just can’t wait to fight in front of fans again.

“The energy’s going to be different there, I’m excited, I’m ready to go. It’s a big fight, a big name, and I’m ready to make my name off him,” Muhammad added.

Despite the disruptions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Muhammad has maintained a steady training regime and, with life slowly returning to normal, he sees more exciting days ahead.

“The training at first was a little bit difficult, because Chicago locked down. Chicago, or the police, wouldn’t let us work out in the gym so my training had to be in the garage, or we would train with the power off in the gym whenever I had fights. But now it’s starting to open up.

“Fighting without fans was a lot different. It’s a different kind of energy, you get so much from the fans, and hearing the crowd cheer or boo, it means so much and I feel like it does so much for me. Three fights without the fans was kind of weird but I got used to it by the end of it,” he said.

The last time Muhammad fought in front of fans was at UFC 242, which took place on Sept. 7, 2019, in Abu Dhabi.

“That was the last time I fought with fans, and honestly that was literally the best time. The cheering I got over there was amazing. Because when I fight here in the US, I get a lot more boos. But over there, there was not one boo, everybody was cheering me, I was the home team and that felt good,” he added.

The support from Arab mixed martial arts audiences is something that he is grateful for and feels that UFC’s rising popularity in the Middle East can only encourage more local fighters to take it up.

Muhammad said: “Honestly, it’s amazing, when you see Irish fans supporting (Conor) McGregor or Mexican fans supporting their people, we’re having Arab fans now that are starting to watch UFC and starting to pay attention to the sport.

“We’re starting to have a lot more Arab athletes in the sport, because like I tell people all the time, Arabs, we might not be the most athletic, but we have the most heart, and the will, more than anyone else. So, we’re the best fighters. I think now the world is starting to realize that, and UFC is starting to realize it.

“There’s really a lot of talent in the Middle East, and it’s about (showing) those younger kids out there that it’s possible to make it to UFC or be an athlete,” he added.

“In the old days, that was never the case, everybody maybe would play soccer or something like that, but nobody thought of being on ESPN, being a fighter, being one of those guys that kids look up to. So now I represent a bigger cause, I want kids to look at me and say I have to be like that one day.”

A win against Maia will get him further up the welterweight rankings and Muhammad is happy to bide his time in the coming months and years to get to the top.

He said: “(My ambition) is staying on an upward trajectory. I don’t need to rush, I don’t need to jump to a title shot or anything like that, I just want to keep levelling up.

“I won eight of my last nine fights and this is going to be the first ranked opponent they’ve given me. Now, I’m showing them that I belong in the top 10, showing them that I’m one of these top guys that should be fighting for a title one day, or could be fighting for a title one day.

“I had to prove it fight by fight, I had to show the world that here’s another one who’s going to be a challenge for (Kamaru) Usman (Nigerian-US fighter), that there’s another name out there that you’re going to be talking about,” he added.

Middle East fans can catch UFC 263 live on the UFC Arabia app, available for download from the App Store and Google Play Store
 


‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 26 sec ago

‘Best thing ever’: Gianmarco Tamberi basks in shared glory with friend Mutaz Barshim

Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend from Qatar Mutaz Essa Barshim. (AFP)
  • The high jump rivals and friends decided to share Olympic gold rather than have a deciding jump-off

TOKYO: Gianmarco Tamberi has expressed his joy at sharing an Olympic high jump gold medal with his friend Mutaz Essa Barshim, calling it the “best thing ever.”

The Qatari and Italian athletes captured the hearts of sports fans around the world when, in an unprecedented show of sporting solidarity, they decided to share the gold medal in the men’s high jump rather than participate in a deciding “jump-off” against each other.

“Mutaz is my big friend so we enjoyed the evening yesterday and we decided to share the gold medal,” Tamberi told Arab News Japan as he prepared to leave the Olympic Village in Tokyo.

“It’s the best thing ever and that’s the Olympic spirit,” he added. “It was amazing.”

Tamberi had perviously revealed that it was Barshim who, more than anyone else, helped him get over the severe disappointment of missing out on the high jump competition at Rio 2016 due to a injury.

On Sunday, the friends and rivals both cleared 2.37 meters, but then failed with three attempts each at 2.39 meters.

As a Tokyo 2020 official explained to Tamberi and Barshim that a jump-off could be introduced to separate them, the Qatari athlete uttered the words that have now gone down in Olympic history: “Can we have two golds?”

As the official confirmed they could, the duo hugged and broke into tearful celebrations, finally banishing years of injuries and close calls.

Having won bronze in London in 2012 and silver in Rio five years ago, the 30-year-old Barshim now has his gold. Barshim missed a large part of the 2018 season with an ankle injury, but returned to win gold at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.

“This is a dream I don't want to wake up from,” Barshim said on Sunday. “I have been through a lot. It's been five years that I have been waiting, with injuries and a lot of set-backs.”

“But we are here today sharing this moment and all the sacrifices. It's really worth it now in this moment,” he added.


Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Glory for Morocco’s Soufiane El-Bakkali as he wins gold in Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at Tokyo 2020

Soufiane El Bakkali, of Morocco celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP)
  • The 25-year-old left a strong field behind him as pre-race talk focused on battle between Kenyans and Ethiopians

A glorious run by Moroccan runner Soufiane El-Bakkali saw him win the gold medal in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Monday.

The 25-year-old, who finished fourth in this event at Rio 2016, won with a time of 8:08:90, ahead of Lamecha Grima of Ethiopia in second and Benjamin Kigen in third.

Before the final, all the talk had focused on the fact that no Ethiopian had ever won this event at the Olympics, while the Kenyans had won every 3000m Steeplechase gold medal since Los Angeles 1984.

But the Moroccan proved to be the ace in the pack, in the end comfortably stretching away from his opponents on the last lap and collapsing into tears at the finish line.

El-Bakkali had won the 3000m Steeplechase Heat 3 on Friday with a time of 8:19:00, ahead of Topi Raitanen of Finland and Alexis Phelut of France, who both qualified to the final.

Previously, he had won bronze in this event at the 2019 World Athletics Championship in Qatar and silver two years earlier in London.

The Moroccan will now turn his attentions to the Men’s 1500m Round 1 — Heat 3 (3:27 a.m. KSA).


Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020

Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin’s brave semi-final run sees him depart men’s 400m at Tokyo 2020
  • 25-year-old produced some of Saudi delegation’s most competitive performances of Olympics, but will miss out on Thursday’s final

RIYADH: Saudi sprinter Mazen Al-Yassin has been eliminated from the men’s 400 meters at Tokyo 2020 after on Monday finishing fourth in the second semifinal at the Japanese capital’s Olympic Stadium.

Despite a fine run that saw him post a time of 45.37 seconds, the 25-year-old will now miss out on Thursday’s final.

Michael Cherry of the US, and Christopher Taylor of Jamaica, finished first and second and will be in the field of eight vying for the medals on Thursday. Steven Solomon of Australia came in third, 0.22 of a second ahead of Al-Yassin.

 

 

Al-Yassin had produced a thrilling run when winning heat two at the Olympic Stadium on Sunday to progress to the following day’s semifinals against some of the world’s best short-distance runners. A personal best time of 45.16 seconds saw him finish ahead of Kevin Borlee of Belgium and Ricky Petrucciani of Switzerland.

The runner received his call-up to the Olympics on July 2, one of the last of Saudi Arabia’s 33 athletes to confirm his place in Tokyo.

His exit from the Games means that Tarek Hamdi, who will take part in the karate 75-kilogram category on Friday, is the last remaining Saudi at Tokyo 2020.


Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy
Updated 02 August 2021

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy

Brazilian footballer nicknamed Elton Arabia tweets affection for KSA at launch of Saudi Arabian Academy
  • Elton Jose Xavier Gomes spent almost 10 years in Saudi Arabia playing for 4 clubs

JEDDAH: Elton Jose Xavier Gomes, the Brazilian who spent almost a decade playing football at four Saudi clubs, has expressed his warm sentiment toward the Kingdom in a video posted after returning to his home country.

The clip was taken by adventurer Thawab Al-Subaie, known as the Tube Tourist, during the launch of the Saudi Arabian Academy in the north of Brazil, founded by Gomes, who during a long, nomadic career played for Al-Nassr, Al-Fateh, Al-Qadisiyah, and Al-Wehda.

The video went viral on social media with Saudi football fans thanking the player for his comments and calling for him to be honored in the Kingdom.

Watch the Twitter video:

The video, taken inside the academy, shows the staff wearing the Saudi national team colors, with slogans and photos from Saudi Arabia adorning the walls of the new headquarters. In addition, a number of the academy’s talented children appeared chanting the Saudi national anthem.

It is not the first time Gomes has expressed his affection for Saudi Arabia on social media, having earlier appeared in his garden carrying the country’s flag. He also displayed the emblem of the Kingdom, consisting of the two swords, palm tree, and anthropomorphic camel, at the entrance to his house, which has become a landmark for residents of his hometown.

Known in Brazil as Elton Arabia, he also posted on Instagram and Twitter videos of his son and daughter singing the Saudi national anthem.

In a tweet about the video going viral, he said: “Saudi Arabia has given me a lot, and this is a small part that I give back to this great country. I taught my children the Saudi national anthem, and nowadays, I try and provide the correct information about the country that embraced me since the beginning of my professional career abroad.

“It is impossible to forget my fans and the Saudi people in general, nor the years I spent with you, and I cannot describe my feeling when I see your messages to me, thank you and I am really proud of everyone’s love for me, I will miss you and my country Saudi Arabia, and I hope to return to you soon,” he added.

Saudis expressed their appreciation for his deep feelings for their country on his Twitter account, and Prince Sattam bin Khalid Al-Saud said: “What the former professional player Elton Jose is doing reflects the player’s love and respect for Saudi Arabia, and this was certainly the result of the good treatment that the player had while he was here, and he presents an honorable image of Saudi Arabia that deserves respect and appreciation.”

Yossif Al-Hymmad said: “We loved you and we loved Brazil, when we saw what you did for us. Greetings to you, your family, and Brazil. It is very beautiful, and you are more beautiful in your manners.”

Another fan, Obaid Al-Anazi, said: “A beautiful video clip that carries a lot of loyalty, gratitude, and appreciation for a professional who left his Brazilian mark in Saudi football and seeks to make the mark of the Saudi Cup in Brazil.”

Growing up in Brazil, the diminutive attacking midfielder — who was nicknamed Elton Maradinha after the Argentine legend for his dribbling skills and long, curly dark hair — started his career with Corinthians in 2004 before moving to Romanian club Steaua Bucharest in 2007, the same year he started his Saudi journey with Al-Nassr.

There would also be stints in the UAE with Dubai club Al-Wasl, at Sport Recife in his home country, and a late-career spell at another Brazilian club, CRB. He called time on his career this summer after a season at Al-Hamriyah in Sharjah.


West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira
Updated 02 August 2021

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira

West Bromwich reject Al-Hilal’s bid for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira
  • Saudi champions offered $17m but English football club wants almost $30m

RIYADH: English Football League Championship club West Bromwich Albion has rejected a bid of $17 million from Saudi champions Al-Hilal for Brazilian midfielder Matheus Pereira, Arabic sports daily Arriyadiyah reported.

The English club has set a price of $30 million for the player, but it is expected that the Riyadh giants will test its resolve with an offer of $20 million to be paid over two installments and have lined up other deals in case the renewed bid fails.

An unnamed Brazilian player, who plays in his country’s national league, is believed to be at the forefront of that list, with Al-Hilal’s management receiving an initial approval to make a move.

Pereira, 25, however, remains a priority for new coach Leonardo Jardim and his board. He began his football career at the age of 15 with the Portuguese club Sporting Lisbon, where he rose through the ranks to represent the first team.

He was sent out on loan three times by Sporting, the first in the 2017 to 2018 season to fellow Portuguese team Chaves, then to FC Nuremberg in Germany the following campaign.

In the 2019 to 2020 season, West Bromwich became the third team to take him on loan before making the move permanent last year.