ABU DHABI: UAE champion Ilyas Habibali lit up the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi after claiming a unanimous decision over three-time world champion Michael Wakeling in front of a packed-out crowd on Saturday night at the UAM Fight Night K1 Pro Kickboxing Championship.
The winners were crowned by Abdullah Saeed Al-Neyadi, chairman of the UAE Muaythai and Kickboxing Federation, president of the Arab Muay Thai Federation and vice president of the Asian Federation.
Al-Neyadi said: “We would first want to express our gratitude and appreciation to His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, deputy prime minister and minister of the presidential court, for his benevolent support of the revival of kickboxing and muay thai, and for his trailblazing work that resulted in a quantum leap in the field of accomplishments and successes in terms of the participation of the world’s best athletes and performance by the national athletes.”
“Congratulations to all the athletes, especially Ilyas and the other winners,” he said.
“This was the first event of the new season, so it was fantastic to see not only such a strong line-up of elite athletes from around the globe, but also such a great turn-out at Etihad Arena. The UAE, and Abu Dhabi in particular, has established a combat sports legacy in recent years and we’re excited to build upon this foundation to further enhance kickboxing in the region.”
Habibali, whose record now stands at 20 wins from 22 fights, exchanged furious blows with his British opponent throughout a trio of intense and balanced rounds. Both fighters landed huge punches, yet Wakeling was arguably edging it until he found himself on the canvas midway through the third. When the bell rang to end the bout, Habibali looked the more confident of the two and he was proved right to be so, the crowd erupting when the decision was announced.
“I am very proud of this great achievement,” said Habibali. “It was a very intense fight and Wakeling was a great opponent. I felt it was very close. I studied his game and knew it would be tough, but this achievement has been a reward for my hard work. To beat such a champion — a world champion — is amazing. I want to dedicate the win to the UAE leadership and the UAE people.”
The headline contest was one of 14 bouts on a packed fight card, marking the latest international combat sports event to take place in the UAE capital, as well as the first event of the Emirates’ new kickboxing season. The event featured an elite line-up of 28 male and female athletes from 16 countries, including Italy, Iraq, Portugal and Pakistan.
Earlier in the evening, Italy’s Ivan Naccari defeated Anass Ahmidouch in the welterweight division, while Portugal’s Sara Raquel secured a decision against compatriot Ines Correia. In the first fight of the evening, Mohamed Touizi, representing the UAE, delivered Uzbekistan’s Ibrokhim Mamatkulov the first defeat of his career with a unanimous decision following three stop-start rounds.
“I am so happy to get a win for the Emirates,” said Touizi, who fights out of the UAM Gym in Abu Dhabi. “I trained very hard for this fight and when it went to points, I knew I had won so am delighted. I want thank all my coaches and the Federation for their support and will now start my preparations for the Arab Championships on March 1 here in Abu Dhabi.”
In the evening’s co-main event, Turkiye’s Vedat Hoduk delivered a firework of a first-round knock-out to win his supermiddleweight bout. In the last seconds of the opening round, the Istanbul native followed up a flurry of body shots with a huge head-kick that sent his opponent Lilian Porcireanu crashing to the ground. The Moldovan rose to his feet but was unsteady and the referee correctly ended it to hand Hoduk the 37th victory of his career.
“It has been a difficult week,” said an emotional Hoduk, wrapped in the Turkish flag and dedicating his win to the victims of this week’s catastrophic earthquake. “I was considering not being here tonight because I know there are a lot of people in my country that need help just now. But I kept my word and got the win, so I would like to dedicate this tonight to all the Turkish people and especially all the victims who lost their lives. I will go straight there now to help however I can.”