RIYADH: Long established as one of the world’s fastest-growing spectator sports of the 21st century, Mixed Martial Arts is starting to get a foothold in Saudi Arabia as a participatory one as well.
It might still be relatively early, but hopefuls from across the Kingdom are slowly but surely making their move into regional and, in the future, international competitions.
For one of them, Nawef Chahlal, inspiration came from a close source.
The 22-year-old prodigy from Jeddah told Arab News that his father’s passion for boxing served as the impetus for him to enter the sport.
“My father, he always supported me, since my beginnings. He used to come to my fights when I was a kid, he used to assist me, he even coached me sometimes,” said Chahlal.
After growing up in France as a big fan of Bruce Lee, considered by many as the godfather of MMA, Chahlal competed in the country’s flagship MMA Supreme League, as well as across Europe.
“One of the biggest competitions I had the opportunity to participate in was the Supreme League, and (I) also had the chance to fight in many countries in Europe, notably in Hungary, Switzerland, Croatia and Spain, but in another discipline, K1,” he said.
Chahlal’s record in K1 is 8-3-0, and with the flyweight fighter looking to sign his first MMA contract next week - a three-fight deal in AEF Championship - his first professional bout is set to take place on Oct.14.
The road ahead — as was the case with his journey so far — will be a difficult one, and Chahlal explained that there are many challenges for him to overcome in order to thrive in the sport, including finances and other rising talents.
“We weren’t poor, but let’s just say that as we grow up, we all have expenses that accumulate and it’s a bit complicated sometimes,” he said. “Beyond the money, if we stay really focused on the sport, there is also the fact of the strong competition in the field, which is a real challenge but which pushes us to surpass ourselves.”
Chahlal aspires to be the biggest name for KSA in the world of MMA.
“I visualize a very precise goal: to be the first Saudi world champion in different MMA organizations, and one day to reach the biggest world federations such as UFC, One, KSW, and to represent the flag of Saudi Arabia.
"Give me some time. I will make you proud and make our country go down in the history of combat sports,” he said.
Chahlal’s coach Mathis Nazil, from the French Atch Academy, believes the Saudi has what it takes to succeed.
“He is a fighter who has a lot of potential and we have to work to be at the best level. He is very dedicated in what he does,” Nazil said.
“As far as our future is concerned, we try to go slowly, step by step and we hope to be at the best level.”