One of Saudi Arabia’s top boxing prospects is set to take another major step in his career on Saturday night.
Super lightweight boxing prospect Ziyad Almaayouf will face off against Georgi Velichkov of Bulgaria on the undercard of a heavyweight matchup between Anthony Joshua and Jermaine Franklin at the O2 Arena in the heart of London’s Docklands.
It will be the third time Almaayouf has fought on the undercard of a Joshua fight, with the two previous bouts taking place in Saudi Arabia.
Almaayouf told Arab News that his first fight outside of the Kingdom brought new pressures.
“The pressure is always there. The more you run from it, the more it runs after you, but, as a fighter, I have to stand there and be there,” he said. “(In this fight) I want to display defense, offense, composure — I am not only representing Saudi Arabia, but I am also representing boxing in Saudi Arabia.”
In clear recognition of his potential, Almaayouf, known by the nickname “Zizo,” will have a world-class trainer in his corner on Saturday night. That is because Almaayouf is trained by Buddy McGirt, a former world champion in two weight classes.
McGirt has trained former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman and is the current coach of WBO middleweight world champion Zhanibek Alimkhanuly of Kazakhstan.
“I studied McGirt long before I knew him as coach, he is one of the figures that has been inspirational to me in the sport of boxing. The other is His Royal Highness Prince Khaled (Al-Saud), who has always been there for me,” Almaayouf said.
Almaayouf is not sure if his next fight will be in Saudi Arabia, but he is excited to see the growth of the sport in the country of his birth.
“It all starts with exposure, which starts to build fighters — that’s how we build fighters who show heart (in the ring). We need to be patient because that comes through the trials, turbulence, and failure in the ring. You can’t teach it. This is a tough business.”
Almaayouf is quick with a smile, and his affable personality has already won him many fans in Saudi Arabia and beyond. While being taught an entirely different sport, the young Almaayouf first became interested in boxing.
As a young tennis student, a chance encounter with a boxing class changed the trajectory of his life. The 22-year-old began training for the sport at age 11. Only COVID-19 prevented him from representing Saudi Arabia at the Tokyo Olympics and he proudly wears the Saudi emblem on his warmup jacket.
“I saw some people while training for tennis. These boxing students didn’t have a place (to train) and would use the track next to us. I saw them, and I remember thinking, who is Saudi Arabia? Who in the Arab world ever achieved in boxing? I wanted to be involved in that.”
Almaayouf speaks with pride about what the sport has achieved in Saudi Arabia in just a few short years — from heavyweight world title fights to the growth of boxing gyms across the country. Almaayouf wants to be a part of that evolving story.
“I am proud to be here as an ambassador for Saudi Arabia and its athletes, which, guided by Vision 2030, is the fastest growing economy in the world, and sport is part of that vision.”