Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al-Qahtani set for Professional Fighters League debut in Atlanta

Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al-Qahtani set for Professional Fighters League debut in Atlanta
Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al-Qahtani makes his PFL debut on Friday night. (PFL)
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Updated 23 June 2023
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Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al-Qahtani set for Professional Fighters League debut in Atlanta

Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Al-Qahtani set for Professional Fighters League debut in Atlanta
  • PFL, with a unique league season structure, second only to UFC among MMA fans globally

On Friday night Abdullah Al-Qahtani will step into the ring in Atlanta proudly wearing Saudi Arabia’s colors on the international stage, in the most high-profile bout of his career.

The 24-year-old fighter from Riyadh will take on Lamar Brown of the US at the Overtime Elite Arena in the Featherweight category of Professional Fighters League, which is second only to Ultimate Fighting Championship in popularity among mixed martial arts fans globally.

“When I step out wearing the Saudi flag, I am prepared to do anything to raise it high,” Al-Qahtani told Arab News on the eve of the fight.

Few Saudi or Arab fighters have reached this level, but for Al-Qahtani, progress in recent years has been rapid, leading to tonight’s PFL debut.

 

 

“I started in 2016 — there was a trial for a tournament, so I went to try out,” said the Moroccan-born fighter. “I had ambitions before that, but I didn’t really know where to go, where to begin. When I went to this trial, I met coach Firas (Zahabi, the Canadian mixed martial artist), and other fighters, and so I started on this path.

“But my biggest supporter has been my mother, God bless her. She’s the one who encouraged me to follow this career.

“I used to train every day, but at that point it was still only at beginner level,” Al-Qahtani, whose speciality is kickboxing, added. “I was trying to learn all the tools … to find a way to enter this industry. After that, I started taking part in amateur fights here and there. In 2018, I had my first offer to fight.”

At the age of 19 he received his first offer to fight from Phoenix MMA in the UK.

“When I started (fighting competitively) in 2018, I was ordinary,” he said. “After I had two fights, I could see that there was improvement, everything was good.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and all the subsequent lockdowns came, things would change drastically for Al-Qahtani. Surprisingly, it was in a very positive sense.

“When COVID came, everything changed for me,” he said. “I realized that I can’t just sit and wait for things to happen for me. So I worked harder and put all my focus in to this, to the point that if at any point a fight opportunity came up, I’d be ready to take it.

“Everything changed, and my fights post-COVID have seen stronger performances.”

Al-Qahtani — with a record of 5-1-0 — trains at Riyadh Combat Club when in the Saudi capital, but currently represents KHK MMA, which is owned by Sheikh Khaled bin Hamad Al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

“I send him my highest regards, because he has supported (me) in everything that I have done,” Al-Qahtani said.

Now the fighter finds himself in PFL, the only MMA organization that has a league season platform.

“I’m still not in the league competition,” he clarified. “I’ve signed a contract with them but not to be in the league yet. That will come after I take part in several fights first.”

He might not be ranked in the league format yet, but Al-Qahtani welcomes the stability that such a structure brings to the profession.

“It helps if, from the beginning, you are following a path where you know at every step what to expect and who you will be fighting and when,” told Arab News from his camp in Atlanta.

Before landing in the US, he had been in training camps, at home and abroad, for almost two-and-a-half months.

“I’m ready, Alhamdulilah,” Al-Qahtani said. “I’ve been preparing in Thailand. Before that I was with Captain Firas and my colleagues at the club, and they have all been very supportive.

“After I returned from Thailand, my coach got me a training partner from Dagestan (Tagir Sagitov), and now I’m here in the US. Unfortunately my coach was unable to join me, but I’ve got plenty of support here, so I’m ready.”

After the fight he will head back to Saudi Arabia, and will then travel with his mother to Morocco for Eid Al-Adha.

Beyond that, there is potentially more training time in Thailand, or a return to the US alongside colleagues such as Ali Al-Qaisi, Jarrah Al-Silawi and Julio Arce.

For now, Al-Qahtani’s sole focus is Lamar Brown in Atlanta, but a win would have him looking forward to fighting more storied names, as he looks to climb the FPL rankings.


Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory
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Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory

Jokic powers Denver over Warriors as Giannis leads Bucks’ victory
  • It was Jokic’s third career game with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists
  • Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points and the Thunder won their fifth consecutive game

SAN FRANCISCO: Nikola Jokic posted his 18th triple double of the season to lead reigning NBA champion Denver’s 119-103 victory at Golden State on Sunday.

The 29-year-old Serbian center, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, had 32 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists plus four steals while Jamal Murray added 27 points for the Nuggets.

Klay Thompson came off the bench to lead the Warriors with 23 points, but none in the second half, while Stephen Curry added 20 in the matchup of the past two NBA title winners.

“They are literally the Warriors. They are champions. They are a tough team to beat,” Jokic said. “But 103 points in this arena is really good for our defense.”

It was Jokic’s third career game with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists — passing Wilt Chamberlain for the second most in NBA history behind Oscar Robertson.

It was Jokic’s sixth career game with 15 rebounds and 15 assists to pass Magic Johnson for fourth on the all-time list.

Jokic, who hit 13-of-24 shots from the floor, also became the first NBA player with 14 rebounds and 14 assists in three consecutive games.

Thompson had 16 points in the first quarter on 4-of-6 3-point shooting, but the Nuggets (39-19) closed the second quarter on a 14-0 run to equalize at 61-61 at half-time, then reeled off a 14-0 run early in the third quarter to seize command.

“That run 14-0 at the end of the second quarter when we got the game back into control, and we went up 10 points in the third quarter, I think that stretch helped us take control and we controled the game the whole way,” Jokic said.

It was Denver’s seventh consecutive triumph in games against Golden State (29-27) and 10th in their past 11 matchups.

At Philadelphia, Greek star Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 30 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and passed off nine assists to lead Milwaukee’s 119-98 rout.

New Bucks coach Doc Rivers collected a victory over his former club, the 76ers having fired Rivers last May after three seasons guiding the franchise. Milwaukee hired Rivers last month to replace fired Adrian Griffin.

“It was awesome,” Rivers said of his return. “I had three good years here. I enjoyed my stay. This was good. There were a couple hilarious comments.”

Damian Lillard added 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds while Malik Beasley added 20 points as the Bucks hit 43-of-79 shots from the floor (54.4 percent) and kept the Sixers to 36-of-97 (37.1 percent) shooting.

Milwaukee seized a 69-48 half-time lead and stayed in command to the finish despite some second-half stumbles.

“We came out and played hard in the first two quarters,” two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo said. “In the third quarter we were a little bit sloppy. But going into the fourth quarter I think we did our best job just finding one another, making the right plays offensively.”

The Sixers, playing without injured reigning NBA MVP Joel Embiid, had 24 points from Tyrese Maxey.

At Houston, Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 36 points and the Thunder won their fifth consecutive game, beating the host Rockets 123-110 to grab a share of the Western Conference lead with Minnesota at 40-17.

At Phoenix, Grayson Allen scored 24 points and Kevin Durant added 22 to lead the host Suns over the Los Angeles Lakers 123-113.

LeBron James led the Lakers with 28 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds while Anthony Davis had 22 points and 14 rebounds.

In Los Angeles meanwhile, the Clippers were outgunned 123-107 by the Sacramento Kings, De’Aaron Fox leading the way for the visitors with 33 points.

Indiana center Myles Turner scored 33 points to lead the host Pacers over Dallas 133-111. The Mavericks saw their seven-game win streak snapped despite 33 points for Luka Doncic and 29 from Kyrie Irving.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen had 22 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Cavaliers’ 114-105 victory at Washington.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points to lead Chicago in a 114-106 victory at New Orleans while Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen scored 26 points to lead Utah’s 128-109 home win over San Antonio.

Atlanta beat visiting Orlando 109-92 behind Dejounte Murray’s 25 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, but the Hawks lost scoring leader Trae Young for at least four weeks due to surgery Tuesday to repair a torn left pinkie ligament.


Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla
Updated 26 February 2024
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Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla

Luka Modric comes off the bench to give Spanish leader Real Madrid 1-0 win over Sevilla
  • Madrid’s victory kept them eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, who play Rayo on Monday
  • Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation

BARCELONA: Luka Modric leapt atop the advertising board, pumped his arms and joined the collective roar of the Santiago Bernabeu.

The veteran Real Madrid star, who has seen his minutes shrink this season, had just become the hero for the Spanish league leaders with a scorching winner after coming off the bench in a 1-0 win over Sevilla on Sunday.

The normally calm Croat was possibly shouting for more than joy as he celebrated just his second goal of the season. Perhaps there was a bit of vindication, of showing everyone — Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti included — that he could still decide games even in an increasingly young Madrid squad.

The 38-year-old Modric collected a deflection with one touch before unleashing a powerful strike from outside the area that grazed the post before finding the net in the 81st minute. Modric had gone on just six minutes before with the leaders stymied in attack without injured top scorer Jude Bellingham.

“It is what always happens. We never give up. We have shown it many times, that this is a part of Real Madrid’s DNA,” Modric said about his goal. “We knew that today it was important not to let points get away because Barcelona would have closed the gap and we couldn’t allow that. Our insistence throughout all the game bore its fruit.”

Modric has helped Madrid win five Champions League titles and the player won the 2018 Ballon d’Or award. This season, with Bellingham replacing him in the starting 11, he has mostly been the subject of speculation about whether his playing days in Madrid’s all-white are nearing their end.

“It is very difficult to leave (Modric) on the bench, but every day he is an example for the entire squad,” Ancelotti said. “It is in Luka’s hands to decide what he does next season, and we are just waiting for his decision. It is difficult to manage (a situation like his) and I understand perfectly what Modric may be thinking when he does not play because I went through it as a player.”

Madrid was heading toward a second straight draw after being held 1-1 at Rayo Vallecano in the last round of games. Another stumble would have given Barcelona reason to hope that it might just be able to mount a challenge after it overtook Girona for second place on Saturday.

Madrid’s victory kept them eight points above Barcelona and nine clear of Girona, who play Rayo on Monday.

This was the third game that Bellingham, the league’s top scorer with 16 goals, has missed with a left ankle sprain.

NICO SENT OFF

Nico Williams was sent off with two quick yellow cards to leave Athletic Bilbao with 10 players just before halftime in their 3-1 loss at Real Betis.

The Spain winger got his first card for a foul and compounded that by earning a second booking for his apparently sarcastic applause of the referee.

The loss meant Athletic failed to take advantage of Atletico Madrid’s 2-2 draw at bottom side Almeria on Saturday. Athletic remained in fifth place at three points behind fourth-place Atletico. Betis moved into sixth, seven points behind Athletic.

Chimy Ávila scored his first goal for Betis since joining from Osasuna in the winter transfer window to take the 13th-minute lead. Yuri Berchiche added an own-goal before Williams was sent off in the 40th.

Gorka Guruzeta’s goal gave Athletic some hope in the 52nd, but Betis midfielder Johnny Cardoso added a third with a strike from the edge of the area in the 67th.

In the first half, an assistant referee had to leave the match after she ran into a television camera and cut her head.

LAST-GASP EQUALIZER

Darwin Machis’ goal deep in injury time snatched Cadiz a 2-2 draw with Celta Vigo in a meeting of two teams in danger of relegation.

Iago Aspas and Williot Swedberg gave Celta a 2-0 advantage before Juanmi Jimenez pulled one back for the hosts in the 66th. Rafa Benitez’s side was still eyeing a victory until Machis curled a shot in from the corner of the area just before the final whistle.

Celta, in 17th, remained the last team clinging to safety while 18th-place Cadiz was in the drop zone at three points behind.

“You think you have it in the bag, you are up 2-0, and they score two goals on plays we could have stopped, so it is obvious we missed an opportunity,” Benítez said. “We didn’t know how to manage those final minutes.”


Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup

Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup
Updated 26 February 2024
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Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup

Klopp savors his ‘most special trophy’ as Liverpool win English League Cup
  • Klopp: It is in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won. It is absolutely exceptional
  • Van Dijk might have produced the decisive moment but it was the efforts of a string of young players that had Klopp so enthused

LONDON: Jurgen Klopp just couldn’t keep the smile from his face.

It was deep into extra time at Wembley on Sunday and the English League Cup final against Chelsea was locked at 0-0. A penalty shootout loomed.

Yet, with tensions running high, Klopp turned to the Liverpool fans, savored the moment and produced that trademark toothy grin.

Perhaps he knew what was coming. That Virgil van Dijk was about to score a 118th-minute winner to finally break down Chelsea’s resistance and secure a record-extending 10th League Cup trophy for Liverpool.

Perhaps not.

“That would be cool if I could see goals coming. That would relax a lot of moments in my life,” Klopp said afterward — his voice hoarse, likely from the wild celebrations that greeted his eighth trophy as Liverpool manager.

Klopp is stepping down at the end of the season and this may well be his last Wembley final with the club.

He said he was simply taking it all in and enjoying watching a new generation of Liverpool players that may turn out to be his lasting legacy after he goes.

“I loved it ... What I see today is so exceptional, we might never see it again. Not because I am on the sidelines but because these things don’t happen in football.

“It is in my more than 20 years, easily the most special trophy I ever won. It is absolutely exceptional.”

Van Dijk, Liverpool’s 32-year-old captain, might have produced the decisive moment but it was the efforts of a string of young players, called upon to help ease Liverpool’s extensive injury list, that had Klopp so enthused.

Seven of his winning team were aged 21 or under.

Jayden Danns, aged 18, came on for only his second senior performance. Bobby Clark and James McConnell are both 19.

Their efforts meant that even without the injured Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold and more, Liverpool still triumphed.

“I got told outside there is an English phrase, ‘You don’t win trophies with kids,’” Klopp said. “I didn’t know that. Yeah right.

“Sometimes I’m asked if I am proud of this, proud of that. I don’t know. I wish I could feel pride more often. Tonight was an overwhelming feeling of ‘Oh my God, what is going on here?’ I was proud of everybody involved.”

Victory keeps Klopp on track for a quadruple of trophies in his final year with Liverpool as he looks determined to go out on a high.

His team is currently top of the Premier League and still in contention to win the FA Cup and Europa League. But even if Klopp cannot add those trophies to the full set he has already delivered, he provided Liverpool with another memorable day at Wembley.

Mauricio Pochettino, meanwhile, must wait for his first piece of silverware in English soccer after failing to lift trophies with Southampton and Tottenham before taking charge at Chelsea.

While he won three trophies including the French league title with Paris Saint-Germain, he is still to taste glory in England.

A first trophy at Chelsea would have eased the pressure after a troubled season in the league.

“If you ask the players how they feel, I feel the same. (It is) so disappointing, so painful,” Pochettino said. “I am a guy that (has) less time to win titles (than the players). They are younger than me, they have time. In football it is always about when you have the opportunity (you take it).

PREMIER LEAGUE

Sheffield United’s players showed the wrong kind of fight after suffering a 19th loss of the season to stay at the foot of the Premier League.

Pablo Sarabia’s 30th-minute header secured a 1-0 win for Wolves at Molineux in the league’s only game Sunday, but perhaps the most notable incident in the match was a clash between Sheffield United players Jack Robinson and Vinicius Souza.

The teammates pushed each other in a heated exchange that led to a VAR review.

Not that Blades manager Chris Wilder seemed too concerned.

“That happens at every club up and down the country, three or four times a year,” he said. “They were told about their responsibilities at halftime. We talked to the boys and they are fine and cool.”

Defeat left Sheffield United eight points off safety.

West Ham host Brentford on Monday.


Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab

Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab
Updated 26 February 2024
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Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab

Ronaldo and Talisca give Al-Nassr a narrow win at Al-Shabab

RIYADH: It was the Ronaldo and Talisca show on Sunday as Al-Nassr moved to within four points of Al-Hilal at the top of the Roshn Saudi League with a hard-fought 3-2 victory over Riyadh rivals Al-Shabab.

Three times Al-Nassr took the lead, once through Cristiano Ronaldo and twice through Anderson Talisca. Twice Al-Shabab — who will feel they did enough to earn at least a point — equalized, but they were unable to do so for a third time.

Al-Nassr started brightly with Al-Shabab goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Absi, in for the injured Kim Seung-gyu, having to push a Marcelo Brozovic shot over the bar in the sixth minute.

Al-Shabab’s new star signing Ivan Rakitic tried his luck from outside the area after 10 minutes, but Waleed Abdullah was equal to the attempt from the former Barcelona star.

Sadio Mane then netted before being adjudged to have been offside when making his run.

Abdullah then had to make a more difficult save, getting down quickly to stop a Yannick Carrasco effort that was creeping in at the near post.

Al-Nassr were then awarded a penalty. A corner resulted in Mane shooting from the edge of the area and it struck the hand of Romain Saiss. Up stepped Ronaldo and he made no mistake. The visiting fans paid tribute to their hero and the chant of “Cristiano Ronaldo” could be heard ringing around for some time.

Al-Shabab equalized with a penalty of their own after Carlos Junior was brought down in the area. Just as Ronaldo did, Carrasco converted and the two teams went in at the break on equal terms.

Al-Nassr were back in front within two minutes of the restart. Otavio found Talisca on the edge of the area and, despite the close attention of defenders, the Brazilian made room for himself to find the bottom corner, though Al-Absi did manage to get a hand on it.

His opposite number Abdullah then had to get down to save an awkward shot from Nader Al-Sharari.

Just after the hour Brozovic should have given the visitors a welcome cushion. Freed by Otavio, the Croatian bore down on goal from a central position but, on the edge of the area, he shot tamely into the arms of Al-Absi with Talisca to his right screaming for the ball.

Al-Shabab then equalized for the second time. The goal had been coming and was deserved as Habib Diallo found space on the right of the area and sent over a perfect pass to the opposite post where Carlos Junior was on hand to score from close range.

Al-Shabab were on top and looked dangerous, but with three minutes remaining, Talisca won it for the visitors. A beautiful through ball from Abdullah Al-Khaibari released the Brazilian who slotted home from just inside the area to maintain Al-Nassr’s title challenge.

There was still time for Shabab’s Abdullah Radif to pick up two yellow cards and receive his marching orders to complete a frustrating afternoon for the hosts.

Earlier in the day, Al-Feiha defeated relegation strugglers Abha 3-2 to move above Al-Shabab into 10th. 


Defeat to Bermuda leaves Saudi Arabia’s ICC CWC Challenge League play-off hopes in the balance

Defeat to Bermuda leaves Saudi Arabia’s ICC CWC Challenge League play-off hopes in the balance
Updated 26 February 2024
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Defeat to Bermuda leaves Saudi Arabia’s ICC CWC Challenge League play-off hopes in the balance

Defeat to Bermuda leaves Saudi Arabia’s ICC CWC Challenge League play-off hopes in the balance
  • Now require favor from Gulf rivals Kuwait, who must beat Bermuda in the final Group A match on Monday to ensure Saudis progress

LONDON: Saudi Arabia fell to an agonizing defeat to Bermuda in the ICC Cricket World Cup Challenge League play-off in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday as they lost by four runs.

The defeat is the second in a row for the Saudis and leaves their qualification for the Super Sixes stage of the tournament hanging in the balance and out of their hands.

They now require a favor from their Gulf rivals Kuwait, who must beat Bermuda in the final Group A match on Monday to ensure the Saudis progress.

It was a crucial win that kept hopes alive for Bermuda — who had lost their opening group match by 157 runs to Italy — and ended their 16-game losing streak in the 50-over format.

Bermuda won the toss and scored 227 all out from 44.3 overs, with captain Delray Rawlins top-scoring with 75 runs from 95 balls.

He was ably supported by Dominic Sabir, who hit 51, including five fours and a six, off 45 balls.

The Saudi bowling attack was led by Usman Najeeb and Zain Ul-Abidin, who both claimed three wickets and finished the match with economy rates below five runs.

In reply, Saudi Arabia’s batsmen made their way to 223 for the loss of nine wickets, with captain Hisham Shaikh top-scoring with 45 and Waji Ul Hassan hitting 41 in the middle order.

Needing to score five runs off the final three balls for victory, Ishtiaq Ahmad was run out by Allan Douglas Junior as he attempted to come back for a second run with just two balls of the match remaining.

Sabir, whose exploits with the bat were backed up with three wickets for 33 runs with the ball, was awarded the player of the match.