Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory

Exclusive Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory
Zayn prepared to defend his Intercontinental Title this weekend in a triple threat match against Chad Gable and Bronson Reed at the WWE King and Queen of the Ring event in Jeddah. (X: @SamiZayn)
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Updated 23 May 2024
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Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory

Sami Zayn reflects on Saudi Arabia’s role in his journey to WrestleMania glory
  • He defends his Intercontinental Title this weekend in a triple threat match against Chad Gable and Bronson Reed at the WWE King and Queen of the Ring event in Jeddah
  • It comes 11 years after he signed with WWE and 10 years after he first visited the Kingdom to compete in an event
  • ‘If you’re an Arab kid … with a dream of chasing this, becoming a wrestler or the WWE or whatever it is, it’s much more attainable than it’s ever been,’ he says

RIYADH: Amid the expansive global reach of the WWE, few wrestling stars embody the spirit of international connectivity quite as completely as Sami Zayn. His journey from pre-WWE days to competing in Saudi Arabia for the first time a decade ago and then glory at WrestleMania surely reflects the transformative power of sports entertainment.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, he shared some insights into the evolution of his career, his aspirations, and the effects the partnership between WWE and Saudi Arabia has had on him personally and wrestling in general.

It came as Zayn prepared to defend his Intercontinental Title this weekend in a triple threat match against Chad Gable and Bronson Reed at the WWE King and Queen of the Ring event in Jeddah.

As he reflected on his journey, Zayn, who signed with WWE in 2013, reminisced about his first visit to Saudi Arabia the following year, in the early days of WWE’s partnership with sports authorities in the Kingdom.

Though Zayn is not of Saudi descent — he was born in Canada to Syrian parents — he expressed a profound sense of belonging in Saudi Arabia and the wider region because it resonates with him on a cultural level and he appreciates its familiar characteristics.

“You know, with your culture, your language, your people, the food, the smells, the sounds, I don’t know, there’s something about it,” he said. “It just feels like home, even though it’s not home, you know?”

Discussing his victory over Gunther in April at WrestleMania 40 to claim the Intercontinental Title, which his opponent had held for a record-breaking 666 days, Zayn said he achieved something many people thought was impossible, and it was a pivotal moment marked the end of a significant chapter in Gunther’s illustrious career.

“I think just being in the ring with Gunther — who obviously has shown that he’s one of our top superstars now and, you know, probably the best Intercontinental Champion we’ve ever had — to beat him at the biggest show of the year, I mean, I think it’s very, very memorable. And I think that’s one of the hardest things to do right now.”

Zayn did his best to articulate the indescribable thrill of competing on WWE’s grandest stage. Amid the deluge of content in modern wrestling, he said it is particularly significant if one can craft memorable moments that will endure beyond the duration of the event itself.

“I feel like the hardest thing to do nowadays is to have a memorable match and memorable moments that people will remember, oh, two, three, four, five, maybe even 10 years down the road,” he said.

“And I feel like that match (against Gunther) was good, if nothing else because of how long he held the title. I feel like it’ll be very well remembered. So I’m very proud of that.”

As Saudi Arabia continues to evolve and open up to the world, the rapid pace of developments in the country over the past few years has made sport and entertainment accessible to all and opened up ever-greater opportunities, which means that the prospects have never been better for aspiring Arab wrestlers to follow in Zayn’s footsteps.

He acknowledges that what not so long ago was a distant dream for Saudis is now a realistic possibility, and he credits the long-established presence of WWE in the Kingdom for helping to foster a sense of connectivity and inspiration. He also stressed the importance of encouraging emerging talents to show determination and perseverance as they pursue their dreams.

“Now, because of the fact that we run shows in Saudi and we have this partnership with Saudi Arabia and we’re more connected to the region, if you’re an Arab kid or a young man with a dream of chasing this, becoming a wrestler or the WWE or whatever it is, it’s much more attainable than it’s ever been,” he said.

“If you have that goal, look, it’s not easy, it’s never easy, but it’s more achievable now than it’s ever been … for somebody from anywhere here in the Middle East.”

As for his own future, Zayn has a pragmatic but optimistic view. While harboring ambitions for world championship glory, he said he prioritizes the art of storytelling and emotional engagement as his guiding principles. He remains committed to making a lasting impact on fans as he continues to evolve as a performer and storyteller.

“I would just like to keep doing what I’m doing now, which is to continue to tell good stories, prominent stories,” he said.

“I want to be an important part of the television show. And I think what I bring to the table, just as much as anybody if not more than most, is the emotional component of the stories that I tell in the ring or, you know, leading up to these matches.”

Still, he acknowledged that he would love to win the world championship before he steps out of the ring for the final time.

“But hopefully that’s not for another few years, you know, God willing, inshallah, at least five more years or something. But you don’t know what life has for you.”

Looking back on into his formative years, and his journey from wrestling fan to superstar, Zayn pays tribute to his own childhood idols and inspirations. From Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart to the Hardy Boyz, Mick Foley and Eddie Guerrero, they all left an indelible mark and influenced his journey.

He said the Hardy Boyz and Mick Foley in particular had a big impact on him “because they had stories that, in some ways, I could really relate to: They started in their backyard and then they got trained. It just seemed like a more attainable route to get there. I think they kind of opened my eyes in that way.”

WWE returns to Saudi Arabia this weekend with the double-header of SmackDown and then King and Queen of the Ring at Jeddah’s Superdome. The action begins on May 24 with the Kingdom’s inaugural SmackDown event, which will be broadcast live globally and include the second semifinals of the King and Queen of the Ring championships. The finals of those competitions will take place at the main event on May 25, along with Zayn’s battle and two other championship bouts.


Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
Updated 17 July 2024
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Al-Ittihad sign Algerian midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract

Karim Benzema welcomes Houssem Aouar to Al-Ittihad’s training camp in Alicante, Spain. (X/@ittihad_en)
  • Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season
  • Midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons

JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad have signed French-born Algerian international midfielder Houssem Aouar on a four-year contract.

Aouar joins from Roma, where he scored four goals in 16 appearances last season.

The 26-year-old midfielder previously played for hometown club Lyon in France’s Ligue 1, scoring 30 goals in seven seasons.

The signing ceremony took place at the team’s training camp in Alicante, Spain on Tuesday.

The event was officiated by the club’s CEO, Domingos Oliveira, and witnessed by sporting director Ramon Planes, following Aouar’s successful medical examination this morning.

Domingos Oliveira expressed his warm welcome to Aouar, noting that this move marks a significant new chapter in Aouar’s career. He emphasized that Aouar will contribute significantly alongside his teammates to achieving the high standards and results anticipated by the club’s fans and supporters.

Oliveira highlighted that Aouar’s signing aligns with the team’s technical requirements for a player possessing specific qualities that enhance the squad. This strategy is based on the technical needs identified by the sports committee and reviewed by the coach.

Houssem Aouar shared his enthusiasm about joining Al-Ittihad Club, recognizing its rich history, passionate fan base, distinguished players, and experienced coaching staff. He is motivated to deliver his best performance to represent the club and bring joy to its supporters.


FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
Updated 17 July 2024
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FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants

FIFA says opening probe into Argentina players’ racist chants
  • The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults

PARIS: FIFA said on Wednesday it was opening an investigation into racist chants by Argentina players after they won the Copa America.
“FIFA is aware of a video circulating on social media and the incident is being looked into,” a spokesperson for world football’s governing body said.
They added: “FIFA strongly condemns any form of discrimination by anyone including players, fans and officials.”
The chants were heard during a live video posted on social media by Chelsea and Argentina midfielder Enzo Fernandez from the team bus in the wake of the Copa victory over Colombia in Miami on Sunday.
Some players, including 23-year-old Fernandez, sing a chant dating back to the 2022 World Cup final in which Argentina beat France.
The song targets France’s star striker Kylian Mbappe among others and includes racist and homophobic insults.
Chelsea had earlier announced they had launched an internal disciplinary procedure against Fernandez over the incident.
Fernandez has apologized and the club said in a statement it had launched an “internal disciplinary procedure.”
“Chelsea Football Club finds all forms of discriminatory behavior completely unacceptable,” it added.
“We acknowledge and appreciate our player’s public apology and will use this as an opportunity to educate.”
Fernandez, who joined Chelsea from Benfica for a Premier League record fee of £105 million ($136.8 million) in 2023, said in his apology: “The song includes highly offensive language and there is absolutely no excuse for these words.
“I stand against discrimination in all forms and apologize for getting caught up in the euphoria of our Copa America celebrations.”
The French Football Federation (FFF) complained to FIFA about the chants on Monday.
FFF president Philippe Diallo “condemned with the greatest firmness the unacceptable racist and discriminatory remarks made against players of the France team.”
France beat Argentina in the last 16 of the 2018 World Cup.


Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
Updated 17 July 2024
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Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards

Belal Muhammad gears up for UFC 304 showdown with Leon Edwards
  • Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory
  • His Palestinian heritage serves as a profound source of motivation and pride ‘that means everything to me’

Riyadh: In the lead-up to UFC 304, slated for July 27 in Manchester, UK, Belal Muhammad, the formidable Palestinian-American welterweight contender, has honing his skills with a series  of rigorous training camps which have inluded sessions with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Mackachev in Dagestan.

Speaking exclusively to Arab News, the 36-year-old reflected on his preparations and the profound significance of his upcoming bout against champion Leon Edwards.

“My training camp has been very good,” Muhammad said, detailing the final stages of his preparation. “It’s about being safe, staying uninjured, and making it to the fight week. It’s been a hard camp, but I feel the best I’ve ever felt. I can’t wait to get to Manchester and fight,” he added with palpable enthusiasm.

Ranked second in the welterweight division, Muhammad sees the upcoming fight as a defining moment in his career trajectory. “This is everything,” he stressed. “When I got into the UFC, all I wanted was to be the champion. Now, I see the finish line. I’m knocking on the door. All I’ve got to do is walk through it.”

Acknowledging the competitive landscape of the welterweight division, Muhammad assessed his opponents with a keen eye. “I see weaknesses in a lot of these guys,” he said. “I don’t think there are going to be easy fights, but looking at this division, Leon (Edwards) is my easiest fight,” he added.

Muhammad’s journey in mixed martial arts is deeply intertwined with his Palestinian heritage, which he views as a source of profound motivation and pride. “That means everything to me,” he said. “I wake up every day knowing I’m fighting for something bigger — to have my flag raised with the title, to give my people a voice.”

He highlighted the resilience and determination of his Palestinian community as a driving force in his career. “I can’t sleep. I can’t take any days off. I can’t be soft, because these people are hard. These people are so resilient. They push me every day to work harder. I’ve never seen a stronger people in my life.”

Addressing his Palestinian fans directly, Muhammad expressed solidarity and admiration. “Keep fighting. Keep staying strong. Keep being resilient because you’re changing the world,” he said, stressing the inspiration he draws from their unwavering support.

With the recent surge of MMA interest in the Middle East, Muhammad praised the region’s growing prominence in the sport. “It’s amazing to see the Middle East becoming a huge market for fighters and the UFC,” he said. “When you look at Arabs and Muslims, we’re not the tallest we’re not the biggest so you’re not gonna see a lot of us in the NBA. But now we have a different sport that we can take over. We can all be fighters,” he added optimistically, envisioning a future where Arab fighters continue to make significant strides in the sport.

Reflecting on his career’s evolution, Muhammad emphasized the lessons learned from both victories and setbacks. “I’ve had the highest highs and the lowest lows,” he said. “After every fight, I analyze what I did wrong. I train year-round to be a better fighter,” he added, attributing his continuous growth to a relentless pursuit of improvement.

Muhammad started his MMA journey at 23, unlike many fighters who start at a much younger age, a factor that has always played on his mind as he trains, he said.

“I really think I’m behind a lot of these guys. So I’ve always had that mentality that I’m behind and have to keep learning, growing, and getting better. And I think that’s what separates me from the rest. Every single fight, I come as a different fighter.”

Maintaining mental focus and motivation amid the stakes of UFC 304, Muhammad revealed a deeply personal motivation. “I love to win and I hate to lose,” he admitted. “I never want to see my mom disappointed in me. I keep winning so she keeps a smile on her face,” he added, highlighting the familial support that fuels his drive.

As the countdown to UFC 304 progresses, Muhammad stands poised to seize the welterweight crown, driven by skill, dedication, and a steadfast commitment to his goals. With Manchester on the horizon, Muhammad’s journey to championship glory promises to captivate fans worldwide and inspire a new generation of fighters from the Middle East and beyond.


‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
Updated 17 July 2024
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‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup

‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters,’ ‘Counter-Strike 2’ and ‘PUBG Mobile’ top week 3 at Esports World Cup
  • 3 tournaments taking centerstage at Boulevard Riyadh City with high-stakes drama in store until Sunday  

RIYADH: The Esports World Cup has three major competitions taking place this week at Boulevard Riyadh City, promising further entertainment after a fortnight of action.

Running for eight weeks until Aug. 25, the Esports World Cup has a record-breaking $60 million prize pool on offer across 22 competitions and 21 games.

Sixteen clubs are vying to reach the latter stages of the $5 million “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” with hometown heroes Team Falcons flying the flag for Saudi Arabia.

Having topped the Group A standings with four wins and two draws from seven matches, Team Falcons have emerged as top contenders for the $1.5 million first prize and are certain to receive incredible home support this week.

Also, two other tournaments make their highly anticipated Esports World Cup debuts. The $1 million “Counter-Strike 2” competition will see some of the world’s best clubs competing.

Working together in five-versus-five format, players must display exemplary tactics to eliminate opponents and reign supreme in this ultra-realistic team-based shooter game.

Also sharing the spotlight is “PUBG Mobile,” with 24 teams battling for the $3 million prize on Friday.


Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
Updated 17 July 2024
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Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick

Team Falcons reach ‘Dota2 Riyadh Masters’ semifinals, target Esports World Cup hat trick
  • The Saudi Arabia team have already claimed top places in the ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ and ‘Free Fire’ competitions

RIYADH: Team Falcons remain on course for a historic hat trick of Esports World Cup titles after the hometown heroes reached the semifinals of the “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” competition on Tuesday.

One of the front-runners for the $1.5 million first prize, the Saudi Arabia club entered the knockout stages in scintillating form, topping Group A with four wins and two draws.

This form continued with the support of a capacity crowd inside the SEF Arena.

A 2-1 victory against China’s WBG.XG set up a semifinal showdown with Canadian outfit Gaimin Gladiators.

This moves Team Falcons closer to their dream of winning the competition and adding to Esports World Cup victories in “Call of Duty: Warzone” and “Free Fire.”

The “Dota2 Riyadh Masters” is running throughout week three at the Esports World Cup, concluding on Sunday, July 23.