Meet the MMA Contenders
Last month, the Dubai Fighting Championship (DFC) pulled in a big crowd for its inaugural professional Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) event 'The Beginning'.
Now it’s time for the amateurs to show off their skills. They are leg-locking and hammerfisting for all they are worth in gyms across Dubai as they squeeze in some last-minute training for the DFC’s ‘Fight Night’ tomorrow.
While they may rather be knocked out than admit it, nerves are likely to be running high for the vast majority of those taking part - as it will be their first time fighting in an MMA octagon cage. And it’s not just honour at stake tomorrow, there’s also a chance to make the leap from the amateur ranks to the professional stage as DFC co-creators Tam Khan and Ari Basti are going to pick the most promising talents to step up to the Dubai pro league.
While 12 of the 14 fights tomorrow are amateur, the ‘main event’ will feature UAE-based Tunisian fighter Mounir Lazzez, who will take on fellow welterweight Andy Cona from England.
MMA is a passion for Mounir and he works hard to balance his job as a security guard with his gruelling six-day-a-week training regime.
“I work at night in my job, I train [in the] morning, then I sleep, then I train and then I go to work,” he says.
“I sleep six hours after morning training. It is very difficult for me, but it is worth it. My diet is just chicken, fish, salad. No Pizza, no McDonalds. But after you win the fight you forget all of this.”
Mounir, 24, has been doing MMA for three years. It is now the world’s fastest growing sport. DFC co-creators Khan and Basti run Contenders MMA gym in Al Quoz and they say more teens are picking up pads. While many parents may shudder at the thought of their child entering the brutal world of MMA, the DFC guys say they’ve actually had parents thanking them for helping their kids channel aggression and develop discipline.
Mohammed Yayh, an 18-year-old Emirati student at Winchester School in Dubai, is gearing up for his first competition tomorrow at Fight Night. He says: “In school I used to fight a lot and I used to get kicked out. I had loads of anger in me. I don’t know where it came from but MMA helped get the anger out. Now I’m less angry and it has helped to discipline me.”
Mohammed, who fights at lightweight adds: “I’ve been training for three years now. My goal is to go pro - this fight is just the beginning, I’m not going to lose.”
DFC’s Basti admits he was originally attracted to the brutality of MMA - but says there’s a lot more to it.
“MMA’s a thinking game,” he says.
“If you look at the history and the thugs that came in off the street, like the Tank Abbotts, they never did well in the UFC because it’s a thinking game with so many ways to win. If you’re not always thinking you’ll lose.”
Aaron is a submission expert. The Liverpudlian has some amateur boxing experience. A well-rounded fighter.
Height: 6ft 1
Home country: UK
MMA Experience: Eight months
Day job: Works on Oil Rigs
Experienced in Tae Kwon Do and has skills in the Ancient Greek wrestling style of Pankration. Tough and durable, Jan left his life in Afghanistan to pursue a fight career in Dubai.
Height: 5ft 8
Home country: Afghanistan
MMA experience: Eight years
Day job: (Formerly) farmer
Mounir is an experienced Muay Thai fighter and has a good jiu jitsu background. Very well rounded and one of the most anticipated fighters on the card.
Height: 6ft 2
Home country: Tunisia
MMA experience: Three years
Day job: Security Guard
Home country: Chechnya
MMA experience: 6 months
Day job: Student
DFC Fight Night is at the Habtoor Grand Beach Resort and Spa. Doors open at 7pm, event starts 8pm. Tickets from Dhs200. Visit www.dubaifc.ae to find out more.