Mixed martial arts: Arab stars fight for global honors

Ahmed Amir is flying the flag not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East.
Updated 13 April 2018

Mixed martial arts: Arab stars fight for global honors

  • Arab MMA fighters have been overlooked by major promoters
  • Egyptian fighter Ahmed Amir wants to change the perception of Middle East MMA

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil: Ahmed Amir was born in Giza and grew up with a view of the Pyramids from his bedroom window. Tonight, a long long way from home, he will continue his ascent toward the pinnacle of his sport, flying the flag not only for Egypt but for the entire Middle East.
Brave Combat Federation, a Bahraini organization founded by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Khalifa — the son of King Hamad — is considered one of the fastest growing sports promotions companies in the world. In a little more than 18 months, it has held 10 events in seven countries across four continents. Tonight, Brave 11 will take place in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and Amir, nicknamed The Butcher, will represent the Arab world.
In an arena a throw of a stone away from where Brazil’s football team famously lost 7-1 to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, the headline event will be a unification fight between two local fighters, Luan Santiago and former UFC fighter Lucas Martins, for the light-heavyweight title. Yet it is further down the 13-bout fight-card where Brave’s most tangible success story may lie.
Amir arrived in South America as one of only two Arab fighters involved in tonight’s event. Alongside Lebanon’s Georges Bardawil, Amir knows how important it is he returns to his training base in Kuwait having enhanced his record of eight wins and one loss. For too long, he said, Arab fighters have been overlooked by major promoters and those few Arabs that have been contracted, such as Ramsey Nijem and Belal Muhammad, tend to have been born outside the region. He wants to change the perception of Middle East MMA.
“I’ve spoken to so many managers and promoters about this,” Amir, 27, told Arab News from inside the luxury Ouro Minas Palace Hotel, the lobby of which this week has been awash with testosterone, tattoos and tight fight T-shirts.


“We in the Arab world have many amazing fighters, but they need to be given a chance. I really don’t know why they are not. Maybe it’s money, maybe it’s politics, maybe it’s the fact we tend to be more respectful toward our opponents instead of mouthy and offensive. I really don’t know, but it needs to change and I’m here to help do that.”
In preparation for his fight against Belo Horizonte-born Cleiton “Predator” Silva, Amir trained with John Kavanagh at the Straight Blast Gym in Dublin, Ireland. Kavanagh is Conor McGregor’s coach and Amir worked alongside the UFC superstar on occasion.
“It was a good experience to see how Conor trains,” he said. “He’s an amazing, dedicated fighter, but he’s also open and approachable. What we see now though is that, because of Conor, Ireland has this reputation of creating great fighters. That’s what we need to happen in the Middle East — give one of us a chance and the perception will soon change.”
Amir, who describes his style as “a mixture of smart and heart,” quit his job in Kuwait three months ago to focus full time on pro fighting. He is giving himself a year to reach UFC and although concerned his unwillingness to trash-talk might hinder his chances, he uses a sinister ski-mask to stand out from the crowd.


“I can’t be fake, but I can wear a mask, ” he said. “I’m always respectful, but if somebody does not respect me, I’ll kill them.” 
His Brave debut in late 2016 saw him take on American jiu-jitsu specialist Richie Martinez in Manama. He won in the first round with a series of punches to leave the audience — and organizers — in shock.
“I was given that first opportunity because I think they expected me to lose,” he said. “It was the first event and they had Richie fly in from the US, so I felt like I was just being put up to lose, but that just made me more determined to win. They thought I was small, but I know I am a big. People then said that win was lucky, but I won my next fight and my next fight so, finally, I think I am starting to get the respect I deserve.”
Before Amir enters the cage, Lebanon’s Bardawil will make his Brave debut. The 24-year-old won the second season of Desert Force Academy, a reality TV show that pitted 32 Arab fighters against each other in a battle to be the best. The finale, held in Jeddah in December 2014, saw him beat Lebanese compatriot Philippe Massoud to claim the title.
Now, having since taken his record to six wins and a loss, he will face Carlos Soares of Brazil, whose own record reads 8-1-0. “So many UFC legends are Brazilian, so it’s a dream to be here,” said the diminutive Bardawil, 24, clad in sponsor-laden shorts and hoodie and sporting a clipped beard.
“Of course, it’s more pressure and responsibility because myself and Ahmed are the only Arabs fighting and we know we need to represent the region well. But that’s why I joined Brave. I’m here to show the world that Lebanon — and the Middle East — has great fighters and that we can be the best in the world.”
The event is due to start at 1 a.m. Makkah time.


Grizzlies roll past Bucks 119-106, reach West play-in round

Updated 14 August 2020

Grizzlies roll past Bucks 119-106, reach West play-in round

  • The Grizzlies (34-39) tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, but advances to the play-in round because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Phoenix

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida: With their season on the line, Jonas Valanciunas and Ja Morant teamed up to make history and keep the Memphis Grizzlies’ playoff hopes alive.
Valanciunas and Moranth had triple-doubles, Dillon Brooks scored 31 points and the Grizzlies beat the Milwaukee Bucks 119-106 on Thursday to wrap up a spot in the play-in tournament that will determine the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
This marked the first time in franchise history that two Grizzlies had triple-doubles in a game. The team effort helped the Grizzlies bounce back after losing six of their first seven games since the NBA returned from a 4 1/2-month layoff.
“I’m happy that we responded,” said Valanciunas, who had 26 points, 19 rebounds and 12 assists. “We showed character. We’re not going home. We’re going to fight until the last second.”
Dillon Brooks added 31 points as Memphis never trailed while capitalizing on the fact Milwaukee was missing Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP was serving a one-game suspension after head-butting Moritz Wagner in a 126-113 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
The Grizzlies (34-39) tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with Phoenix, which beat Dallas 128-102 on Thursday. Memphis advances to the play-in round because it owns the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Phoenix.
Memphis now faces Portland (35-39), which earned a spot in the play-in round by edging the Brooklyn Nets 134-133 on Thursday night.
As the No. 9 team, Memphis must beat Portland two straight times to advance to face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Memphis hasn’t been to the playoffs the last two years after making seven straight postseason appearances from 2011-17.
“It’s great to see in a meaningful game that our guys just stuck with it,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We’re going to need that on Saturday — even more and more and better and better.”
Valanciunas earned the game ball after getting his first double-double in his 559th career NBA game. The 28-year-old Valanciunas’ previous career high in assists was five.
“I’m definitely going to keep that ball for a long time to show my kids that Daddy did it,” Valanciunas said.
Morant had 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.
This marked the first time two teammates posted triple-doubles in the same game since Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler did it Dec. 10 in a 135-121 overtime victory over Atlanta. Valanciunas and Morant are the 12th pair of teammates to post triple-doubles in the same game, including the postseason.
Brook Lopez scored 19 to lead five Bucks in double figures. Frank Mason had 18, Donte DiVincenzo collected 17, Khris Middleton 14 and D.J. Wilson 12.
This game was meaningless for the Bucks, who already had clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference for a second straight season. But it meant everything for the Grizzlies and Jenkins, who was an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff last season and previously worked for him in Atlanta.
It was quickly apparent which of these two teams had the most incentive. Memphis led by as many as 23.
“You’d have to be head in the sand really deep to not understand everything that was at stake today,” Budenholzer said. “Taylor and his group have done such a great job this year. They earned it. They played well today. They were sharp. Guys really stepped up.”
TIP-INS
Bucks: Starting guard Wesley Matthews missed a second straight game with a sore right adductor. Budenholzer remains confident that Matthews will be ready for the playoffs. “We feel like everything’s in a reasonably good place,” Budenholzer said before the game. “Probably just smartest not to push it today, give him another day or two. We don’t expect it to linger or be a problem past today.”
Grizzlies: Morant ended the regular season averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 assists. The only rookies in NBA history to average at least 17 points and seven assists are Oscar Robertson (1960-61), Magic Johnson (1979-80), Isiah Thomas (1981-82), Damon Stoudamire (1995-96), Allen Iverson (1996-97) and Trae Young (2018-19). ... Valanciunas has collected at least 10 rebounds in seven straight games, the longest active streak in the NBA. ... Memphis was the designated home team. Former Grizzlies Tony Allen and Zach Randolph were included among the team’s “virtual fans” in the arena.
MIDDLETON JUST SHY OF 50-40-90
Middleton shot 5 of 13 and was just shy of becoming the ninth NBA player to finish a season shooting at least 50% from the floor, 40% from 3-point range and 90% from the foul line. He ended up shooting 49.7% on field-goal attempts, 41.5% on 3-pointers and 91.6% on free throws.
UP NEXT
The Bucks will face the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs starting Tuesday. The Bucks swept four regular-season meetings with Orlando.
The Grizzlies move on to the West’s play-in tournament.
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