From fencing and football to the wrestling ring: the incredible rise of WWE’s first Saudi star

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Mansoor Al-Shehail in the ring. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
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Updated 18 February 2020

From fencing and football to the wrestling ring: the incredible rise of WWE’s first Saudi star

RIYADH: Mansoor Al-Shehail, World Wrestling Entertainment’s first Saudi star, celebrated another career milestone last week, in front of a hometown crowd.

The rookie defeated veteran Swiss wrestler Cesaro in their first one-on-one encounter, during the WWE Crown Jewel 2019 event at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium on Oct. 31.

Mansoor introduced himself to the global WWE audience in memorable style in June when, during the televised Super ShowDown event at King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah, he outlasted 50 other wrestlers to win the largest Battle Royal in WWE history.

The 24-year-old said that training to become a wrestler had been a completely different experience from the sports in which he had participated when he was younger.

“My sports history was with football (soccer) in Saudi Arabia, and fencing in America,” said Mansoor.

His interest in fencing grew out of a love of the Star Wars movies, in particular their sword-fighting-style lightsaber battles.

“Fencing wasn’t what I expected — in a good way,” said Mansoor. “It required a lot more finesse and tremendous footwork and balance control. Football, meanwhile, was a lot more about conditioning, precision and also footwork, to a different degree.”

The training that was required when he decided to switch to wrestling was completely different from both of his previous sports.

“There are people who look at what we (wrestlers) do and say, ‘Hey, I think I could do that.’ But so many of us are specially trained and are good at what we do, we make it look easy — and that’s by design.”

Mansoor was invited to train at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, after he was spotted by WWE scouts during tryouts in Jeddah ahead of the Greatest Royal Rumble event in 2018. He said that many of the athletes he met at the center who had come from other sports, including boxing and American football, told him that training for the wrestling ring was the hardest thing they had ever done.

“It’s something that you need to have a passion for and love, otherwise the punishment and the pain that you experience just simply isn’t worth it,” he said. “If you don’t have that love for what we do, for the sport, in your heart then your body is not going to be able to withstand the punishment.

“It’s different in the sense that it’s an emotionally grueling process — I can’t even describe it. Physically, it puts you at the absolute top of your game. The strength and conditioning they have with the coaching and the program is something that I had never encountered before coming (to the WWE Performance Center).

“I was not on a really strict regimen — I was always sort of athletic, in a sense, so I could naturally do quite a bit and I was very grateful for that — but the limits that (the coach) can push you through and the maximum potential that he can push you to is amazing.”

The performance center, which has 26,000 square feet of training facilities, is at the heart of the WWE’s talent-development program. It has seven full-size wrestling rings, a fully equipped strength and conditioning room, a sports-medicine facility, and a promo room with a private studio for perfecting on-camera techniques, including character development and performance skills. There is also a cutting-edge production and editing suite with a studio and voice-over booth.

Mansoor said that thanks to the training he received there, wrestling moves are now second nature to him.

“When I’m in the ring it’s not so much as case of thinking about what I’m going to do next, its that I’ve done this so much I just naturally know what to do in any situation, at any given time and in any scenario,” he explained.

“I think that’s what I’m most grateful for: the ability to make wrestling second nature, to make what I do in the ring more of an instinct than a planned thought. I think that will help me a lot in the long run.”

Rizwan steers Pakistan to their highest-winning T20 run chase

Updated 10 April 2021

Rizwan steers Pakistan to their highest-winning T20 run chase

  • Pakistan's previous highest T20 chase was 188 against Australia in Harare in 2018
  • Rizwan made an unbeaten 74 as Pakistan chased down a target of 189 with one ball to spare

JOHANNESBURG: Opening batsman Mohammad Rizwan steered Pakistan to their highest winning run chase as they beat South Africa by four wickets in the first Twenty20 international at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Saturday.
Rizwan made an unbeaten 74 as Pakistan chased down a target of 189 with one ball to spare.

Their previous highest T20 chase was 188 against Australia in Harare in 2018.

The match swung in the last four overs of the two innings.
South Africa could score only 29 in their last four overs, while Pakistan thrashed 52 off the last 3.5 overs


South Africa 188-6 in 20 overs (A. Markram 51, H. Klaasen 50; Mohammad Nawaz 2-21, Hasan Ali 2-28)

Pakistan 189-6 in 19.5 overs (Mohammad Rizwan 74 not out, Faheem Ashraf 30; B. Hendricks 3-32, T. Shamsi 2-29)


Pakistan won by 4 wickets

Series: Pakistan lead the four-match series 1-0

Toss: South Africa

Zidane hopes there will be more Clasicos for Messi and Ramos

Updated 09 April 2021

Zidane hopes there will be more Clasicos for Messi and Ramos

  • Both players’ contracts are up at the end of the campaign

MADRID: Zinedine Zidane on Friday said that he hoped Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos won’t have played their last Clasicos come the end of the season, with doubts over the futures of the Barcelona and Real Madrid captains ahead of a huge La Liga encounter.
Both players’ contracts are up at the end of the campaign and Messi is yet to commit to a new deal with Barca after trying to force an exit last summer.
When asked if Saturday’s clash in the Spanish capital would be the last of the pair’s careers at Spain’s top two clubs, Madrid coach Zidane said: “I hope not.”
“Sergio is not going to play tomorrow. It’s sad, but I really hope that he will stay here,” the Frenchman added of the injured 35-year-old.
Zidane also said he hoped Messi would remain at Barca for the good of Spanish football, joking “let him stay at Barcelona — he’s doing very well there!“
Barca and reigning champions Madrid are both trying to chase down league leaders Atletico Madrid, whose defeat at Sevilla last Sunday allowed their rivals to move within touching distance of the summit.
Madrid are three points behind their city rivals in third, while second-placed Barca are a point closer, meaning whoever wins at the Alfredo di Stefano stadium will knock Atletico off the top for the first time since December after ruthlessly chipping away at what was a 10-point lead in February.
Zidane, whose team impressed in a 3-1 Champions League win over Liverpool this week, appeared confident ahead of a crucial fixture in his attempt to retain his team’s league title.
“We have been very good recently, consistent,” he said.
“And not just with the ball, we have improved defensively too. We know that regardless of what we have done up to now, we will have to play well tomorrow.”

'The best Messi'
Barca boss Ronald Koeman also wants Messi and Ramos to both stay, telling reporters “the best thing for La Liga is that the best players keep playing until the last possible moment.”
The 58-year-old said he was hoping for “the best Messi” as his team hope to extend a six-match league winning run which has come thanks in large part to the Argentine playmaker’s sparkling recent form.
The 33-year-old has scored 23 La Liga goals — 10 of those coming in his last eight appearances — and set up eight more this term to give Barca a fighting chance of finishing top of the pile after a troubled start to the season dominated by his efforts to leave and the club’s serious financial difficulties.
“We need the best Barca to win. We will have to do everything perfectly, the attack, our movement, our passing game, and for that you need Leo,” said the Dutch coach, whose team haven’t lost in La Liga since early December.
Koeman will be boosted by the return from injury of Spain defenders Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto.
“They are two important players, not only for their quality on the field but also for their personalities,” said Koeman.
“They lack a bit of rhythm, but they are strong physically and are keen to help the team.”

Masters leader Rose off to rocky round-two start

Updated 09 April 2021

Masters leader Rose off to rocky round-two start

AUGUSTA, US: Justin Rose opened with two bogeys in the first four holes and saw his lead shrink to three strokes early in Friday’s second round of the 85th Masters while Augusta National allowed a charge by rivals.

The 40-year-old Englishman fired his lowest Masters round in 59 trips with a 7-under par 65 on Thursday to lead by four, matching the largest 18-hole Masters lead since 1941.

Rose, a two-time Masters runner-up, equaled the record of Jack Nicklaus by leading the event for the fourth time after 18 holes.

Reigning Olympic champion Rose, whose only major title came at the 2013 US Open, made an early start Friday in cool and overcast conditions while most of his nearest rivals were among the afternoon starters.

After landing in trees to the right off the first tee Friday, Rose pitched back into the fairway and limited his damage to a bogey five.

At the 575-yard par-5 second, Rose found the fairway with a 3-wood, then was short of the left side of the green before chipping his third within three feet of the cup and rolling in the birdie putt.

Rose parred the fourth, then came up shy of the green at the par-3 fourth. His putt up a rise barely clung to the edge of the green and from there he putted to three feet and dropped a putt in the right side for bogey.

That left Rose on 6-under and three atop two early chargers.

Australia’s Marc Leishman opened with three straight birdies to share second on 3-under overall while Austrian Bernd Wiesberger opened with four birdies in the first five holes and added another at the par-5 eighth to join the pack at 3-under.

Only 12 players finished under par in the first round, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and American Brian Harman sharing second on 69, both teeing off in the final five afternoon groups.

In the first round, Rose had bogeys at the first and seventh holes, then took apart a firm and fast Augusta National layout that humbled a world-class field.

His deft iron play and deadly accurate putting in a 10-hole run of an eagle and seven birdies from the eighth to 17th hole showed slow starts would not deter him.

“I putted the ball beautifully and read the greens unbelievably well,” Rose said. “If you had said to me walking up the eighth hole, I’d have said no chance, this course is playing a little too tricky for that.

“But it’s incredible. It’s a good reminder that you just never know what can happen out there, just to stick with it on the golf course.”

At 2-under were South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout and an American trio — Masters debutante Will Zalatoris, 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson and 2018 Masters winner Patrick Reed.

Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who snapped a four-year win drought last week in Texas, was on 71 despite a triple bogey at the ninth.

World No. 3 Jon Rahm, who only arrived at Augusta National on the eve of the event, was on 72. The Spaniard was with his wife Kelley, who gave birth to son Kepa on Saturday.

Top-ranked defending champion Dustin Johnson opened on 74, as did Brooks Koepka, a four-time major winner coming off right knee surgery last month.

Second-ranked Justin Thomas, who can overtake Johnson for world number one with a victory this week, was on 73, as was another American, 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa.


China warns US of ‘robust response’ against Winter Olympics boycott

Updated 08 April 2021

China warns US of ‘robust response’ against Winter Olympics boycott

  • Rights groups have urged a boycott to call attention to accusations of Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans and Hong Kong residents
  • US State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was among the possibilities but a senior official said later a boycott has not been discussed

BEIJING: China’s government warned Washington on Wednesday not to boycott next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing after the Biden administration said it was talking with allies about a joint approach to complaints of human rights abuses.
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected accusations of abuses against ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region. He warned of an unspecified “robust Chinese response” to a potential Olympics boycott.
“The politicization of sports will damage the spirit of the Olympic Charter and the interests of athletes from all countries,” said the spokesperson, Zhao Lijian. “The international community including the US Olympic Committee will not accept it.”
Human rights groups are protesting China’s hosting of the games, due to start in February 2022. They have urged a boycott or other measures to call attention to accusations of Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans and residents of Hong Kong.
The US State Department suggested an Olympic boycott was among the possibilities but a senior official said later a boycott has not been discussed. The International Olympic Committee and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee have said in the past they oppose boycotts.
That opposition was reiterated by Susanne Lyons, chair of the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee board of directors, at a media summit Wednesday.
“We at the USOPC oppose athlete boycotts because they’ve been shown to negatively impact athletes while not effectively addressing global issues in the past,” Lyons said. The committee doesn’t wish to “minimize the serious human rights issues that are happening in China,” but believes diplomats and trade and other government officials are better equipped to address such concerns and “young athletes should be used as political pawns in these issues,” Lyons said.
Boycotts also put “unfair pressure” on corporate sponsors who provide the bulk of financial support for athletes and athletic programs over the long term, not just for specific events, she said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the White House is not looking at a boycott of the 2022 Olympics.
“We have not discussed, and are not discussing, any joint boycott with allies and partners,” she said.
When asked if the US government would discourage Americans from traveling to China, Psaki said the Biden administration hopes that by the time of the event, “we are at a point where enough people across the country, and hopefully around the world have been vaccinated” against COVID-19.

Pakistan wins series in South Africa with another Fakhar 100 

Updated 07 April 2021

Pakistan wins series in South Africa with another Fakhar 100 

  • It’s the first time Pakistan has won an ODI series in South Africa since 2013 
  • Fakhar made 101 and captain Babar Azam 94 from 82 balls to propel Pakistan to 320-7 

CENTURION, South Africa: Opener Fakhar Zaman hit a second successive century to help Pakistan win the deciding one-day international against South Africa by 28 runs and take the series 2-1 on Wednesday.
Fakhar made 101 and captain Babar Azam 94 from 82 balls to propel Pakistan to 320-7 batting first at SuperSport Park.
South Africa was 292 all out as three players made half-centuries but none converted them to big scores.
Left-arm spinner Mohammad Nawaz and fast bowler Shaheen Shah Afridi collected three wickets each, with Afridi ending things by clean bowling Keshav Maharaj and last man Daryn Dupavillon.
It’s the first time Pakistan has won an ODI series in South Africa since 2013.
South Africa did have to change more than half its team following a series-leveling win in the second game after five players left for the IPL and batsman Rassie van der Dussen was ruled out injured. But Pakistan was still clearly better over the course of the three games.
Fakhar was again the most impressive after a magnificent 193 in a losing cause in the second one-dayer.
He made 101 from 104 balls this time and shared a 112-run opening stand with Imam-ul-Haq (57). Babar’s classy 94 continued Pakistan’s top-order flourish and the tourists were 206-1 at one point and set for a big total.
Hasan Ali hammered it home with 32 not out from 11 balls right at the end, which included four sixes.
Opener Janneman Malan’s 70 threatened to give South Africa a chance, as did a 108-run stand in the middle order between Kyle Verreynne (62) and Andile Phehlukwayo (54).
Pakistan removed those two in successive overs and Afridi cleaned up.