RIYADH: The eyes of the boxing world will once again turn to Riyadh on March 8, when Knockout Chaos sees the highly anticipated bout between Anthony Joshua and Francis Ngannou.
No less significant a narrative for the sport in the Kingdom will be that of Ziyad Almaayouf, the rising star of Saudi boxing, gracing the undercard with the biggest fight of his career so far.
For Almaayouf, 23, Knockout Chaos at Kingdom Arena will provide a platform to extend his so far perfect record of 4-0.
The super-lightweight fighter said: “I feel like being the Saudi fighter and fighting in Saudi, the map is already there for me to do that. All I need to do is walk on that yellow brick road, you know what I mean?
“When you’re a fighter at my stage and you’re approaching such a big stage, your number one thought is to just make the right statement, which is to get the win. That’s all that matters.”
Almaayouf, who fights out of California, made history in August 2022 on the Joshua versus Oleksandr Usyk card in Jeddah as the first Saudi boxer to win a professional fight, against Mexican Jose Alfredo Alatorre.
Despite the intense attention Knockout Chaos has been receiving, Almaayouf was confident of remaining calm going into the fight.
“Once I’m in that ring, I can control all of that. But before that, all I can control is visualizing my performance, getting the win; not how I perform while winning.
“It’s a very fine line between them, but it’s a fine line that could make or break you,” he added.
Dubbed Zizo by his admirers, Almaayouf considered himself as more than just a boxer; he was a symbol of hope and inspiration for a nation rallying behind him.
He said: “I always say that I feel like a superhero when I do it. Gotham City has Batman, Metropolis has Superman, and Saudi has Zizo. When I fight in Saudi, so many people, boxing fans or not, they put their hopes and dreams, bragging rights, and everything on me. They feel like ‘if he could win his boxing fight, I could get my promotion and my job.’
“So many different audiences get inspired by something you are doing on a global stage. And that’s why I feel like a superhero.
“They need to have that confidence that if Zizo could do it, we could do it, and we could do it better,” Almaayouf added.
With his own podcast, “The Inner Guidebook,” and features in fashion magazines such as Vogue Arabia, Almaayouf has emerged as something of a Renaissance man with a wide variety of pursuits.
“It’s what I always try to follow in my life. Life peaks when you stop caring about what other people think you know. I feel like your purpose in life is your passion. These are all things that I am passionate about.
“First you become the boxer, then you become the athlete, then you become the figure. Everyone wants to reach the point of the figure, but very few make it to there.
“How you reach the point of that figure is to break into audiences that have nothing to do with your sport and your original field,” he said.
Almaayouf noted that many people had come across his name outside of boxing, from his fashion work, for example.
“It’s important to change the perceptions and the conceptions that people have on Saudi Arabia and the Saudi Arabian people or the Arab people in general.
“Yes, we do speak English. Yes, we do have that enthusiasm, the charisma. Yes, we can fight. All that stuff is very important. And the only way to do that is to touch as many audiences as possible,” he added.
Despite a whirlwind start to 2024, Almaayouf has set his sights on a singular goal — winning inside the ring.
He said: “I want to be as active as possible, but to be as smartly active as possible. It’s not about getting the most amount of fights that I can get. It’s about getting the right fights at the right time and the right number of fights at the right time, depending on the year.
“If I’m not fighting, I’m a big believer of out of sight, out of mind.
“I always want to grow my brand, keep showing the athletes and the fighters coming up, that blueprint of how to just do it.
“To be a figure more than just the athlete and the boxer. To be around the podcasting, the fashion scene, and whatever passion I could touch lives with. That’s what I want to do.
“But eventually, at the end of the day, I am the boxer. I am the professional boxer for Saudi Arabia right now,” he added.
As Almaayouf continued to chase titles in the ring, he also wanted to pave the way for future generations of Saudi boxers to dream bigger.
He said: “I want to represent Saudi on all the big cards; represent Vision 2030, represent The Quality of Life Program, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of course.
“The trust and the empowerment that they have given me to carry that torch is just a big privilege and it comes with as much pressure, but it’s privilege first, then pressure, you know.
“Of course, it’s my dream to be the first world champion for Saudi; the first unified, undisputed, the first multi-weight.
“But what’s more important is to be the first of many. That’s why I say that this story is a larger-than-life story.
“I need to keep being that flag-bearer for Saudi Arabia until I get to that world title, God willing,” Almaayouf added.