Two years ago, former ISKA and WBC Muay Thai World Champion Mehdi Zatout stood inside the ONE Circle with his family as tears streamed down his face.
He had just been awarded a $50,000 bonus for scoring a knockout in what would be the last fight of his decorated Muay Thai career.
Fast-forward to ONE 166 in Qatar, where the 40-year-old was presented with an opportunity he couldn’t refuse – coming out of retirement to make his boxing debut against the undefeated Zuhayr Al-Qahtani.
Fittingly, Zatout made his walkout to “Gonna Fly Now,” the iconic theme song from Rocky (1976).
In a 147lb catchweight bout of 3x3 minute rounds, Zatout exuded confidence from the outset and used his superior reach.
The Algerian connected with a couple of right hands early in the first round.
Al-Qahtani attempted to get on the inside and go to the body using his jab. Zatout advanced with his hands down and was clipped with a right hook toward the end of the opening stanza, but he had landed cleaner shots overall.
The veteran, who trains out of the Venum Training Camp in Pattaya, dropped Al-Qahtani with a left hook in the second, but the knockdown was not scored due to Zatout’s use of dirty boxing in grabbing the back of the Saudi fighter’s head.
Al-Qahtani landed a right hook upstairs, and with the contest slipping away from him, he was under pressure to pick up the pace. He charged forward with his head ducked low and landed a jab on the inside but was getting countered, with Zatout showing slick movement.
“Diamond Heart” had been showboating throughout the contest. With his hands by his sides, he goaded his opponent, pointing at his chin, willing the Saudi to try and hit him in the third round.
“The Arabian Warrior” was moving in recklessly, and Zatout appeared to mock his wild punches, giving the crowd a big smile as he landed a pair of right hands before flexing his muscles. Zatout was clearly there to entertain and sailed toward the unanimous decision.
This was Al-Qahtani’s first fight since 2019, so ring rust may have been a factor as he endured his first professional loss and slipped to 9-1.
“It was a dream come true,” Zatout told Arab News. “I was thinking all my career that I would love to fight in boxing shoes with a jacket, Rocky music. Like a kid’s dream and it was realized today so it was amazing for me.”
In terms of how the fight went, he said: “I’m not especially happy about myself. I was looking for more domination. More striking. But the opponent was short, going too low and the clinch in boxing was not allowed. But it’s OK, it was a pleasure.”
Despite being 40, Zatout clearly enjoyed himself and hasn’t ruled out another go.
“I called it ‘The Last Dance’ but when you’re not happy about your performance … let’s see. I’m a busy man, but you never know!”
Earlier on the card, Yemen’s Osamah Almarwai was submitted by Cleber Sousa in their ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling match.
Both men went hunting for leg locks in the early stages but trouble came for the ATOS man when the Brazilian began relentlessly attacking Osa’s arm.
“Clandestino” had a couple of armbar attempts before transitioning to the back. From there, he went hunting for the rear-naked choke.
Both men were coming off losses to the champion, Mikey Musumeci, on their ONE debuts, and Sousa looked intent on returning to winning ways.
He continued to pressure and sought a kimura before unleashing another armbar attempt. Danger beckoned for the Saudi-born fighter as his opponent wrapped him up in an inverted triangle choke. The anguish showed on Almarwai’s face as Sousa finally secured the armbar after 5 minutes and 31 seconds.
The South American now has an impressive 54 submissions on his CV, while Osamah slides to 0-2 since arriving in ONE Championship.
In the main event, there was a slice of history for Anatoly Malykhin, who is the only MMA fighter to simultaneously hold three world title belts in a major organization.
The Russian finished Middleweight champion Reinier De Ridder in the second round with a grounded knee, having scored a first-round finish with punches in their first meeting in 2022.
“Sladkiy” was awarded a $50,000 bonus and now adds the Dutchman’s Middleweight belt to his Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight titles. He stands with the distinction of being both undefeated and a triple champ.