Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

The Algerian connected with a couple of right hands early in the first round. (ONE)
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Updated 02 March 2024
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Algerian Muay Thai veteran Mehdi Zatout comes out of retirement to win boxing debut at ONE 166

  • The 40-year-old overcame previously undefeated Saudi boxer Zuhayr Al-Qahtani in Qatar

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.


Hosts Qatar defeat Indonesia as 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup begins

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Hosts Qatar defeat Indonesia as 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup begins

  • Saudi Arabia kick off their campaign on Tuesday night, facing Tajikistan
  • The tournament provides a path to the 2024 Olympic Games

DOHA: The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup kicked off on Monday with hosts Qatar controversially beating nine-man Indonesia 2-0. Australia and Jordan drew 0-0 earlier in the tournament opener.

The event, which runs until May 3, also acts as a route to the men’s football competition at the 2024 Olympic Games, which take place in Paris this summer.

Qatar took the lead just before half-time at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, with VAR intervening to award a penalty that Tajik referee Nasrullo Kabirov had missed. Khalid Ali Sabah duly converted from the spot.

Indonesia’s task became significantly harder after the break when Ivar Jenner was sent off for a second bookable offence. Qatar doubled their lead just seven minutes later with an excellent long-range free kick from Ahmed Al-Rawi.

The visitors’ misery was complete when, deep into stoppage time, Ramadhan Sananta received a straight red card.

In the competition opener, Australia played out a stalemate with Jordan — who saw Danial Afaneh sent off after 82 minutes — at Abdullah Bin Khalifa Stadium.

The results leave Qatar at the top of Group A with three points. Australia and Jordan lie joint second with a point apiece, while Indonesia are bottom of the table on zero.

Tuesday will see Japan take on China and South Korea face the UAE in Group B, while Group C action begins with Iraq v Thailand before Saudi Arabia take on Tajikistan.

The Green Falcons will then face Thailand on April 19 and Iraq on April 22.

The 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup sees 16 nations split into four groups of four with the top two from each progressing to the quarterfinals.

The winners of both semifinals secure automatic qualification to the Olympic Games, regardless of which team wins the final.

The two losing semifinalists will contest third place, with the winners also booking their spot in Paris. The fourth-place finishers have one final chance by taking part in a play-off against an African qualifier.


Paris presents latest in long history of curious Olympic mascots

Updated 37 min 24 sec ago
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Paris presents latest in long history of curious Olympic mascots

  • This summer’s offering, a Phrygian cap, stands apart from the traditional animals and invented creatures of past games

On Monday, the Olympic flame was lit in Greece, and the traditional torch began its 68-stage three-month journey to Paris, where it will arrive on July 25 to signal the start the following day of the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad.

As the torch relay travels the length of France, and global interest in the Olympics grows daily over the next three months, one question above all others will be puzzling sports fans around the world.

What on earth is that peculiar mascot Paris has chosen to represent itself on the world stage?

The answer is a hat — or, more specifically, a Phrygian cap, as modelled by Marianne, symbol of the French Revolution.

Captured in oils in an 1830 painting by Eugene Delacroix, on show in the Louvre, Marianne and her hat are omnipresent in France, represented in busts and statues throughout the nation and pictured on coins and stamps.

Traditionally, Olympic mascots have either been animals or invented creatures of some sort.

But in a minor revolution of its own, 235 years after the storming of the Bastille, the Paris Olympic committee has gone in a different direction.

Instead, it has chosen to animate an object — not, as most people might have assumed, the Eiffel Tower (too predictable and, some might argue, too identifiable) but a piece of historic millinery.

Meet the “Phryges” (pronounced “freej” — the “s” is silent.)

There are two of the things, decked out in red, white and blue, with one sporting a running blade on its right leg to symbolize the Paralympics.

In the official online Olympic shop, they are available as plush toys or printed variously on backpacks, T-shirts, hoodies, mugs, tote bags, caps, water bottles, badges, lunch boxes. You can even buy an actual Phrygian cap, although regrettably only in infant size.

What has revolution got to do with the Olympics? Simple, says the committee behind the Phryges: “As Paris 2024’s vision is to demonstrate that sport can change lives, the mascots will be playing a major role by leading a revolution through sport.”

To scholars of ancient history, the hat is also a symbol of 18th-century cultural appropriation.

Although it came to symbolize the French Revolution, the Phrygian cap was worn originally in ancient Phrygia, a kingdom that thrived between 1200 and 700 BCE in the center of what is today Turkiye.

There is a funny thing about Olympic mascots. Including Paris, there have been 28 of the things since 1968, when the very first one appeared, but most people would be hard pressed to remember any of them.

It has not been for want of trying on behalf of the organizing committees — there have been some very peculiar offerings.

Take “Miraitowa,” the mascot of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Remember him — or it?

A subtle blend of “traditional and futurist style,” Miraitowa embodied “both the old and the new, echoing the concept of innovation from harmony.”

One of 2,042 submitted designs, it was chosen in a poll of Japanese primary school children.

In 2014, Russia played it relatively straight and, perhaps unable to settle on a single mascot, chose three for the winter games in Sochi: a hare, a polar bear and a leopard, for no apparent reason.

It was certainly a welcome break from London’s surreal offering in 2012.

“Wenlock” was a baffling confection of obscure references — a metallic look explained by the fact that he was, supposedly, “made from one of the last drops of steel used to build the Olympic Stadium,” the light on his head reminiscent of that found on London’s famous black cabs, and the shape of his forehead “identical to that of the Olympic Stadium roof.”

His large single eye was “the lens of a camera, filming everything he sees,” while “the three points on his head represent the three places on the podium for the medal winners.”

Wenlock was an object lesson in death by committee.

And why “Wenlock”? From the town of Much Wenlock in Shropshire, of course, where the traditional Much Wenlock Games were said to have inspired Pierre de Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic movement.

In terms of obscure references, two other mascots stand out as contenders with Wenlock for a place on the podium.

In 2004 Athens offered Phevos and Athena, a brother and sister double act named for two gods of ancient Olympus but modelled on the “daidala,” a terracotta child’s toy from the 7th century BCE.

But until Paris entered the race, it was widely considered that the gold medal belonged to “Izzy,” which represented Atlanta in 1996. At the time, Izzy was unusual in being neither an animal, nor a human figure, nor an object. In fact, no-one was entirely sure what it was.

Originally named, appropriately, “Whatizit,” after a poor reception at its launch after the closing ceremony of the 1992 Games in Barcelona (which was represented by “Cobi,” a cubist vision of a Pyrenean mountain dog), Izzy underwent a radical makeover.

Alas, no-one was any wiser after Izzy’s relaunch, but it was finally put of its misery in November 2022, when the Phryges were unveiled in Paris.

As a snarky Associated Press report put it at the time, “Hey, Izzy: your 26-year reign as the worst Olympic mascot is over.”

Ironically, it is to France that the credit must go for making Olympic mascots a thing in the very first place — the first one was born in 1968, for the Winter Games in Grenoble.

It comes as little surprise to learn that “Shuss,” a cartoonish man with a large, round head, leaning forward over a pair of skis, “was created in a hurry,” according to the International Olympic Committee.

In fact, “in January 1967, his designer had only one night to prepare a plan for submission.”

While amusing, such matters might at first appear to be of little interest in a Saudi Arabia rightly focused on preparing for its 13th appearance at the summer Olympics, when it will be represented in the equestrian and taekwondo events.

But in August 2022, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister and the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee president, hinted that one day, in the not-too-distant future, the Kingdom might bid to host the Olympics.

“We’re open to discuss with the IOC about this for the future,” he said during an interview with France 24. “I think Saudi Arabia has showcased that we can host such events.”

It most certainly has, investing in, promoting and hosting global sports including football, golf, Formula One, tennis, boxing and wrestling, winning the bid to host the 22nd Asian Games and 7th Asian para games in Riyadh in 2034 and, demonstrating its ability to bring imagination to bear on the biggest stage, being chosen by the world to stage Expo 2030 in Riyadh.

When it comes to planning, investment, infrastructure and organization, in other words, the OIC is unlikely to harbor any doubts about the Kingdom’s ability to give the world one of the best Olympics it has ever seen.

But the big question is this: what would Saudi Arabia choose for its mascot?

As Olympic committees from Grenoble to Paris have demonstrated with depressing consistency, it is never too early to start thinking about this, the most important and potentially embarrassing aspect of every Olympics since 1968.


Fighters announced for upcoming 5 vs 5 Riyadh Season Original

Updated 16 April 2024
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Fighters announced for upcoming 5 vs 5 Riyadh Season Original

  • A huge prize is on the line as the fight is recognized as a final eliminator for the WBC World Middleweight titl

RIYADH: The fighters selected to take part in the 5 vs 5 Riyadh Season Original bouts have been revealed by Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority. 

Set to take place on June 1, the event will feature the “4 Crown Showdown” and is eagerly awaited by the boxing world. Going head-to-head in a bid to be crowned undisputed light heavyweight champion of the world are Artur Beterbiev and Dmitry Bivol, who will face each other in the Kingdom Arena. Both boast undefeated records as they head into the fight.

The 5 vs 5 consists of five Queensberry boxers going up against five boxers from Matchroom, giving both companies a chance to put their fighters to the test and see which of them is currently on top.

Frank Warren, Hall of Fame promoter and Queensberry chairman, said: “The night of June 1 will mark a thrilling and spectacular return to Riyadh, where the pride and reputation of two companies will be at stake in the 5 vs 5, a Riyadh Season Original concept that neither promoter dares to contemplate losing!”

And Eddie Hearn, chairman of Matchroom Sport, said: “This night is undoubtedly one of the most significant in boxing and I am grateful to His Excellency Turki Alalshikh for providing the opportunity to work in Saudi Arabia. We are talking about fights featuring some of the world’s top champions in this global and popular sport.” 

Turki Alalshikh, head of the GEA, added: “Riyadh Season looks forward to hosting more major events and establishing partnerships that promise unprecedented entertainment for our audiences across the world.” 

Current WBA world light heavyweight champion, 33-year-old Bivol, holds a record of 22-0, 11 Kos, and has successfully defended his title on 10 occasions over the last six years. Wrecking machine Beterbiev, 39, is the WBC, IBF and WBO world champion and has secured all 20 of his professional victories via knockout. 

As well as these two renowned headliners, the other fighters taking part in the 5 vs 5 were also announced on Monday.

Heavyweight Daniel Dubois (20-2, 19 KOs) is the UK powerhouse from Queensberry who will face Matchroom’s Filip Hrgovic (17-0, 14 Kos), an IBF No. 1 contender.

Chinese giant “Big Bang” Zhilei Zhang (26-2-1, 21 KOs) will represent Queensberry in the second heavyweight encounter. The 40-year-old southpaw takes on Matchroom pick and former WBC world heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (43-3-1, 42 KOs), the Bronze Bomber who has successfully defended the title he won back in 2015 10 times.

In what many predict will be a contender for fight of the year, Queensberry’s Nick Ball (19-0-1, 11 KOs) will square up against Matchroom’s American world champion Ray Ford, (15-0-1, 8 KOs) for the WBA World Featherweight title. This was recently won by Ford in spectacular fashion against Otabek Kholmatov via a stoppage with just seven seconds of the 12 rounds remaining. 

A classic middleweight encounter is guaranteed when Queensberry’s undefeated Hamzah Sheeraz, the WBC Silver and Commonwealth champion with a record of 19-0, 15 KOs, trades blow with Matchroom’s Austin ‘Ammo’ Williams, an American who has impressively notched up a record of 16-0, 11 Kos. He also took the IBF North American title in 2023.

A huge prize is on the line as the fight is recognized as a final eliminator for the WBC World Middleweight title. Sheeraz, aged just 24, is currently on a run of 13 straight stoppages — the longest consecutive KO streak in British boxing to date.

In the final fight, Queensberry light heavyweight and former World Amateur champion Willy Hutchinson (17-1, 13 KOs), one of the brightest talents in British boxing and the current WBC International champion, will face Matchroom’s former British champion and WBA world title challenger Craig ‘Spider’ Richards (18-3-1, 11 KOs). 

 


Francillonne, Aebersold victorious at junior fencing championships in Riyadh

Updated 16 April 2024
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Francillonne, Aebersold victorious at junior fencing championships in Riyadh

RIYADH: France’s Oceane Francillonne and Switzerland’s Alban Aebersold won gold medals in  solo junior epee contests on Monday, as young fencers meet in the Saudi capital Riyadh for the Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships.

Francillonne overcame Canada’s Julia Yin 15-12 in the final of the women’s individual epee. Francillonne defeated US’ Leehi Machulsky 15-14 in the semis.
Machulsky won the bronze, and Italian Anita Corradino received the other bronze.

In the final of the men’s individual epee, Aebersold beat Britain’s Alec Brooke 15-13. The Swiss youngster overcame US’ Samuel Imrek 15-9 on his way to gold. Imrek and Italian Nicolo del Contrasto both claimed bronze.

President of the Saudi Fencing Federation, Ahmed Al-Sabban, and Vice President Mohammed Bou Ali, awarded the winners their medals on the fourth day of the international competition that runs until Apr. 20.

The contest, which is being held at the King Saud University Sports Arena, brings together 169 women and 214 men.

The Saudi team is being represented at the contest by Ahmed Hazazi, Youssef Al-Banali, Ali Al-Fuzai, Dania Al-Saeed, Yasmeen Al-Saleh, and Dana Al-Saeed.

On Tuesday, the youth epee competitions for men and women under 20 will be held.

Abd Almonem Al-Husseini, the vice president of the International Fencing Federation, praised the organization of the event. He also commended the remarkable efforts of all committees and the tremendous capabilities provided by the organizing committee.

Al-Husseini predicted a rapid and significant development for Saudi fencing in the coming years.


Palmer scores four as improving Chelsea hit Everton for six

Updated 16 April 2024
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Palmer scores four as improving Chelsea hit Everton for six

  • Palmer killed the game as a contest as he completed his hat-trick inside 30 minutes before Nicolas Jackson also struck before half-time

LONDON: Cole Palmer scored four goals to put Chelsea within touching distance of the Premier League’s top six after a 6-0 win over Everton on Monday.
The England international has been a shining light in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Blues and moved level with Manchester City striker Erling Haaland’s 20 Premier League goals in the race for the Golden Boot.
Palmer killed the game as a contest as he completed his hat-trick inside 30 minutes before Nicolas Jackson also struck before half-time.
A penalty from Palmer and Alfie Gilchrist’s first goal for his boyhood club rounded off the scoring in the second half.
Despite an eight-game unbeaten Premier League run, Chelsea remain in ninth but are now just three points adrift of sixth-placed Newcastle with a game in hand to come.
And they will head into Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal against City confident they can end the holders’ quest for a second consecutive treble.
A demoralizing defeat leaves Everton still perilously placed just two points above the relegation zone.
The Toffees appealed against a two-point penalty for breaking Premier League sustainability rules on Monday, having also been docked a further six points for another charge this season.
How Everton could do with the boost of recovering some of those lost points as the battle for survival looks set to go down to the wire.
Nottingham Forest visit Goodison Park in a huge relegation six-pointer on Sunday and Sean Dyche’s men will need to improve at both ends of the field to prolong their 70-year stay in the top flight.
The visitors were dealt a blow before kick-off as Dominic Calvert-Lewin missed out due to a hamstring injury.
His deputy Beto spurned a glorious chance to open the scoring when he somehow turned over Seamus Coleman’s cross from point-blank range.
Palmer was not so forgiving at the other end as he made another case to be crowned as the Premier League’s player of the year.
City must regret letting the 21-year-old leave for what now looks like a bargain £40 million ($50 million) in September.
Palmer nutmegged Jarrad Branthwaite before exchanging a neat one-two with Jackson and curling home from the edge of the box to open the scoring.
With Enzo Fernandez absent due to injury, Mauricio Pochettino flanked Palmer and Jackson with Noni Madueke and Mykhailo Mudryk for the first time in his starting line-up.
Everton could not live with the sharpness of that front four and Palmer was left with an easy task to head in his second after Jordan Pickford denied Jackson from a Mudryk cross.
The England goalkeeper then had a moment to forget as he gifted possession to Palmer, who nonchalantly chipped his international teammate on his weaker right foot from midway inside the Everton half.
In contrast to Palmer, Jackson has had an inconsistent first season at Chelsea but produced an excellent touch and finish to fire in his 13th goal of the season on the stroke of half-time.
A routine night for Pochettino’s men was still not without drama when they were awarded a penalty on the hour mark.
Both Madueke and Jackson tried to take over penalty duties before they were forcibly removed by captain Conor Gallagher to hand Palmer the ball.
He duly made it nine out of nine successful spot-kicks this season to take his tally for the season in both Chelsea and City colors to 25.
Academy graduate Gilchrist had only been on the field a matter of seconds when he blasted in the sixth after Pickford parried Ben Chilwell’s effort.