x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Mas wrestling has all shapes, but just one size

Mas Wrestling World Cup 2013 concludes in Dubai with UAE organisers confident sport will grow in large numbers.

The 2013 Mas Wrestling World Cup at Mirdif City Centre in Dubai drew competitors from 14 countries. Satish Kumar / The National
The 2013 Mas Wrestling World Cup at Mirdif City Centre in Dubai drew competitors from 14 countries. Satish Kumar / The National

For such a simple sport, “mas wrestling” needs a bit of explanation for those not familiar with it.

Two athletes sit face to face, mirror images of each other, propping their feet against a sturdy wooden board that separates them. Both hold a single wooden stick, a mas, one gripping the inside, the other the outside. The first to take possession of the mas or pull his opponent over to his side, wins. And that’s it.

It is arm-wrestling meets tug of war.

If it all sounds a bit basic, it is. But it is very serious business.

On Saturday, some of the world’s strongest men were in Dubai for the final stage of the 2013 Mas Wrestling World Cup, taking place at Mirdif City Centre. For the 200 or so spectators, it was a novel experience.

The sport originated in northern Siberia and moved west across Russia. “Since 2010, it started to spread globally,” said Humaid Al Ansari, director of Dubai Police Sports Affairs Department and the tournament director.

“It’s a great sport; it relies on strength and skill, and there’s not a lot of injuries, either.”

The contestants, looking like the type of men who could pull trucks with their teeth, came from 14 countries, including the UAE, Iran, US, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria and, of course, Russia.

They came in all different shapes but only one size – large – and the ages ranged from mid-20s to 63. There are no class divisions, so opponents were assigned purely by the luck of the draw.

“This event was set up at very short notice,” Al Ansari said.

“In just three weeks we had to choose a location and prepare it.” He hopes for more competitions in the future.

The athletes did not seem to mind the relatively small venue. Robert Oberst, of the US, perhaps the biggest of the lot, in particular seemed to be enjoying himself, laughing and posing for photographs with his considerably smaller fans. He even had time to jokingly compare beards with Al Ansari.

The tournament is made up of events in Moscow, St Petersburg and Dubai, Al Ansari said.

“But we are hoping to host another international event in April of next year, when we will have a full national team that is not there just to take part, but to win,” he said.

UAE contestants Khaled Ali Haj Mohammed, Faisal Ahmed Obaid Alghais, Latif Rashid Mohammed and the Nigerian-born Mike Danile Adekunie were not the only ones new to this sport.

“It’s my first time in Dubai. I’ve only been doing this a few months,” said Carl Whitewood of New Zealand. “I placed ninth out of 32 in the last competition, in St Petersburg, which was a very good result for me.”

The opening ceremony saw Emirati schoolchildren perform a traditional dance in the presence of Dmitriy Glushko, the vice-president of the Sakha Republic, or Yakutia, which is part of Russia and the birthplace of mas wrestling.

It was then time for the action. The contests typically took no more than several seconds, and some were over in the blink of an eye. Clearly, certain fighters were in different class to others, but size was not always the deciding factor.

“Both technique and strength will help, and having good body weight,” said Whitewood, who weighs 150kg.

He proceeded to win his first match in no time, flinging his opponent over the barrier with ease.

The UAE wrestlers struggled against experienced opponents, some of whom had, in more than one sense, a better grip on the sport.

“The outside is better for me,” Whitewood said of the wooden bar. “It’s more like the conventional way of dead-lifting.”

Contests are on a best-of-three basis, so each wrestler has at least one inside and one outside start on the gripping of the stick.

Al Ansari is confident that mas wrestling will grow among the UAE’s fitness and weightlifting community.

“This is a sport that relies on skill and strength, things that appeal to youth,” he said. “I am sure that, thanks to our ties with the international federation, it will start to spread here. We have a chance to showcase the world’s best on our own turf, and we are keen to add more tournaments in the future.”

On Saturday, Victor Kalibabchuk of Russia beat Antanas Abrutis of Lithuania to win the Mas Wrestling World Cup in Dubai. Fedor Fedorov of Russia finished third.

For Al Ansari, it is just the start.

“We were keen to bring this event to the UAE, despite the fact that most people here are not familiar with the sport,” he said. “We set up the first national team, and we became the first Arab nation, the first in the region, to adopt this game.”

akhaled@thenational.ae

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