x

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Badr Hari is Morocco’s million-dirham man at Global Fighting Championships

Fighting in a Muslim country for the first time, Badr Hari won over a Dubai crowd of 3,000 spectators and then walked away with a big cheque, writes Ali Khaled.
Dutch-Moroccan kick boxer Badr Hari beat back-to-back opponents in the first round to win the Global Fighting Championship in Dubai. Courtesy photo
Dutch-Moroccan kick boxer Badr Hari beat back-to-back opponents in the first round to win the Global Fighting Championship in Dubai. Courtesy photo

The crowd had come to see one man. Well before the first punch was thrown, the main stands were heaving, mostly with fans waving Moroccan flags.

Badr Hari was in town for the first time.

The 29-year-old Dutch-Moroccan kick boxer arrived in Dubai for the Global Fighting Championship’s four-man heavyweight event, with a cash prize of Dh1 million going to the winner. He was the favourite, in every sense.

Read more: Badr Hari or ‘The Cobra’ ready to strike back in Dubai

On Monday, he had declared it a dream come true to finally fight before a Muslim crowd, in a Muslim country.

On Thursday night, an early visit to the ring sent his fans inside the World Trade Centre’s Zabeel Hall into a frenzy, as Hari again showed his popularity among the predominantly Arab crowd.

Five bouts on the undercard steadily raised fan enthusiasm, but it was the fights between Badr Hari and the German-Croatian Stefan Leko and, before that, Peter Graham of Australia and the Lithuanian Arnold Oborotov, that most of the audience of more than 3,000 had come to see.

It had been an emotionally draining week for Graham, nicknamed “The Chief”. His wife gave birth to a baby girl a day after he landed in Dubai. As he walked out, however, he looked focussed and ready to take on a younger, more slender opponent.

“The prize money is high, and worth fighting for,” Graham, 38, said earlier in the week. “I don’t mess about.”

Three intense rounds could not separate them, and on a night of unanimous decisions, an unexpected fourth-round tie-breaker was needed. A few shouts of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” went up. Graham, a brilliant boxer, delivered a majority-decision win.

Then it was time for the main man to make his appearance, and organisers wasted no time in raising the heat inside the arena – the music a bit louder, the fireworks a bit brighter.

For close to a decade, bad blood has lingered between Hari and Leko. Evidently, it still does.

Leko, 39, had been dismissed by Hari as too old, and the veteran knew exactly what was coming his way; a storm from Hari.

“If I get past the first round, I will beat him,” Leko said.

Even the first bit would prove overly ambitious.

“Hari, Hari, Hari” the baying crowd shouted from the stands. The atmosphere was genuinely deafening.

In the ring, the Moroccan was brutal. Within seconds, Leko was down.

It was just a matter of time.

There was another knockdown, with a shaky Leko rising on the count of eight. And then a third, decisive one. It had taken Hari one minute, 27 seconds to destroy his opponent.

All around, a party raged, the red flags of Morocco giving the arena a wonderful sporting vibe rarely seen in other sports in Dubai.

It had come down to this, Badr “Bad Boy” Hari v Peter “The Chief” Graham. For Dh1m.

Ringside, Diego Maradona, ambassador for Dubai Sports Council, the organisers of GFC along with Golden Cage Promotions and Events, was for once not the centre of attention.

Hari fever reached a new level. Once again, it was time for the introductions. Graham was greeted with a few half-hearted boos. Hari with hysterical adulation.

“Ladies and gentlemen, from magnificent Dubai, let’s get ready to rumble,” announced the legendary Michael Buffer, the American voice of boxing. The final would prove as savage, and brief, for Graham as it was for Leko. From first bell, Hari was like a train, simply unstoppable.

“Hari, Hari, Hari”, the shouts rose. The sound of inevitability.

Graham was knocked down; he was up at the count of eight. It was a token reprieve.

Both fighters knew this fight was over. It soon was, after 1:26.

Graham, on one knee after the second knockdown, waved the referee away, unable to beat the 10 count. The organisers’ promotional material promised: “Four Heavyweights. One Champion. One Million Dirhams.”

And the crowd favourite, the lone Arab fighter present, had given fans exactly what they wanted.

Hari, so often the Bad Boy, was picture of serenity. Draped in a big Morocco flag, he gave Graham a big hug, then received an even bigger cheque.

“I know it’s hard to work with me, but I deliver,” he said. “I want to thank Dubai … it feels like my home country.”

A charmer to the last. His fans screamed and scrambled to get a touch of their hero.

Barely suppressing a satisfied smile as he left the arena, Hari had delivered a masterclass. Inside and outside the ring.

akhaled@thenational.ae

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE