Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 30 September 2020

UFC

Ali Al Qaisi making history as Jordan's first UFC fighter

The 'Royal Fighter' takes on Irwin Rivera in bantamweight clash at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas

Ali Al Qaisi of Jordan poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in in Las Vegas. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
Ali Al Qaisi of Jordan poses on the scale during the UFC Fight Night weigh-in in Las Vegas. Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Ali Al Qaisi becomes part of Jordanian history as the first mixed martial arts fighter from the Middle East nation to feature in UFC on Saturday.

Al Qaisi takes on Mexican Irwin 'The Beast' Rivera in the opening bantamweight clash of the UFC Fight Night, which is headlined by the heavyweight contest between American Derick Lewis and Ukrainian Aleksei Oleinik in Las Vegas.

“I’m honoured to represent Jordan and the Arab community at the UFC,” Al Qaisi told The National in a Zoom interview.

“I’m sure the Middle East and Arab community, everyone will be behind me. I’m really happy to be part of the UFC family right now.

“It’s the summit for every MMA fighter. I have worked very hard to reach this point. When I first started, it was my long-term objective to feature in a UFC fight card, and now I have reached there and I am going to cherish every moment of it.”

Nicknamed the 'Royal Fighter', Al Qaisi, who turns 30 next month, enters the octagon with an 8-3 record.

“I want to open the door for more Jordanian fighters to UFC,” Al Qaisi said.

“We have a lot of good fighters back home and I feel my presence in the UFC can be a catalyst for more and more to reach this level.”

When MMA first started in the Middle East, the Jordanian capital Amman was considered the hub of the sport.

That has now shifted to Abu Dhabi after the signing of a five-year deal with UFC last year.

The first UFC event saw Khabib Nurmagomedov defeat Dustin Poirier to retain the lightweight championship in September 2019. The Fight Nights staged at Fight island last month further established Abu Dhabi’s status.

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“I have competed in the Desert Force and Phoenix in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and obviously would like to return for a UFC appearance in Abu Dhabi’s Fight Island,” Al Qaisi added.

“I would like to place my appreciation to Abu Dhabi for taking MMA to a new level in the region, and providing Arab fighters more opportunities to compete in their events.”

On his upcoming fight against Rivera, who arrives with a similar 8-3 record, Al Qaisi is confident in making a successful UFC debut.

“He’s a tough, aggressive and good fighter,” he said. “For me, it doesn’t matter who I fight. I just have one goal and that’s to enter the cage, start the fight and win the fight.”

Al Qaisi believes his daughter Selma, born in March in the US, has given him new energy and motivation.

“She’s my lucky charm from now on,” he said. “Also, I want to thank everyone for sending me messages and wishing me the best for the fight.

“I’m here alone with my wife and little girl in Vegas but the messages I receive make me feel I have an army behind me.

“I wake up every morning and read the beautiful messages. It gives me more strength and motivation, and I want to do my best and bring success to my country and to all those beautiful people.”

Moroccan Yousef Zalal (9-2) is the other Arab fighter to feature in the card, and he comes up against UFC debutant American Peter Barrett (11-3) in a featherweight undercard.

Zalal, 23, makes a quick return to the octagon after stretching his UFC record to two wins with a unanimous points decision over American Jordan Griffin at Vegas-4 in June.

“The gym I work with keeps me ready all year around, and to be honest, I’m ready to take up any fights at short notices,” Zalal, who has been living in the US since he was 12, said.

“I got a call to say they got a guy for me and he was a UFC debutant. I was like ‘okay let me have a look at his record and one of his videos' and went, ‘aha this is going to a be a good fight’.

“I told them to bring him on. It doesn’t both me at all. I think he’s a brawler who comes in and really gases out after the first round. I think he’s not ready for my style. But let’s wait and see.”

All fights will be shown exclusively on UFC Arabia through the UFC Arabia app in the UAE and the Middle East at 6am, both English and Arabic.

UFC Arabia is the exclusive provider of all UFC Pay-Per-View events to fans in the UAE and the Middle East. The main card begins at 5am on Sunday with the preliminaries kicking off at 2am GST.

Updated: August 8, 2020 04:44 PM

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