Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Mohammed Al Hosani: A 'fan boy' who became the Arab Joe Rogan and the voice of UFC in the Middle East

The Emirati commentator speaks to John McAuley about his career journey as he prepares to lend his voice to UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi

If it’s a moniker that’s stuck, it’s not a particularly bad one to have.

Meet Mohammed Al Hosani, the Abu Dhabi resident who in 2010 made history by becoming the first Arabic commentator in UFC history.

He also goes by "Moe Rogan".

"The Arab version of Joe Rogan," Al Hosani says, smiling, before his reappearance cage-side for UFC 242 at The Arena on Yas Island, the sport's return to Abu Dhabi for the first time in five years.

It all began with a newspaper interview. The Emirati had been the focus of a 2010 article previewing UFC 112, which soon reached MMA Underground, the hugely popular forum for mixed martial arts fans. From there, Rogan's face was Photoshopped on to a picture of Al Hosani, replete in his national dress. "Moe Rogan" was born.

"Joe Rogan saw that, and was like, 'Wow, that’s cool'," Al Hosani says. "That tells you how globalised this sport has become. That’s how the name stuck."

As the long-time interviewer and colour commentator for UFC, Rogan is synonymous with the world’s leading MMA brand and is now easily one of the most recognisable faces in the fight business. He is a comedian, too, and host of The Joe Rogan Experience, an acclaimed podcast.

So maybe there's more to the nickname than initially thought.

"It’s so funny, because as time went by I was thinking I was becoming more of my own personality," Al Hosani says. "But when I recently started my podcast people were like 'Hey, you’re doing everything he’s doing now. You’re a podcaster; you’re a commentator. All you have to do is become a comedian.' That’s how you fully embrace your alter ego, if you want to call it that.

“But I’m honoured to at least be associated with someone like him. The knowledge he has in terms of the sport and everything else; he’s one of the guys I look up to in the mixed martial arts world. And if 'Moe Rogan' sticks, then 'Moe Rogan' it is.”

For the best part of a decade, though, Al Hosani has been building his name among combat-sports fans across the region. He landed his initial gig at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi, when the company sought an Arabic commentator to follow its first foray into the Middle East.

Al Hosani was recommended for the role having spent the previous year describing jiu-jitsu for a local television audience. One meeting with UFC bigwigs later, he was ringside, mic in hand, metres away from the octagon, reacting to big hits from bona fide stars such as Anderson Silva, Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn.

It was some apprenticeship, indeed.

Mohammed Al Hosani alongside UFS commentator and broadcaster Joe Rogan. Courtesy Mohammed Al Hosani
Mohammed Al Hosani alongside UFS commentator and broadcaster Joe Rogan. Courtesy Mohammed Al Hosani

"I was the right guy in the right place at the right time, with no experience or any media background," Al Hosani recalls. "You could tell from that first event how amateurish I was. It was a fan boy realising a dream; a fan boy that became a guy who commentates cage-side for an event of such magnitude that he used to watch on TV."

Al Hosani has since become the voice of UFC in the region, capturing and adding colour to most of the main events broadcast here since 2014. In 2016, he travelled to Las Vegas to call UFC 200, sat between his peers from Japan and China, peering down from his skybox at a T-Mobile Arena thronged with 18,000-plus spectators.

This week, Al Hosani can be found on AD Sports, where he hosts Abu Dhabi Showdown Week, a two-hour daily live show in the build-up to UFC 242 on Saturday night.

Then, he will settle into one of the best seats at the newly constructed The Arena, talking the Arab audience through a fight card that culminates in the highly anticipated lightweight title unification bout between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier.

In a way, he has come full circle. It's been some journey.

"It’s almost 10 years since that day, and I’m doing it all over again; this time even on a bigger scale," says Al Hosani, who by day is a project manager for a government entity. "Going live on fight night is a great feeling; I can feel the goosebumps now.

"I’ve been doing this for a while now, but the UFC is different. The reason I started watching mixed martial arts is the UFC, so it’s a dream come true. I do this because of the love for the sport, and combat sports in general. It’s proof that, if you work hard and put your head down, most of the time good things come to you."

Still, being beamed into homes all over the region, and live, must bring a certain pressure.

"If you asked me this in 2010 I’d tell you 'yes'," Al Hosani says. "Because I was scared. My first professional contract as a commentator was with the UFC. That’s unheard of, I think. To go to the top right away was tough.

"Today I have no fear in terms of letting down the Arab audience. I feel I've reached a stage with my fellow commentators to present the product and the sport in a way that can gain new fans to the sport, starting with this event.

"It’s going to be huge. There’s going to be a lot of people showing up: dignitaries, fans, whether hard-core or mainstream. We’ll all be there to push the sport, build the sport in the region and give it the attention it deserves.

"This is an exciting sport, dedicated to the youth and it’s for everyone: men can watch it; women can watch it. It’s such a high-octane event. You have to attend it to understand how beautiful it is."

Helping his audience understand is what Al Hosani sets out to do. To transition fight moves from English to Arabic, he has had to create some terminology himself, all the while developing his own style, capturing the emotion and conveying it to the UAE and beyond. There is no script, just a natural reaction to events unfolding in front of his eyes.

"Because it’s live and you’re doing it instantly, the issue is with the correct wording of your emotions, of how it gets translated into words," Al Hosani says. "That’s the struggle, all the time. I try my hardest to make it as dramatic as possible."

Given the fight card on Saturday, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

"UFC 112 was really loud, especially during the main event. But I believe this one will be even more," Al Hosani says. "There’s just that much more interest in this one. I feel the buzz; I’m excited. I’m looking forward to it… very much so."

Updated: September 3, 2019 04:12 PM

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