Al Hammadi in UAE's 23-strong party set to compete across several disciplines in Turkmenistan
UAE jiu-jitsu's Saood Al Hammadi hopes to put on a strong show at Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games: 'Ashgabat is the biggest test for me'
While Faisal Al Ketbi's name is one of the first pencilled in whenever the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation name a team for competition, the scrambling for places to join him is an intense one.
Al Ketbi, the most successful and highest ranked Emirati fighter, has become indispensable to the national team. But behind the captain the UAEJJF has a pool of around 40 elite fighters to choose from for regional and international tournaments.
One of those is Saood Al Hammadi, who made the cut for 23-strong squad - 16 men and seven women - who flew out of Abu Dhabi on Friday for the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, starting Monday.
“I was a late starter in jiu-jitsu at 22,” he said. “I may have impressed the selectors with my results and performances that I was picked for the national team two years later and have been in the squad all through this period.”
Having first represented the UAE at the European Cup six years ago, Al Hammadi had struggled to cement a permanent place in the Emirati squad until recently. He was on the UAE team at the Asian Beach Games in Thailand in July, winning a silver medal in the 77-kilogramme weight division, and last month’s Asian Championship in Vietnam, in which he missed out on a bronze.
Al Hammadi was picked for a 25-day training camp in Brazil ahead of the event in Ashgabat and hopes a good showing in the Turkmenistan capital will finally see him nail down a regular place alongside Al Ketbi.
“In Brazil, I worked with the coaches to remedy all of my flaws of the last two competitions, and also a few new tricks,” he said before the team’s departure on Friday.
“Ashgabat is the biggest test for me and I want to make best use of the opportunity to fix my place in the national team.
“It is a big step up at the Games but if you want to be in the team one has to be prepared to take on the best. I have worked harder than before and quite confident to return with a good result.”
Unlike other full-time practitioners in the UAE squad, Al Hammadi said he has to balance training around work and family.
“When you have the passion you’ll find the time to divide between work, family and jiu-jitsu,” said Al Hammadi, who works for Adnoc as a drilling engineer and has two children ages three and two.
“I was into fitness and spent a lot of time in the gym doing strength training. I came across lot of guys in jiu-jitsu and thought I’ll try. I enjoyed my first few weeks and was successful in the lower divisions when I first began.
“I think all the strength training, which I had been doing for a long time, became very useful to me as it was one of the core requirements for the martial art. Then I managed to learn the technical aspect of jiu-jitsu quickly.”
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Al Hammadi is a purple belt, but since there are no grading classifications in continental competitions he will most likely have to overcome fighters higher up the rankings to secure a medal. Not that this fazes him.
“It’s going to be the best from every country in Asia,” he said. “My two recent competitions were both against Asian opponents but Ashgabat will be a trial for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta in exactly a year. So, this is the big one.”
Al Hammadi is one of 16 men on the national team vying for seven gold medals. The seven-strong women's contingent are vying for six medals.
The 10-day Games in Ashgabat begins on Sunday with the jiu-jitsu competition slated for Monday and Tuesday.
The UAE have travelled with a 96-member contingent to compete in seven of the 21 sports: jiu-jitsu, indoor football, athletics, cycling, bowling, chess and cue sports.