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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 October 2018

Zuhayr Al Qahtani thrilled to be making 'history' on WBSS card in Saudi Arabia

The super-lightweight confident having him on the World Boxing Super Series Final card in Jeddah will help raise his profile and increase interest in the sport in the region

One of the loudest cheers of the night was reserved for Zuhayr Al Qahtani, right, who beat Mohammed Mahmoud. TGSPhoto / REX / Shutterstock
One of the loudest cheers of the night was reserved for Zuhayr Al Qahtani, right, who beat Mohammed Mahmoud. TGSPhoto / REX / Shutterstock

As the only Saudi Arabian professional boxer on Friday’s World Boxing Super Series Final card, Zuhayr Al Qahtani understands the magnitude of the moment.

The super-lightweight, who moved to London aged 12 but retains a strong affinity to the Kingdom, will debut in his country of birth as part of the high-profile event that peaks with WBA world super-middleweight champion George Groves versus fellow Englishman Callum Smith.

Qahtani’s original opponent, Georgian Giorgi Gviniashvili, was a late withdrawal, meaning the 29-year-old will instead face Brit Mohammed Mahmoud. However, he is not letting the last-minute hitch spoil his mood ahead of what is a groundbreaking event in Saudi.

“Essentially, I’m making history,” Al Qahtani said. “I’m part of history. People don’t understand the magnitude of this.

People in the UK are complaining that we have two British fighters boxing in Saudi, but it shouldn’t always be about England America, boxing is a worldwide sport, people need to understand that.

“And for me to box on this undercard is making history. Being the first Saudi professional boxer to fight in Saudi, and with my ability, it’s something historic and something amazing. The build-up to it and the future now will be amazing.”

An engineering graduate, Al Qahtani fights under the moniker of “Arabian Warrior”, a tribute to his Saudi roots. He was introduced to boxing by older brother Fahad, and began taking seriously the sport at 15. He fought 55 times as an amateur, losing five times, but after turning professional last year, is unbeaten in four fights.

“My main push is my mother. Second is my family, my wife, my brothers, my unborn child that’s on the way,” Al Qahtani said. “Then it’s Saudi, and putting the Middle East on the map. I’m not doing this for me. It’s too big for me. There’s a bigger process behind this. I’m doing it for family, country, honour, legacy. There’s so much behind this.”

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Al Qahtani says he has been inundated with messages of support ahead of his big night, and expects a substantial turnout at King Abdullah Sports City.

“My family’s huge in Saudi,” he said. “A tribal family. I have 70 or 80 direct cousins. I always joke, if I had to sell out the O2 [Arena in London], I’d just fill it with my family.”

Should Friday go well, Al Qahtani wants a shot at the Asian title, and hopes that then paves the path to “bigger and better things”. For now, though, he focus is on making history in his homeland.

“I don’t want to say I’m taking the limelight away from George Groves or Callum Smith, but in a way I’ll be the main event,” Al Qahtani said. “For Saudis, or if this fight had happened in Dubai or anywhere else in the Middle East, I’d be that face of boxing. Because it’s that image I’ve brought forward; those abilities, my skills, dedication.

“The only thing now needed in my life is I need good backing. That’s it. The world deserves a Saudi world champion in boxing by now.”