x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Rumaithi: peace lover in a painful line of work

Meet Hassan al Rumaithi, the leading Emirati fighter in the brutal world of mixed martial arts.

Hassan al Rumaithi works out twice a day, seven days a week, at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club in preparation for his appearance at the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship on Friday.
Hassan al Rumaithi works out twice a day, seven days a week, at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club in preparation for his appearance at the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship on Friday.

It goes against his nature for Hassan al Rumaithi to inflict pain on a fellow human being. His Emirati upbringing dictates a non-confrontational approach to life and a duty to show respect to those around him.

So he acknowledged a certain amount of discomfort when branching out from the fighting arts of judo and jiu-jitsu into the no-holds-barred world of mixed martial arts.

"Here with the religion we have we are often asked 'Why should I go in a cage and start punching somebody else?' It's a problem, but I am still prepared to do it," he said.

"I am not saying when I go into a fight that I hate the guy in front of me and I have to kill him. I go in there thinking it is a sport. It's a tough business but we go in there knowing that one of us is going to end up winning and the other is going to lose.

"We shake hands afterwards. But nothing else happens. It's not a war or anything like that. It's a sport."

Al Rumaithi has developed rapidly into the country's best mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter and has earned a place on the undercard for the second round of the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship at the Abu Dhabi Exhibition Centre on Friday. Al Rumaithi, 26, will take on Paola Lamberto, an Italian welterweight, in a 70kg match-up. The winner will progress to the third and final round in February and compete for an expected purse of several thousand dirhams.

That prize money is dwarfed by what will be on offer for the winner of the main event that night. One of the four tougher, more experienced gladiators still in the main competition will win Dh1 million for showing how to knock a rival fighter senseless.

Marcos Oliveira, a UAE-based Brazilian heavyweight, is in contention for that big payday along with Britain's Neil Wain, Russia's Shamil Abdurahimov and Cameroon's Thierry Sokoudjou.

Al Rumaithi hopes to one day fight at that level, but in the meantime he is pleased to be making progress that is getting him noticed by international campaigners.

His best friend is a Brazilian expatriate Maico Rieter, known as "Mikey" in the world of cage fighting. Rieter will also be on the undercard next week when he takes on Switzerland's Felipo Enomoto.

Rieter said he knows from close quarters all the strengths and weaknesses of al Rumaithi.

"Hassan hasn't got many weaknesses and his strengths are getting stronger every day," said Rieter, who is training alongside al Rumaithi at Abu Dhabi Combat Club twice a day, seven days a week.

"Hassan can go as far as he wants to go in MMA," said Rieter who reckons his own skills are marginally superior to those of al Rumaithi. "This guy has the ability to fight against anyone, anywhere. It depends on how ambitious he wants to be.

"He has been training really hard and it doesn't matter who he fighting at the level he is at because he is going to go to a much higher standard. Nothing can stop this guy right now. I'm sure he is going to win this next fight and He is going to beat this guy really easily."

Jean Bueno, another Brazilian, who coaches al Rumaithi and Rieter in Abu Dhabi, also sees a bright future for al Rumaithi.

"Hassan is very strong and very fast," he said. "He has good skills and a mixture of speed, strength, ability and striking power.

"He possesses all the attributes that are needed in MMA. He is a good striker and a good grappler.

"Of course he has the capabilities for going all the way. If you have a good heart and a good mind then there are no limits to how far you can go."

Al Rumaithi takes a cautious approach to what lies ahead after being knocked out by a Dutch opponent he underestimated in the second of his previous three fights (he won the other two).

"I need to improve my wrestling skills," he said. "I am more adept in take-downs because of my judo experience. I am not as proficient in the striking department as I should be. That's why I lost in Holland. That guy's punching power surprised me. Learning these parts of the sport take time."

Al Rumaithi's introduction to martial arts came when he joined a group of 20 schoolchildren who were brought together to train for the traditional Olympic sports of judo, jiu-jitsu and wrestling.

He chose judo at the age of 13 and made swift progress to black belt status. He yearned to have a try at kick boxing but was told that was not on the curriculum.

"So I've had to wait until now to pursue that," he said as he nears the end of his first year as a mixed martial artist.

Al Rumaithi, an only child and shy by nature, has adopted a low profile as he pursues what he hopes will become a rewarding career. "When you are involved in martial arts you try to keep away from any trouble," he said. "I like a quiet life.

"I seek to avoid problems and get on with my work.

"I don't like people coming close and bugging me. I don't want to make close friends. I have to pick the people around me."

His long-term ambition is to give the UAE representation in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). He said he was captivated by the visit of some of those world champion fighters to Abu Dhabi last year.

"Maybe one day I will be the first Emirati to fight in UFC," he said. "Who knows? To be in the UFC is such a big thing for me but I know it is going to involve a lot of hard work to get to that standard.

"At the moment I am fighting with people of the same level. Then you start to look to fight against more famous names. Once you start fighting against well-known opponents you get noticed and people might then start to think about offering a contract. That's when it all starts. And that's what I'm looking for."

Al Rumaithi, who took part in team triathlon events as a teenager to boost his strength and fitness - "I couldn't enter as an individual because my swimming is not good enough," he said - is anxious to give something back to the pastime he loves.

"Eventually I want to start taking some courses to learn about how the various muscles work so that I can then pass on my knowledge to the new kids coming through," he said.

"I want to learn to become a physiotherapist and personal trainer.

"We don't have any locals teaching. And I am the only local fighter here. I would urge other Emiratis to have a go at this and that will be my message when I start teaching.

"It is hard in this country to persuade the guys to fight. It is difficult to get the message across. If I can motivate them to come along and train, it would then up to them whether they want to progress to fighting."

wjohnson@thenational.ae

Schedule

What: Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship
When: Friday.
Where: Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.
Main fight card: Marcos Oliveira v Neil Wain; Thierry Sokoudjou v Shamil Abdurahimov.
Prize money: Eventual champion will receive Dh1 million.
Tickets: Dh250-1,600 at Virgin Mega Stores, Time Out Tickets and www.boxofficeme.com