x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ultimate Fighting finds its first Arab voice

Mohammed Jassim al Housani, a 25-year-old Emirati, has been hired by the UFC to be its first ever Arabic commentator and analyst.

Mohammed Jassim al Housani, left, a 25-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi, who has been hired by the Ultimate Fighting Championship to be its first ever Arabic commentator and analyst, with Osama Al Amiri, a commentator on Abu Dhabi Sports TV.
Mohammed Jassim al Housani, left, a 25-year-old Emirati from Abu Dhabi, who has been hired by the Ultimate Fighting Championship to be its first ever Arabic commentator and analyst, with Osama Al Amiri, a commentator on Abu Dhabi Sports TV.

ABU DHABI // Arab ears may not be accustomed to translations for brutal fight moves such as the "triangle choke hold", the "clinch" or the "arm-bar technique". Come April 10, Mohammed al Housani, a 25-year-old Emirati, will announce those and other combat manoeuvres on Arabic-language television for the first time at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event in Abu Dhabi.

As the sport's first Arabic-speaking commentator, for the Orbit Showtime Network telecast of the event, Mr al Housani will sit alongside the event's official play-by-play analysts, the Americans Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg. The distinction of being selected to take "the best seat in the house", inches from the combatants in the caged Octagon, was not lost on Mr al Housani. He has followed mixed martial arts (MMA) events for more than a decade.

"Really, it's like a fairy tale for me because I've been watching Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg do it for a long time, and now I'm an announcer," he said yesterday. He said no one already inside the rough-and-tumble sport could fill the Arabic-language role. "I feel that the English-language population is more familiar with the sport than the Arabic speakers, so it's important for me to develop the sport of MMA in the Arabic region by speaking the language," he said.

Finding his voice should not be an overwhelming challenge; Mr al Housani is an experienced jiu-jitsu analyst. He has broadcast in Arabic for Abu Dhabi Sports TV matches as well as for last year's inaugural World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Cup. "I'm direct. I call it down the middle," he said of his style. "A lot of people are calling me the Joe Rogan of the UAE, or even the 'Mohammed Rogan', but hopefully I'll be myself with my own style and bring something different."

He expects the most challenging aspect of his work will be explaining the mechanics of what MMA fighters refer to as the "ground game", when fighters take each other to the mat. "As soon as the fighters go to the ground, if you show that to any casual viewer, they either make fun of them because of the position or they're completely clueless because they think they're just stalling," Mr al Housani said.

"People understand kickboxing and boxing, but I'll need to explain the ground game." A student of jiu-jitsu for three years, Mr al Housani has trained with MMA pros like Royce Gracie, Rolles Gracie, Daniel Gracie, Jean Jacques Machado and Rafael Mendes, the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Champion. UFC and its promoters, Flash Entertainment, selected Mr al Housani as the Arabic analyst after he auditioned and submitted a recording of interviews and commentary from jiu-jitsu tournaments.

Apart from introducing the UFC's first Arabic announcer, the event known within the sport as UFC 112: Invincible also makes history by being the first open-air UFC event and the first in the Middle East. Arabic is not the first non-English language for the sport; commentary has been conducted before in Spanish and French. "Hopefully I'll represent my people well, the region well, and get people exposed to this sport," Mr al Housani said.

UFC 112: Invincible will take place at a custom-built arena outside Ferrari World on Yas Island. Tickets are available from www.boxofficeme.com and the UFC stand at Marina Mall. mkwong@thenational.ae