Mohammad Al Shehhi is the first Emirati wrestler to represent the UAE overseas and now he’s turning his attention to opponents closer to home.
The second WrestleFest DXB will take place at Warehouse Four in Dubai's Al Quoz on Saturday. The event will have up to 18 wrestlers from different nationalities perform in the biggest culmination of UAE talent in the sport.
The inaugural event in March, held at the same venue, sold out, attracting a crowd of more than 200 to the emirate to watch local talent compete to become WrestleFest champion.
Al Shehhi, whose wrestling name is Shaheen — Arabic for falcon — will be joined by two fellow Emiratis, as well as wrestlers from India, Pakistan, Sweden, the Philippines, the Netherlands and the UK.
“Growing up watching wrestling, you soon notice that there’s no specific person that you can identify with in this part of the world,” says Al Shehhi. “Most wrestlers are American, British or European — there’s no one from the Middle East and it’s my dream to become that representative.
“I hope that WrestleFest will put the eyes of the wrestling world on the UAE. Even just a few years ago, we could only dream of pulling in the crowds that we had at the first event.”
Despite long having an interest in professional wrestling, it was only three years ago that Al Shehhi, a content strategist, started training to becoming a wrestler. He was inspired by early noughties WWE stars Matt and Jeff Hardy.
Since then, he has represented the UAE at matches in the UK, the US and Pakistan in front of thousands.
“After I graduated from university I was looking for a purpose in life,” he says. “I’d always been athletic and had trained as a gymnast and in CrossFit. Wrestling was sort of like putting all of those pieces together and I decided to go for it.
“Within six months of training I was asked to represent Dubai at a match in Pakistan in front of 4,000 people. I was so overwhelmed that I almost turned it down but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Spurred on by the experience, Al Shehhi threw himself into training and established a wrestling academy where amateurs can train and have matches.
Initially, the in-house events were attended by 15 to 20 people, mainly his friends and family. But before long, videos of the matches that Al Shehhi posted on Instagram and YouTube began to attract attention.
“I was invited to compete in other international matches in the UK and the US,” he says. “To be the first Emirati to compete felt pretty amazing and I want to pave the way for others to do the same.
“I ended up meeting some of my all-time [wrestling] idols including Lita and Finn Balor and they told me to just go for it and success will follow, and it has.”
Amid the pandemic, wrestling ground to a halt as restrictions made close contact and public events impossible, but restlessness proved key for Al Shehhi when things began to open up again.
“After Covid, we were filled with this incredible energy to take our wrestling academy to the next level and so WrestleFest was born,” he says. “Now, we’re ready to go big and show the world what the UAE is made of."
The first event was a resounding success and made a huge stir in Dubai’s sporting scene.
Now, Al Shehhi has been contacted by the Dubai Sports Council to make him aware of its attendance at Saturday’s event, in what he hopes will lead to sponsorship and better opportunities for the region.
“Wrestling has never been recognised in the UAE as a sport traditionally, so to have a government entity attend is just incredible,” says Al Shehhi.
“Now we just need to give them what they came for.”
Tickets for WrestleFest DXB from Dh75 are available at Eventbrite