UAE's rising MMA stars Al Hammadi sisters can 'make it to the UFC'

National coach Tolly Plested proud of Zamzam and Ghala, who became the first Emirati females to win world titles during IMMAF youth championships

UAE's Zamzam Al Hammadi after winning gold at the IMMAF Youth World Championships in Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National
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There was a palpable buzz at the Mubadala Arena after the Al Hammadi sisters created history by becoming the first Emirati females to win world titles at the IMMAF Youth World Championships.

Zamzam, 15, and Ghala, 14, were thoroughly impressive as they made their debuts at the youth words in Abu Dhabi, raising hopes of a successful career in the sport.

The Abu Dhabi schoolgirls have been in training for a long time and their latest achievement is just reward for all the hard work, believes Tolly Plested.

Plested, the head coach of the UAE Mixed Martial Arts Federation, has no doubts about the potential of the Abu Dhabi sisters and expects them to continue raising the bar.

“I was fortunate to work with these two girls for the last two months and their work ethics are second to none,” the Englishman, who took charge of the national team two months ago, told The National.

“They are very talented and the support their mother gives them is unbelievable. I am looking forward to seeing their journey to the top and achieving their goals of one day making it to the UFC.”

Zamzam overcame three opponents en route to winning the 52-kg final and Ghala was successful in the 40kg division. The UAE rounded off the championships with four golds and as many silver and bronze medals to finish fourth in the table.

Ukraine topped the list with the USA and Tajikistan taking second and third spots respectively in the four-day championships that drew around 650 athletes from 46 countries.

Plested credited teamwork for the results at the youth worlds.

“We had a world champion last year, which was great, and this time to have two Emirati females for the first time ever and two males as world champions were incredible,” Plested said.

UAE coach, Tolly Plested supports his fighters on the opening day for IMMAF Youth World Championships, Mubadala Arena at Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

“People around the world realise how fast the levels increase every year as these competitions keep growing with more countries involved. These competitions only get stronger and popular and it was an incredible result for us.”

Plested, 41, was overwhelmed by the reactions from the athletes and their families.

“Speaking to them of results, the athletes and some of the parents were immensely proud of what we achieved,” he said.

“I think people have started to believe the MMA scene here is growing and the city is really becoming the MMA hub of the world with UFC, UAE Warriors fight cards and IMMAF championships.

“With the youth squad, it’s been a lot of work in preparing, getting them together from various parts of the country, but I enjoy challenges.

“I enjoy the process, training two to three times a day, six days a week, looking back at the days when I was competing. It was a huge task preparing the athletes from different teams and coordinating with their coaches.

“I got the support of all the clubs, coaches and managers. I really have to put the success we had down to teamwork.

“Massive thanks to the coaching staff and the UAEMMA Federation for the last three weeks in putting up the squad of 40 athletes together. We couldn’t have put on a show without their help and support.

“We are very fortunate the youth here have an excellent programme for jiu-jitsu and other various martial arts. It gives a great foundation for them.

“I am proud with the squad we assembled and what we achieved in such a short space of time.”

Plested has 18 years of coaching experience. Prior to that, as a professional MMA fighter, he was undefeated in nine appearances but cut short his career to concentrate on coaching.

“Coaching took over my life,” he said. “I followed my passion for coaching. I didn’t have the time to do both, fighting as a pro and getting on with my coaching.

“As a professional athlete, one has to be selfish but as a coach one has to be selfless to give everything to the athletes. I had my time as a professional fighter for ten years, and I learnt a lot from it.”

After leaving college, Plested worked as an engineer in the world of motorsports but eventually got more involved in martial arts. He then started to pursue MMA fulltime.

“I started training in karate when I was seven and then virtually trained in all combat sports,” he said.

“I competed in karate as a kid and boxing in my twenties, and then started kickboxing, and jiu-jitsu and judo, in which I received black belts. I began my own gym but closed it to work as a full-time coach with the UFC in the UK and in the UAE.”

Updated: August 08, 2023, 7:00 AM