'Emirati Warrior' Hadi Omar Al Hussaini on PFL debut and training with Cain Velasquez

Dubai-born mixed martial artist to fly the UAE flag high and proud when he becomes first Emirati to compete in the Professional Fighters League

'Emirati Warrior' Hadi Omar Al Hussaini ready to make his PFL debut

'Emirati Warrior' Hadi Omar Al Hussaini ready to make his PFL debut
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Hadi Omar Al Hussaini’s rise through professional mixed martial arts has been rapid. Remarkable, too.

The Emirati, who took up MMA at university “by accident”, entered the paid ranks less than three years ago. He won his first two pro bouts, as a flyweight with UAE Warriors, and eventually went unbeaten through five fights in the Abu Dhabi-based promotion.

In between, Al Hussaini began training with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev, UFC champions past and present. Nurmagomedov is considered one of the greatest to ever enter a cage, while current lightweight title-holder Makhachev appears to be charting a path towards that, as well.

All that time, Al Hussaini has honed his skills under the watchful eye of renowned coach Javier Mendez. He refers to the American now as his “mentor”.

To underscore the relationship, the Dubai-born athlete spent his most recent training camp at Mendez’s famed American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California. There, he was coached by Cain Velasquez, a former UFC heavyweight champion of the world.

However, two weeks ago, Al Hussaini’s career took what feels another prodigious leap. Having returned in March from a year out with a dominant win in the Middle East Fighting Championship in Al Ain, he received a call from the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the No 2-ranked MMA promotion in the sport.

Al Hussaini, 5-0-1 as a pro, had a number of other offers but, after seeking Mendez’s counsel, promptly signed a multi-fight deal with the fast-growing organisation. He expects to debut this summer, when he will become the first from the UAE to compete in the PFL.

And from there, Al Hussaini says, the sky’s the limit.

“For me, it's like a dream, starting from a little kid that had no dreams, nothing, to fighting in one of the best promotions in the world,” he tells The National.

“I'm happy for this and I'm excited to be able to fight there and represent my country, as I'm the first and only Emirati that is competing in this league. It's a proud moment.”

Al Hussaini, who has a Masters in sports management, understands the opportunity in front of him. The PFL has only just branched out into the region, and will next week stage its inaugural PFL Mena event, in Saudi Arabia.

A regional league, the second after last year’s successful launch of PFL Europe, it is designed to promote Mena’s top talent, while it also provides a pathway to the promotion’s global division. PFL Global offers $1 million in prize money per weight class.

PFL Mena: Riyadh, taking place in the Saudi capital on May 10, will represent the first of four events in the 2024 season, with fighters competing in the promotion’s traditional, play-off-win-and-advance format.

“They’re growing and growing,” Al Hussaini says. “They’re getting the best of the best in the region. That’s the big thing. They’re not just signing anyone; they’re taking the best in the region, the best in the world, and they’re doing the Mena tournament, the Europe tournament ... Africa’s coming.

“Then the best goes to the global. So it’s a big opportunity. And being the only UAE local there, it’s a big responsibility for me. To go there, I should show the world, ‘Hey, Emiratis can fight’.

“For me, it's not about only victory. Giving back to my country is the real win; to be able to raise my flag and represent, giving back to my country that gave us everything.

“So that's going to be my motivation, my fire in my next bout in the PFL.”

Al Hussaini, 32, recognises what’s needed to make a success of what he envisages should represent his peak years in the sport. Yet, even with Mendez’s backing, the expert tutelage, the top-of-the-range training facilities, pro MMA remains an expensive pursuit.

With a young family to take care off – his daughter will soon celebrate her first birthday – it's why Al Hussaini stopped competing for a year, returning instead to full-time employment.

“Like everyone says, one hand cannot clap,” he says. “I'll need the support of my country and support of my people and, Inshallah, I'll be the victor.”

Thankfully, though, with Mendez’s guidance, he has a pretty decent head-start. Most of the building blocks are in place.

“Javier Mendez is not only a coach for me; he's a big brother, he's a mentor,” Al Hussaini says. “He helped me a lot to grow as an athlete and as a martial artist.

“I'll be always thankful and grateful to this person, obviously because of his track record as well. Also, I want to shout out to the coaches that trained me in American Kickboxing Academy: coach Ron Keslar, coach Cain Velasquez.

“They also helped me a lot to grow and to improve myself as a fighter and as an athlete. They helped me a lot to come back, especially after a very big gap when I went off from fighting for a while. They helped me regain my confidence and build myself back to the cage and handle that.

“And I got my win in my last fight [a unanimous decision against Algerian Adel Ayn Zarka] and I'm so grateful for them and so thankful. The best in the game.”

Grateful, even if they did make Al Hussaini suffer for it.

“Cain Velasquez, he's very kind-hearted, but a very tough coach,” Al Hussaini smiles. “Training with him is no joke. He's just always coming forward, always tough. For them, if you're there you have to put in 110 per cent.

“I was always a fan of Velasquez and he's a big legend for me. So, training with him and learning from him is an honour. I’m just so happy. I learned a lot; he doesn't know, even outside the training mat. He’s a big brother inside the mat and outside the mat.”

Al Hussani is now inside the PFL, even if his introductory fight in yet to be confirmed. He anticipates it will fall in Saudi Arabia, ticking off another long-held dream.

“So many people have reached out to me, telling me congratulations and this big achievement to sign with the PFL, but in my mind, I didn't achieve anything yet,” Al Hussaini says.

“Unless I get my hand raised, get my win, and be able to raise my UAE flag in Saudi Arabia, that is considered also our second home, only after that it’s considered an achievement for me.

“I’m not going there just to fight. I'm going there to get this tournament and to get these victories and come back. I'm going to showcase my skills. I'm going to go to the PFL and show them the real Emirati warrior.”

Updated: May 03, 2024, 5:21 AM