Abdullah Al Qahtani eyes gold after 'perfect' Saudi charge at inaugural PFL Mena event

Professional Fighters League made its debut in the region on Friday, with three Saudi fighters claiming victory

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Saudi mixed martial artist Abdullah Al Qahtani says he has eyes firmly on gold after he headlined a hometown hat-trick at the inaugural PFL Mena event last weekend.

Al Qahtani, the first from the kingdom to sign for the Professional Fighters League (PFL), cruised past Jordan’s Yazeed Hasanain at The Green Halls in Riyadh on Friday, winning by verbal submission right at the end of the second round. In doing so, the Riyadh-born athlete advanced to the featherweight semi-finals later this year.

Now 9-1-0 as a pro, Al Qahtani was initially to open his PFL Mena account against Morocco’s Taha Bendaoud. However, Bendaoud had to be replaced late on because of reported weight struggles.

“Thanks to God, my fight went how I wanted, and according to the plan,” Al Qahtani told The National. “The fighter changed in the last minute, but everything is good, everything is going like I want.

“Really, I wanted to fight with the Moroccan guy, the other one. But it’s OK, it is what it is.

“When I won, I feel a good feeling after the big win here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in my hometown. I win by TKO but a special TKO. Maybe I wanted to win by a good knockout, but this TKO was a special one.

“I love it. It’s me, it’s my fighting style. I’m going to let my opponent want to stop the fight, that he can’t, that he doesn’t know what he wants to do.

“This is my style in fighting, and this is what I love in MMA. This is what I love, and this is what I do.”

Al Qahtani delivered on his spot at the top of the billing at PFL Mena: Riyadh, rounding off a perfect night for Saudi fighters as the PFL kicked off their latest regional league – and first in Mena – with a focus on featherweights and bantamweights.

The opening event of four this season, PFL Mena follows the organisation’s traditional, play-off-win-and-advance format. The league is designed to promote the region’s top fighters.

In the last four, provisionally scheduled for September, Al Qahtani will face Abdelrahman Al Hyasat, who on Friday defeated Ahmed Tarek of Egypt by unanimous decision. Al Hyasat’s pro record stands at 4-0.

“About my next fight, I started to watch my opponent fight at the event,” Al Qahtani said. “Yeah, he’s good, but also I’m perfect, Inshallah. I’m the best, my eyes are on the belt. I’m ready for anyone – I just want the belt.

“I will prepare myself for the next. I’m going to show everyone who is Abdullah Al Qahtani; I’m going make a big show and, inshallah, it’s a big win for me. I’m going to win the fight, and I’m going to step closer to the belt.”

Al Qahtani’s victory represented the third on the night for Saudi. Making her MMA debut, Hattan Al Saif knocked out Egypt’s Nada Faheem with a perfectly timed head kick 41 seconds into the second round of their women’s flyweight amateur showcase bout.

Al Saif, a gold medal at last year’s International Federation of Muay Thai Associations World Championships, made history in January by becoming the first Saudi female to sign a contract with a professional MMA promotion.

Faheem, meanwhile, is a 10-time Sanda Egypt national champion and headed into the contest claiming Al Saif has never before faced any real challenges to this point in her fighting career.

“The fight went exactly how I planned it with my coach,” Al Saif said. “I listened to what my coach told me to do during the fight. Nothing was easier than expected, but I was well prepared for her.”

Al Saif, 22, could feature on the next PFL Mena event, set to take place in Riyadh on July 5. The second show in the series will comprise fighters from lightweight and welterweight divisions.

“I am so excited for what is coming up for me,” Al Saif said. “Inshallah, I will fight again soon as I am hungry to fight now. I already have the Saudi fans behind my back, and I am so proud of this.

“My message to them is that I will never let them down.”

In Friday’s opening bout, Saudi amateur flyweight Malik Basahel dominated India’s Harsh Pandya to prevail by unanimous decision. The victory lifted Basahel’s amateur record to 19-2-1.

“It was a special moment for me as a Saudi fighter to open the card for the first PFL Mena event,” Basahel said. “And not only to be able to fight and showcase my skills, but get the victory as well in front of my family and friends.

“I always love when I get to fight here in Saudi, but to do it in this stage is what I always wanted to do and I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

As for what is next for the Jeddah-based athlete, Basahel added: “I would like to keep fighting and getting better and just evolve as a mixed martial artist.

“And hopefully get the chance to showcase my skills in the [PFL] Smart Cage, and continue to build up my name in this sport and get more experience.”

Updated: May 17, 2024, 8:25 AM