Deaf, mute but determined: UAE's exceptional kickboxer

Ahmed Abdul Raheem Ahmed Al Hosani has reached professional level despite some obvious disadvantages, now he dreams of the Olympics.

Ahmed Abdul Raheem Ahmed Al Hosani, left, trains with his coach Juma Ben Jama at World Gym in Abu Dhabi. The Emirati, who is deaf and cannot speak, aims to represent the UAE at the Olympics.
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After losing his hearing and speech at the age of two, all Ahmed Abdul Raheem Ahmed Al Hosani wanted was to be just like everyone else.

In pictures: The exceptional kickboxer

Ahmed Abdul Raheem Ahmed Al Hosani trains at World Gym in Abu Dhabi. more photo blogs.

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But this professional Emirati kickboxer is anything but, according to those closest to him. Indeed, they say he is an exceptional human being.

Al Hosani's story was remarkable even before the 32-year-old from Abu Dhabi turned martial arts professional in April after five years of strength-sapping work in the gym while being forced to contend with some obvious disadvantages.

Kickboxing, in all its forms, is a tough enough sport when you have all your senses, never mind being in the ring and you cannot actually hear what the coach is saying to you from the corner.

And yet Al Hosani dreams of fame, being a champion and representing the UAE at a future Olympic Games.

He drew his one and only professional fight so far, against the experienced Obeida abu Sheikha, and last Friday in Arjan, comprehensibly beat Mohammed Saleh, of Yemen, by six rounds to one in what is called Arabian Boxing, a form of the martial art where feet, knees and hands are used in combination.

He may have come late to the sport, however, this is one man who has spent his life ignoring other people telling him what he can and cannot do.

"I got sick when I was a baby at just two years old. I'm actually not sure what happened but the illness closed my ears and I then had no speech. I just woke up one day and my family noticed there was something different," Al Hosani said.

"But I have always been happy with my life. I played with friends and my older brother, Tareq, just like any ordinary child.

"I went to a normal school, studied in America at the University for Special Needs, West Hartford Connecticut, and came back to the UAE and got a job. So I was happy being me."

But something was missing.

Al Hosani admits there were a few years of adulthood when he had no special interests, no real activities to take up his spare time.

His brother Tareq got him interested in the gym in 2005, which he enjoyed, but still he needed more. Then he read about something called War on the Shore 2, a Dubai-based Muay Thai boxing contest in 2007.


This is a Japanese martial art, which was developed from karate and Thai boxing.It is a combat sport based on kicking and punching. The sport first emerged in the 1960s in Japan and spread across the world over the next decades.

Muay Thai

Obviously, this originates from Thailand. It is referred to as the “Art of Eight Limbs” or the “Science Of Eight Limbs”. This is because fighters punch, kick, use their elbows and knee, so there is eight points of contact. The first records of any version of Muay Thai goes back to 1767 and the first set of proper rules were drawn up in 1925.

He just had to take a look at what was going on. That night changed his life.

"I didn't know much about Muay Thai boxing, but the more I read about it, the more interested I became," said Al Hosani, who works in the traffic police car registration department.

"I couldn't believe how much I enjoyed just watching. The fighters came from Thailand, Russia, Japan, from all over the world. I knew then I wanted to participate in this sport. Why not? Just because I cannot hear or speak?

"So I decided to learn any form of kick-boxing. I was really nervous the first time I tried it because I actually knew nothing about the sport.

"First of all, it wasn't easy to find sparring partners in Abu Dhabi and then I saw an advert for Muay kick-boxing at the World Gym so I started training there.

"But back then, and this is 2008, I couldn't even fight an amateur bout because I was nowhere near ready. I needed to train a lot more, an awful lot more. All I could do was spar and continue to learn."

That's when Al Hosani crossed paths with Juma Ben Jama, a former Tunisian kickboxer of international standard who, by then, had turned coach.

And he was the man who took the training up a new level.

"I saw something in Ahmed when I first met him in the gym. I found out more about his challenges and I could feel he wanted to do special things with his life," said Ben Jama who has limited sign language but the two communicate almost perfectly via sketchy sign and simply writing things down on scraps of paper.

"He has taken huge steps in and out of the ring. Ahmed has reached a high level of the sport very quickly.

"I would do this for any fighter because I want to see my students grow. But I would work especially hard for Ahmed. He had problems with injuries and I always thought they would finish him, although he always came back.

"It is very important for his life that he continues. I want Ahmed to prove that there are no obstacles for him."

Al Hosani's first fight, in truth, was to convince the Arab Boxing International Federation to accept someone with his disabilities and grant him a licence. Once that was done, he faced one of the most daunting tasks of a life that had already dealt with a few challenges.

His first contest at professional level came in April this year, against Jordan's Abu Sheikha in Dubai.

"I was shocked about how nervous I was," he says now. "My legs were shaking as I climbed into the ring. However, I got a draw and that made me so proud.

"My nerves are better now. I've fought twice since then, although not professionally, and my legs have been fine. You get used to the pre-fight feelings."

Al Hosani is the first to admit he has been given a lot of support.

He has been a member of Abu Dhabi's Club for Special Needs People for many years and, under the supervision of the Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, he has been financially backed to the extent he and Ben Jama have just returned from a month-long training camp in Thailand.

Faleh Alfaisal, the manager of the special needs people club, said: "Ahmed has been a long-time member, so when we found out he had taken up fighting seriously, the organisation decided to support him and came up with a five-year strategy to increase his knowledge and technique. We will do all we can to help him.

"If he wants to travel outside the UAE for a match, or if he wanted to invite someone from outside the country for a friendly or to train, then we would help that to happen. It's important that he meets fighters from abroad because he can learn from them in terms of technique.

"I think he is out to prove something to everyone. He fights in the Under 64kg category but I believe his last opponent was 12kg heavier than him, which is an awful lot, and yet he won.

"One of Ahmed's obvious problems is that he fights against people who can hear and speak. He is missing two senses. Think about that for a minute. He can't hear coach Juma in the corner during rounds, but his opponent can listen to any instruction being shouted at him. So Ahmed is all alone out here."

And you have to imagine that signing with boxing gloves is tricky.

But having come so far in his life and career, there are few problems he can't overcome in his quest to be a champion.

Al Hosani said: "I will never stop. Even when I am tired, I want to train. I want to practise the sport every single day. I want to fight in big international championships overseas for my country.

"The Olympics is my ultimate dream and I want to be famous in Abu Dhabi and right across the UAE. I want to be the No 1 fighter in my country.

"When people speak about kickboxing in the UAE, I want them to speak about me. For that to happen, I need to be a champion."

Alfaisal perhaps summed it up best.

He said: "Ahmed is an inspiration. Not only does he fight, but he drives a car and lives an independent life. He is a remarkable person. When people have hope, they can even move mountains.

"Ahmed is a true fighter in more ways than one."