MMA: Fight night's lone Emirati aims for top with backing of family

Having turned 18 in May and still a schoolboy at Winchester in Dubai, Mohamed Yahya is the youngest Emirati fighter performing at this level.

Mohammed Yahya wants to finish opponent Omar Chammara in the first round tomorrow night. Jaime Puebla / The National
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // With an ultra-aggressive outlook and a method that leans heavily on kick-boxing, Mohammed Yahya is well equipped to cope in the bloodthirsty world of mixed martial arts.

The Emirati fighter is confident he can execute an early knockout when he enters the cage against Omar Chammara for his second competitive bout at Dubai Fight Night II tonight. And those in the know think his confidence is well placed.

However, despite all of the above, he is still not too big to be put over his mother's knee. Having turned 18 in May and still a schoolboy at Winchester in Dubai, Yahya is the youngest Emirati fighter performing at this level.

He acknowledges that his English mother would have preferred him to have picked a more sedate path in life, but he says he now has her full support in his bid to make a career out of MMA.

"It is hard to find a local fighter," said Yahya, who faces Chammara in the lightweight division on tonight's Fight Night card at the Habtoor Grand in Dubai.

"Their parents don't really agree with it. If you tell them you want to be a fighter they tell you to go and look for another thing to do.

"My parents are really supportive. My mum has supported me the whole way. Obviously, she gets worried before every fight and she tells me not to do it, but I have to go with it. She supports me when it comes to the fight."

Although he is ploughing a mostly lonely furrow among Emiratis within the sport, MMA still has a rapidly growing following on the outside of the cage in this country.

When Yahya made his debut in the octagon at the first Fight Night, "the crowd went wild for him because he is Emirati", according to Tam Khan, the event's organiser and promoter.

Which actually served as more of a hindrance than a help at the time. As the crowd noise surged, his energy dissipated. He struggled through the opening round, and eventually laboured to a win after three.

He says he learnt some valuable lessons from his first outing. Most notably, tempering his response to the crowd, but also the simple mechanics of making the weight.

He was forced to lose 4kgs in the three days leading up to the fight, another possible reason for why his stamina took such a hit early in the piece.

This time round he has had to gain weight, a process he has found easier, and his confidence has been fuelled.

"In this fight I'm looking to finish it in the first round," he said.

It is all valuable experience for a young man with lofty ambitions in the sport.

"A few people from school do it, just as a hobby, for fun," he said.

"But I am doing it for my life career. I want to get to the main event, to UFC. Hopefully, one day I will be a champion. I know I will.

"It is tough to reach that level, but everyone starts from the same place. Everyone has two arms and two legs. You just have to work harder than the next guy and you can make it."

It is that attitude, as well as his appetite for hard work, which has caught the attention of the organisers of Fight Night, notably Khan.

Khan, a former professional fighter who coaches at his own MMA gym in Dubai, believes Yahya has the attributes to progress in the sport.

"He has talent to go far, especially for his age," Khan said. "He is so young but he is tough and has time on his side. Wins and losses don't count for him at this point.

"It is all about attitude. I would rather have a fighter who is really young and like him than a fighter with arrogance. He is humble, quiet and listens. They are the attributes that matter to people who make it."

Ali Mokdad, the marketing director of the Dubai Fighting Championship, reckons they have unearthed a gem in the form of Yahya, as well as a fine example for UAE nationals.

"We saw so much talent in him," Mokdad said. "He was passionate, hard working, and the aggressive type as well. He actually went for submissions and went for the finish.

"We saw the fire and desire in him and we gave him a shot, fighting on our last card. He took it up gladly and won his fight. We really feel he could be a great role model for other Emiratis."

Event details

What: Twelve fights, including Mounir Lazzez v Ashkhan Mehdrdadpor

Where: Habtoor Grand Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai

When: Doors open at 6pm, action starts at 7pm

Tickets: Prices start at Dh200 and are available at Virgin Megastores.