The UAE will field a strong squad of 27 male and one female fighter for their debut at the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) Youth World Championships that kicks off at the Jiu-Jitsu Arena in Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi, on Wednesday.
The four-day event has drawn a record 486 entries from 41 countries in three age groups (12-13 years, 14-15 and 16-17) for both males and females.
It’s the third edition of the Youth Worlds and the first one in Abu Dhabi after the capital city signed a three-year deal for the hosting rights until 2024.
Mohamed Dalmouj Al Dhaheri, UAE Jiu-Jitsu and MMA Federation board member and chairman of the UAE Mixed Martial Arts Committee, said, “After hosting IMMAF’s flagship event, the Senior and Junior World Championships back in January, we are thrilled to host this year’s Youth Worlds in Abu Dhabi.
“The youth around the world is the future and for us they represent a strategic priority for the UAE Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts Federation. Our objective is to empower and cultivate a new generation of highly skilled and qualified MMA athletes.”
Rules have been modified with respect to safety, as advised by IMMAF’s medical, coaching, and regulatory affairs committees. IMMAF does not permit head strikes for competitors under the age of 18.
“Most of our athletes are trained in jiu-jitsu, muaythai and wrestling, and with no striking [allowed], it leaves them with a good chance to win some medals for us,” Sbee Rahal, the team’s Syrian coach, said.
“We have been preparing the squad for more than two months, twice a day, six days a week. Obviously it’s going to be very tough, being a world championship.”
Mohammed Al Awlaqi, 16, hails from a jiu-jitsu family. He brings 10 years of experience in that martial art into the cage.
The Baniyas resident has won several gold medals in both the domestic and international competitions, including in the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship and Abu Dhabi Grand Slam.
“It’s my first time in MMA but I believe my jiu-jitsu will come into good use. I want to pursue both martial arts and my goal is to win gold,” the Emirati said.
Saeed Mohammed Al Nuaimi, 14, took up jiu-jitsu one year back but has already tasted success with gold in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam.
“These are exciting times to try another martial art sport, and at the highest level. My aim is also to go for gold,” he said.
Maryam Alaleeli, 12, is the only girl in the UAE squad and has taken a completely different pathway - from swimming to combat sport.
“I started MMA for self defence and now I’m competing in a world championship, which is amazing,” she said.
“I have been in martial arts sports for only three months but I’m going into the cage with a lot of confidence. I want to defeat everyone out there,” she said.
The Youth Worlds were earlier held in Rome in 2019 and then in the Bulgarian capital Sofia last year.