Saudi Arabian professional boxer Ziyad Al Maayouf will this weekend represent the Kingdom again in the ring as part of the card headlined by Jake Paul's long-awaited clash against Tommy Fury.
Al Maayouf made history last August, when on debut he defeated Mexican opponent Jose Alfredo Alatorre via first-round knockout to become the first fighter from the Kingdom to win a pro boxing bout. The encounter was part of “Rage on the Red Sea”, the fight night headlined by the world heavyweight clash between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
On Sunday, Al Maayouf returns to action, taking on Ecuador’s Ronnald Martinez (3-1-1) at Diriyah Arena.
Can you talk to us about your boxing journey?
Firstly, my journey with sport began with tennis. At that time, there were no boxing role models in Saudi Arabia to look up to, while football was the most popular sport by far. We also didn’t have independent complexes for specific sports, only large facilities for all sports without any dedicated spaces to train. I'd always go home and google ‘Arab world champion boxing’ or ‘Saudi Arabia boxing’ and nothing was ever found.
This made me curious, as I knew there was so much history to be written in the sport. My parents were against martial arts and combat sports due to the violence aspect, so I boxed behind my dad’s back for about a year-and-a-half until one day, my dad went to pick up my brother from tennis.
When he didn’t find me there, he found me in the boxing area. I had to prove so much to my parents, my family and myself, in terms of why I deserved to be in this sport and belonged here. I was dedicated right away, and it was never ‘just a hobby’. Until a year or two ago, my father thought this was just a hobby for me.
In Saudi Arabia, we’ve never been exposed to the sport. I plan on changing that. I want to introduce this part of the world to boxing on a massive scale, attract new audiences, and change how the sport is perceived.
What do you hope to accomplish in sport?
First and foremost, being the first Saudi boxer to turn professional and represent the Kingdom in international competition is a pleasure and an honour. My father has always shown me there is nothing I can't do, but I have to continue proving this to myself.
If I'm the first to do it, then I'll be the first to make mistakes. However, I always stick to the same mindset to realise my ambition of inspiring others. If I contribute one per cent in showing people they can do and achieve the things they want, I will feel like I've accomplished everything I can. I also want to win that first world championship in professional boxing for Saudi Arabia and for the Arab world, before eventually becoming the first undisputed world champion from Saudi Arabia.
How do you feel to be competing on the card of such a big event?
This weekend, I’ll be representing so much more than boxing, especially because I’m competing in Saudi Arabia. I'm representing so much more than boxing on the night. When I win, I win so much more than the fight because I'm changing views and perceptions on boxing in Saudi Arabia. This is the same every time I fight, and when I represent the Kingdom, I feel like a superhero and believe anything is possible.
Having the platform and opportunity to positively influence and inspire people is a wonderful position to be in for any athlete – and competing on such a huge card is equally humbling. I want to thank Prince Khalid, the Ministry of Sport, and Skill Challenge Entertainment for this opportunity.
What is your prediction for your upcoming fight?
I'm certainly taking on a tougher test with an opponent who’s been in a professional ring more times than I have. He's more experienced than I am, but I embrace this challenge and welcome the opportunity to silence people. If anyone were to say, ‘He had an easier opponent’ or ‘he had an easy fight’, silencing these critics is the best response anyone could make.
Competition is the thing that lights the fire inside you and brings out your very best. I’m certainly under pressure because I'm representing far more than myself and the sport of boxing on the night. However, diamonds emerge when the necessary pressure is applied and I will come through this test on Sunday. I plan on representing my country in the best way possible and launching a new chapter of boxing for the people of Saudi Arabia.
Who do you believe will win between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury?
This is a 50/50 fight because of the pressure they’re both under heading into the ring. As a boxer, I would say that Tommy Fury should come through and win. But with boxing, it’s as much about the mental aspect as it the physical. Both have the physical tools needed, and whoever handles themselves the best mentally under pressure will come out with the win.