Emirati wrestler smashes his way on to the international stage

Shaheen set to become UAE's break-out wrestling star

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A new face is set to explode on to the global wrestling scene, as the first Emirati professional grappler to compete overseas takes to the ring.

Although wrestling remains a sport in its infancy in the UAE, wrestlers like Shaheen are ensuring that is about to change.

Like many wrestlers around the world, Shaheen — real name Mohammed Saif, 27 — has a special move inside the ring that captivates the crowd.

His backflip somersault from the top rope has not let him down yet and is fast-tracking him towards a full-time career in the sport.

“I’ve been watching wrestling since I was a kid after a trip to the States with my family,” he told The National.

“At eight years old, there was something special about watching these people put on a show.”

There were no channels showing wrestling back in Dubai, so Shaheed used magazines to follow the sport.

He also sourced Dh5 VHS tapes from Satwa to watch wrestling bouts from the US.

Inspired by the likes of wrestling mega stars Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio and The Hardy Boyz, Shaheen began to dream of a future in the sport.

“I couldn’t wait for these guys to show up on videos so I could watch,” he said.

“They were all larger-than-life characters and had crazy moves, but had a connection with young fans like me.

“Seeing these guys do a frog splash or a moonsault made me want to be able to do the same for wrestling fans in Dubai.”

That dream is slowly becoming a reality. Now signed by Progress Wrestling in the UAE, Shaheen is helping to drive the growth of the local scene.

A recent Sons and Daughters of the Desert show was evidence of a groundswell of support for young wrestlers in the UAE like Shaheen.

His professional wrestling career kicked off in 2019 in the UK, where he trained and performed before being recruited by World Wrestling Entertainment for their tryouts in Saudi Arabia.

Although they were cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, that only invigorated him to push ahead and help drive the wrestling scene in Dubai.

“Wrestling takes a toll mentally as well as physically, and working with other more experienced wrestlers helped me to progress,” said Shaheen.

“It felt like an internship. I wanted to come up with a name that represented my country in a positive way, and it means falcon — a small fast bird that embodies what I do in the ring.”

Since focusing more seriously on the sport, Shaheen's life has changed. His diet has been transformed to fuel his twice daily workouts that include a huge amount of cardiovascular exercise to keep pace with international wrestlers.

His stage name attracted a lot of interest in Pakistan, so he went there to compete in his first show in front of 4,000 people with the country’s Pro Wrestling Federation in 2021.

“It was a big first event so it was sink or swim. I was really nervous,” he said.

“To be the first Emirati wrestler to compete overseas was a big badge of honour for me and a great way to learn about how the sport works.

“I know the work I have to put in. My day job is working in events, but through wrestling, I can live my dreams.

“I feel like I can help create a new wrestling scene in the UAE and the Middle East, there is also a lot more expectation now of Shaheen,” he said.

Updated: January 02, 2023, 10:37 AM
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