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Mon 2 Sep 2019 01:52 PM

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Middle East could have a 'Messi-style' MMA superstar

Mohamed 'the Hawk' Shahid, the CEO of Bahrain's KHK MMA, says that fighters should be given the same training and promotional opportunities as athletes in other sports

Middle East could have a 'Messi-style' MMA superstar

The Middle East could one day produce a mixed martial arts superstar equivalent to football star Lionel Messi, but only if fighters are given the same training opportunities and international exposure as their counterparts in other sports, according to Mohammed ‘the Hawk’ Shahid, CEO of Bahrain’s KHK MMA.

Established by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Khalifa – a member of the Bahraini royal family – in February 2015, KHK is a mixed martial arts organisation which has had a number of high-profile fighters under its belt, including UFC star Khabib Nurmagomedov.

In an exclusive interview with Arabian Business, Shahid said that the organisation was founded to address the impediments that he believes many MMA fighters face in their careers.

“It was started with a question: why do MMA athletes not live the lives of normal athletes, whether from football, tennis or cricket? Why don’t we try give resources to MMA athletes than any other athlete would get to perform to the best of the abilities?”

As examples, Shahid said in many markets MMA fighters are forced to work other jobs as they begin their careers, or lack exposure to international promotions such as UFC because they aren’t able to market themselves or speak English fluently.

“If you really make MMA an actual sport, you’ll get 10 times better performances and athletes can reach wherever they want,” he said. “We need to do this for athletes around the world. We could have a Messi in mixed martial arts from this region.”

MMA promotion in the Middle East

To address the issue, in 2016 Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalid launched Brave Combat Federation, an MMA promotion with Shahid as its president. It is now the largest MMA promotion in the Middle East, and has operations in Dublin, Sao Paolo and Mumbai. It has also held a number of pay-per-view events in Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

“We want to create a global eco-system for mixed martial arts,” Shahid explained. “MMA is the only sport, along with football, that can globalise around the world.”

Shahid added that “the next step would be to collaborate with other entities.”

“There is no one promotion can control the sport,” he added.

The end goal, Shahid said, is to allow fighters to reach stardom without having to go through the same promotional hurdles that Khabib Nurmagomedov did in his career.

“What did it take Khabib to be where he is today? That’s nine years in the UFC, winning every single fight,” Shahid said. “Somebody has to take the responsibility for any factor other than the talent that it takes an athlete to where he wants to be. That’s the unfair side of MMA we see today.”

By helping promote regional fighters, Shahid said he believes that he can boost their local fan base, which in turn will help them shine internationally.

“That will make them more valuable,” he said. “We think it would be able to create more international stars from regional stars, just by fighting.”

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