Editor’s Note: This article was written by Yousef Nassar, an MMA-Prospects contributor and a former BRAVE CF and Desert Force matchmaker.
In this feature, I am going to take a look at some of the prospects coming out of the Middle East region.
MMA in the Middle East has steadily been growing over the past 10 years, in large part due to the early efforts from Desert Force and Cage Warriors in 2010 and 2011 respectively, and other organizations. Familiar names such as Hashem Arkhagha, Mohammad Fakhreddine, Ramy Hamed, Mohammad Karaki, and Abdulkareem Al Selwady have all come through the Desert Force ranks whilst others such as Jarrah Al Selawe, Jalal Al Daaja, and Izzedin Farhan sharpened their tools in Cage Warriors.
But something interesting happened around the end of 2017. Cage Warriors had ceased to put on shows in the region and Desert Force was slowly, but noticeably, winding down. This left Arab fighters with a lack of opportunities until organizations such as Brave and UAE Warriors launched their promotions in 2018/2019, albeit without a clear emphasis on developing Arab talents.
Why this short re-cap? Well, because to be classified as an Arab prospect, the fighter must:
- Be under 30 years old and/or
- Have under 10 professional MMA fights and/or
- Be based in the Middle East
With that in mind, the familiar names mentioned above would all be excluded from the list because of criteria 1 and 2.
Those who qualify have very few fights and might seem green to some. Not for a lack of their efforts, but rather a lack of opportunities to display their skills in the region.
With that in mind, here are my Arab MMA prospects to keep an eye on over the next 3 to 5 years ranked by the number of professional fights they have had.
Abdullah Al-Qahtani (3-0) fought four times as an amateur MMA fighter on the Saudi Arabian regional scene before making his professional debut. Since then he has racked up 3 wins on the trot, fighting opponents with significantly more experience. He began his martial arts career as a Muay Thai specialist winning Gold at the Elite International Muay Thai Championship which took place in Tunisia in 2019. The featherweight has since worked on his ground game and earned a blue belt in Jiu-Jitsu.
Al-Qahtani is in a good spot and his development moving forward very much depends on not only his skill development, but how he is matched moving forward. This writer would love to see him fight 3 to 4 times a year and steadily build his way up towards higher caliber opponents.
Omar El Dafrawy
Omar El Dafrawy (4-1) is a 25-year-old Egyptian middleweight. He spent a significant amount of time over at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand training with the likes of Rafael Fiziev, UAE Warriors Light-Heavyweight Champ Tarek Suleiman, and a plethora of others.
El Dafrawy recently competed for the AUFC title and on it in impressive fashion putting together a 4 fight win streak. It will be interesting to see what is next for El Dafrawy but we assume he will be competing in regional promotions such as Brave or UAE Warriors in the foreseeable future.
Like many of his peers from Lebanon, Mohammad Osseili (1-0) comes from a Muay Thai/Striking background and then later developed his ground game when he made the transition into MMA. The former IFMA Asian Champion recently relocated from Beirut, Lebanon to Dubai, UAE to pursue his dream full time.
He made his professional debut in November at Human Fighting Championship in Dubai against Nikita Ionin, winning in impressive fashion and putting on a striking clinic. It will be interesting to watch Osseili’s progression over the next few years and with him now training with regional stalwarts like Mounir Lazzez, Anas Siraj Mounir, and Tarek Suleiman he should be one to watch.
Osseili fights Elijas Paknys on the 16th of January on UAE Warriors 15.
Freeh Al Harahsheh (8-1 Am.), the younger brother of former Desert Force Featherweight Champion Ghaleb Al Harahsheh, is arguably the most exciting Arab prospect who has not yet turned professional (despite competing actively as an amateur since 2014).
The flyweight Al Harahsheh went on a perfect 3-0 run on the regional Jordanian scene before competing in the IMMAF world championships in 2019 where he won his first two fights against a Russian and a Kazakh but ultimately came up short in his third bout. He is currently competing on this season’s Arabian Fight League reality show where he has so far won 2 fights in a row.
This writer would love to see Al Harahsheh turn professional as soon as he can. The BJJ black belt is an extremely promising athlete who has not been given the opportunity to take off the 8oz gloves and replace them with the 4oz gloves.
Qoujaq (3-1 Am.) is a Jordanian/Circassian fighter who trains out of Meedan MA in Amman, Jordan alongside the biggest Arab name in Hashem Arkhagha.
A well-rounded fighter, Qoujaq combines extremely powerful striking with a clever ground game. Like many Arabs from the region, he has not had much chance to highlight his skills due to a lack of opportunities but has most recently competed at the GAMMA World Amateur Championship where he fought 4 fights in 1 day.
He won his first three fights before losing the finals to an athlete who had already competed as a professional, oddly enough.