‘Al Batal’, the reality show on Fox Movies based on the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), returns for a second season this autumn.
The competition brings together 12 professional fighters and two world-class MMA coaches, including ‘Magical’ Ray Elbe.
Elbe is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, veteran of MMA and appeared on Season 9 of The Ultimate Fighter, an American reality series centred on an MMA competition.
Sport360° caught up with Elbe to get his thoughts on ‘Al Batal’, his time abroad and his transition to coaching.
How did you get the nickname ‘Magical’?
I wish I could have picked a nickname like ‘The Executioner’ or ‘The Hitman’ or something really cool. I’m really good at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that’s my trademark.
When the sport first started, it wasn’t on TV like it is now and not everyone was familiar with the ‘arm bar’, ‘the triangle choke’ and the actual locks that finish a fight. So to the average spectator, it looks like the guy on the bottom is getting beat up.
There was a promoter who would usually be in rare form while calling the fight to the crowd at the end of the night. One of the things he started to say was ‘this next guy is going to get beat up for the entire round and magically win’. So that was kind of how the nickname started and my friends thought it was funny, my promoter thought it was funny and next thing you know it stuck.
I guess I got it because my submission skills were good and at the time, the general audience watching thought I magically won.
What did you gain from your time in Phuket, Thailand, developing MMA?
I’ve been really, really fortunate to travel, that’s something my career has blessed me with. Besides Thailand, I’ve fought Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or MMA in 15 different countries around the world. Living in Thailand, it gave me a real opportunity to experience the different types of fighters.
Obviously there’s nowhere else in the world that has good Muay Thai training as Thailand, but it also gave me an opportunity to interact with so many cultures in fighting.
Living in Kuwait now, how’s the experience been of being a pioneer of MMA in the region?
One of the nice things about being in the Middle East is there’s a decent amount of disposable income to get behind youth projects and start-up groups. I think the big thing that needs to grow along with it is the professionalism with the athletes.
When you’re dealing with a country where the sport is fairly new, a lot of the instructors in the region they have no real credentials. When they get into a situation where they’re teaching the actual sport behind MMA, it’s like me teaching chess when I’ve only played checkers. ‘Well if this works in checkers I’m sure it will work in chess because they’re both board games.’
Promoters are so anxious to put on events that they’re bringing in under-qualified athletes and because there are so few legit coaches here, it’s a repetitive cycle. Unfortunately, especially in Kuwait, they don’t have the real backing of the government like in the UAE which has a resource pool of knowledgeable instructors.
What’s the transition been like from fighting to coaching?
When you’re actually in the fight and you’re the fighter, it’s nice because you can control the action that happens.
As a coach and especially when you’re dealing with fighters who are new to the sport, you realise their fight IQ isn’t as high as some of the other veterans. It’s really difficult to one, get your fighter to believe in your strategy or the gameplan that you put together.
Then two, to actually get him to implement that strategy in the heat of the battle when he gets punched in the face and he gets kicked to still remain calm during that traffic accident and put himself in the best position to win that fight; that’s what makes this sport so pure. When you see a guy that is losing and breaking down in tears, you see that it’s a lot more than just dieting and running.
When will we see you return to the ring?
I’m already negotiating with a couple of promoters. Once I feel like I’m about six or seven weeks out from competition shape, I’ll start
seriously contacting promoters and try to look for something to happen. Hopefully, I’ll be back in the ring by the end of 2014, that is kind of what my goal is.
How did being on The Ultimate Fighter prepare you to be on Al Batal?
The truth of the TV show is that it’s very undocumented, it’s very unscripted and very real to the emotion.
While being on The Ultimate Fighter definitely helped me prepare for the pressure of having cameramen around and things like that, having been in the sport for so long and experiencing the highs and experiencing the lows really put me in a position where I was able to do what the show requires in such a high-pressure situation. In my opinion, having over a decade of fighting experience was a lot more valuable than having appeared on another TV programme. It’s a lot of stress for these guys, I’ll tell you that.
What can viewers expect to see on the show this upcoming season?
When I came I wasn’t sure culturally what they were going to be capturing, editing and filming to make it a hit in the Middle East. They brought in fighters from all over the world.
They’re Arab, but some of these guys flew in from California, some of these guys flew in from Sweden, some of these guys flew in from France, some of these guys flew in from Canada. I’d say there’s probably about four or five of these guys that could definitely compete in the UFC someday. A couple of these guys are good enough and skilled enough to probably compete right now. This show itself has a couple of really good athletes.
The drama from the reality TV side of it, it will be an entertaining season when you throw together 12 individuals from all over the world with type-A personalities, there’s going to be serious drama that goes on.