The boxing world is one that is rapidly expanding its global footprint with Saudi Arabia now competing with the likes of Las Vegas and London to host the biggest fights. In December, all eyes will be on the Middle East as Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz head to Diriyah for their eagerly anticipated heavyweight-title rematch. The sport is also attracting a plethora of new fans thanks to YouTube mega-stars KSI and Logan Paul who are also set to lock horns once again in a fight, which could break all sorts of viewing records. Despite neither being fully-fledged boxers, over six million people tuned in to watch the press conference as they headline a professional card in November.
While these guys are taking all the global headlines, there’s a local man determined to raise the profile of the sport a little closer to home. Mo Ali Bayat, who trains out of Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai, is fighting to prove those in the UAE can make a mark on the sport. “It’s not about money or fame for me, it’s to prove to the world that you don’t need to be American or from anywhere else, you can be from the UAE and be a success,” says Bayat as he chats to Sport360. “My goal is to bring up the region’s name in the world of boxing.”
The Iranian-born boxer moved to Dubai as a teenager, fifteen years ago and found his way into boxing after being challenged to a scrap by someone at the gym. “I actually started kickboxing to lose weight and some guy basically told me that he would beat me in the boxing ring,” recalls the cruiserweight. “I was 18 when I switched to boxing and ended up beating that guy.” That was back when boxing in Dubai was vastly different from what it is today. Bayat remembers when the venues were a far cry from the modern day 5-star hotels now hosting events. “All the fights were in nightclubs so it was hard for me to even get in. Sometimes I would do the fight and then they’d kick me out because I wasn’t old enough to be in there.”
Although in the early days getting his name on the shows was tough, Bayat continued working hard to become a success, and has gone from having the bare minimum, in terms of equipment, to training with world champions. “When I came here there wasn’t much around, the city has changed. I don’t complain about it though because for boxing training you just need some gloves, a bag and a good coach. Now we have everything. I don’t come from a rich family though and I remember back in the day even getting a pair of boxing gloves was a big thing for me.”
Bayat’s fighting has benefitted from working with the best, including David Haye, Anthony Joshua and Badou Jack. Each of who have taught the UAE-based fighter a thing or two, which he takes with him into every fight. “I used to follow David Haye’s career a lot growing up,” he says. “I liked his style, and he’s actually become a good friend of mine now. I learned something new from all these people. Boxing is all about experience. Jack is very strong, he’s a nice guy and we have respect for each other. Same with Anthony Joshua.”
The experience working with these world champions is something Bayat is looking to take with him as he steps in the ring this weekend in Glasgow, Scotland. Bayat, who has a record of 14-1-1, goes into the bout on a winning 10-fight winning streak, which has seen him overcome a painful injury, which required three surgeries. “At the end of 2017 I had a bad shoulder injury, which needed screws to fuse the bone together. I actually fought with the screws in my shoulder and it wasn’t good so we had to remove them. I stayed away from boxing for almost a year and a half; I was training with one hand basically. I’ve recovered now though, I competed in Prize Fighter in April and also a couple of fights in August, so it’s all good.
As an Iranian-passport holder, fighting abroad is often trickier than it ought to be for Bayat. The extra hurdles aren’t exactly ideal preparation for someone who just wants to fight and return back to the UAE, but at the same time he doesn’t let the extra hassle of boxing away from home to become a distraction. “I have some struggles because of my passport and all the countries need a visa, but we will keep doing everything we can to make fights abroad. At the end of the day, I am going to these places to fight and then come back, nothing else. We have some restrictions sometimes but it’s ok, we get it sorted, and we’ll continue to show the world the UAE is making a mark on the world boxing stage.”
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