How did you get into jiu-jitsu?
I fell in love with combat sports when I was just a child and I must have been about 11 when I first heard about jiu-jitsu. I started training at a local gym but, at that age, I was more interested in judo and freestyle wrestling, and I focused on them. It was only when I was 20 that I rediscovered jiu-jitsu and started practising again.
When did you realise you were good enough to do this as a career?
Well, after I got back into the sport, I started doing amateur competitions and I kept winning them. I was going from tournament to tournament – both in the UAE and abroad – and I was doing well, and at the same time jiu-jitsu itself was getting a lot of attention.
In 2009 the government started supporting the sport and that inspired me to want to compete at the highest level. I won the gold medal for blue belt at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship that same year.
In 2010 I won two medals at the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Abu Dhabi World Pro championship and I was congratulated by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
And you’ve won plenty of medals since…
Yes, some silvers and bronze, and then, more recently I won gold at the Asian Beach Games in Thailand in 2014 and then again in Vietnam in 2016.
So, what does a professional jiu-jitsu player do on an average day?
It’s a lot of hours on the mat – learning technique and tactics – but also a lot of cardiovascular exercises; running and drills. We need a lot of core strength so I usually train twice a day to keep sharp, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, two hours per session. But, when I’m preparing for a competition, it gets more intense; I’ll train around six hours a day, six days a week.
Some people might say so much training sounds like hard work. Why do you love it so much?
It is hard work, for sure, both mentally and physically. But also very rewarding. This is a sport that transforms your life. It teaches you so many things, so many life lessons. It is a methodical sport, like chess, because you have to make the right move at just the right time or you will surely lose – and that teaches you to treat life with the same outlook, to think about things, to judge them, to assess consequences. So the beauty of the sport is that it’s not just physically good for you, but mentally too.
Is there one victory that stands out as being your proudest moment?
Every victory means something – from my first amateur wins to the big professional competitions around the world. It’s really tough to name one. That said, winning gold at the Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu Jitsu Championship in 2013 was really special. It was still early days after the UAE Jiu Jitsu Federation was established in 2012 and, to win such a huge global competition here in Abu Dhabi, was a real honour. I felt I did something patriotic for the country.
You’re pretty famous among combat sport fans here now. Do people recognise you?
Within jiu-jitsu circles, yes definitely. And especially when I’m at competitions. They will always come and talk to me and tell me good things about my performances or take a picture, which I’m always happy to do. But I also occasionally get recognised in the mall or at restaurants too, and I will always stop and say hello.
What is the one defeat that hurt you the most – both physically and emotionally?
That’s a tough one, impossible maybe, because, to be honest, every defeat hurts me the same. I train very hard, day after day and week after week, so it is very difficult to take when you don’t win a match. It is one of the worst aspects of being a sportsman – all professionals will say the same.
And have you suffered any serious injuries?
Not serious, no, because, of course, jiu-jitsu is a non-striking sport. I’ve had the odd thing, though. Mostly dislocated shoulders, which are quite common in this game, and I had a knee injury a few years ago, but this is a very safe sport.
How many years can you keep going? And what will you do when you retire?
Well, I’m 28 so I am still relatively young and maybe have another five or six years competing professionally. My body will tell me when to stop at this level but, of course, I will never stop training and taking interest. After that, we shall see. I would love to coach one day, and to help UAE youths try to achieve what I have and give something back to our great country.