ONE Championship’s arrival in Qatar promises to have beneficial impact throughout Middle East

ONE Championship’s arrival in Qatar promises to have beneficial impact throughout Middle East

The Peninsula

The combat sports industry is witnessing a paradigm shift, and the Middle East finds itself at the epicenter of this groundbreaking phenomenon.

Now, the region’s growing reputation in martial arts is set to reach new heights with ONE Championship’s inaugural on-ground extravaganza in Qatar this Friday, March 1.

Slated to take place at the picturesque Lusail Sports Arena, ONE 166: Qatar promises to be a memorable night of action. The spectacle features a 10-bout lineup that includes three highly anticipated World Championship rematches, along with a pulsating undercard full of the finest combat sports athletes.

Among the marquee attractions is Thanh Le, who steps inside the Circle to go head-to-head with fierce rival Tang Kai in a ONE Featherweight MMA World Title unification bout.

The Vietnamese-American knockout artist can't fathom the impact that ONE may have in the Gulf world.

“It's going to be huge. I think that's big for the company,” the ONE Interim Featherweight MMA World Champion said. “I think it's also huge for fighters in that area [of the world] to have exposure to the product that we're going to put on.”

Meanwhile, Reinier de Ridder – the reigning ONE Middleweight MMA World Champion who will headline ONE 166: Qatar on Friday – feels that this event on Qatari soil could be the beginning of even greater things to come.

“It’s something that’s very important for the region,” he said.

“It's very cool. The region has been making waves. They've been bringing in all the different MMA organizations, they've been bringing in all the different boxers. And actually, like all the sports in the world, they've been trying to get to the Middle East. And it's good to be a part of this.”

Another martial arts luminary who will be competing at ONE 166: Qatar is Mehdi Zatout, a French-Algerian striker with a storied career holding the ISKA and WBC Muay Thai World Titles.

From a competitor’s perspective, Zatout believes in the diverse offering of ONE as an organization, stating that it will resonate well with the Middle Eastern audience.

“ONE has revolutionized Muay Thai, and the sport has become more exciting. It’s now becoming the best martial art to watch in the world. ONE has given Muay Thai and other martial arts the platform for fans to enjoy,” he explained.

Zatout’s love for Muay Thai is strong, but he’ll achieve a lifelong dream when he puts on the boxing gloves this Friday night.

His opponent, WBC Middle East Champion Zuhayr Al-Qahtani, knows first-hand how important this show is to the entire Middle East.

The Saudi Arabian has seen combat sports continue to grow in the Gulf world, and he relishes the opportunity to perform under his biggest spotlight yet at ONE 166: Qatar.

“It’s a historical moment. There's no other way to describe it. First of all, I’d like to say a massive thank you to ONE Championship. They have done something so amazing by creating the first big martial arts event in Qatar,” Al-Qahtani said.

“And having me on the bill, it is something that I find hard to explain before the fight. I may be able to explain in detail after the fight.”

For Amir Aliakbari, who faces former heavyweight MMA king Arjan Bhullar on the card, he envisions this spectacle as a catalyst for further expansion into other markets in the Middle East.

“Certainly, such an event happening in the Middle East contributes to the development of martial arts in the region. Bringing ONE Championship to the region will definitely boost combat sports,” the Tehran native said.

“I really hope that ONE Championship one day comes to Iran.”

Le echoes these sentiments, expressing his certainty that ONE will surely deliver with its solid cast of fights in Qatar.

“You're going to get the best from us, but you also feel like when you get a product like that, a card like that built for a specific part of the world, like you're really trying to bring some excitement in there,” he assured.