“I’ve already made history by being the first Saudi boxer, but that’s not enough. What’s the point if you don’t win a world title? I want to be undisputed and to be a champion in three different weights,” he told Arab News, with a mixture of excitement and absolute conviction.
“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be that change, to make history and be the first professional Saudi boxer, to be the first who represented the region.
“I want to take boxing there and defend my title in the Middle East. Instead of Vegas, the O2 or Wembley Arena, let’s bring it to the Middle East — it has never been done.
“MTK has paved the way for success; they’re going to invest in me and help me get the fights to build up to where I want to get. I believe they have made a wise investment.”
There are many issues surrounding the potential hosting of fights in the Middle East, starting with the climate. Unless the bout is held between November and January, it would almost certainly have to be indoors, and there are a lack of suitable venues.
There is also a big question mark over whether it is financially viable, an aspect that has put off investors in the past, plus the time difference with the US for maximum pay-per-view exposure.
That has been countered to an extent by Manny Pacquiao fighting in daylight hours in Australia, while Abu Dhabi has also hosted two major UFC cards — albeit the most recent coming four years ago. But what could really tip the scales would be the prospect of having a genuine world-class fighter from the region.
MTK believe Al-Qahtani fits the bill and have signed him for four years, which should take him up to the seven or eight fight mark, a period of time he thinks should be enough to guarantee him a title attempt.
The road begins on July 13 against an opponent still to be confirmed at York Hall in East London. It is a home from home for Al-Qahtani, who was born in Jeddah, but moved to London as a schoolboy as two of his older brothers — Khalid and Fahad — were studying in the city.
By his own admission, Al-Qahtani was a troubled soul as a child. He used to take money to beat up bullies at school in south London, which led to suspension, police involvement and concern from his family at the direction his life was taking.
“All I knew was to fight,” he admitted.
“I went to a rough school and used to fight a lot. I wanted to bully the bullies; it wasn’t right, but it’s all I knew.”
Al-Qahtani channelled his anger and found solace in the “sweet science” after spending time with his brother Fahad in the gym and developing a growing fascination with every aspect of the sport, watching videos of Muhammad Ali, Prince Naseem Hamed, Marvin Hagler and Hector Camacho.
By his early teens he was working out at a local youth club in Wimbledon before Fahad took him to the iconic Fitzroy Lodge gym. He soon knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“I love the concept of being able to push your body to a level that you’re so good, so fit, so skilful. I loved going to the gym to train, hit the bag, spar, shadow box.
“Growing up, I used to watch Naseem Hamed, Tyson, Hagler and Camacho. The whole flamboyant aspect of boxing. Every time I go to the gym, I try to imagine how they did it, what it took. I try to go through the same steps they went through.”
His best lesson, though, came from his former trainer, Mickey Cairney, who told Al-Qahtani he would not be allowed into a ring to compete unless he knuckled down at school.
“He sat me down and asked me, ‘what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to box.’ He said, ‘you’re not ready and you can only box if you do well at school.’ After that moment I started studying. It put me back on the straight and narrow. Boxing is the best form of meditation. It changed my life.”
Cairney’s wise words certainly worked as Al-Qahtani sat his GSCEs and made it to college before going on to study civil engineering at South Bank University, where he completed a degree and then a master’s.
Meanwhile, he was earning a reputation as a promising amateur, winning titles across the southeast of England and racking up an impressive 50-5 record. “Fifty wins and five robberies,” he said, laughing, claiming the defeats were politically motivated because he was being paired with up-and-comers in the Team GB program.
Like many before him, Al-Qahtani has been motivated by rejection, a desire to prove people wrong, but also by a determination to make the most of his talent and achieve what others in his family were unable to.
Despite a blossoming amateur career, Fahad was never able to realize his potential in the ring due to a motorbike accident which led to a serious knee injury and early retirement, while Khalid failed to complete his studies.
After taking time out from competing to pass his degree,
Al-Qahtani made his pro debut against Yousef Al-Hamidi in Crystal Palace last year, beating the Syrian journeyman on points. “I schooled him. He didn’t get to hit me once.” Two more wins followed before he agreed the deal with MTK.
Fahad has stayed by his side and his older sibling remains his eyes and ears outside the ring, often shouting instructions to the fighter via their own unique code.
In describing his style, Al-Qahtani does not mess around, comparing himself to four of the all-time greats. “If I had to put my style in a category, I would say I resemble four fighters: Tyson, Hagler, Prince Naseem and Manny Pacquiao,” he said.
“I’m 5ft 6in and a lot of my opponents are a lot taller than me. I’ve got a strong build, I know my power and I can punch with both hands. When I box, because of the size difference, I have to move my head a lot to get inside — like Tyson. That peekaboo style.
“Like Hagler, I have the ability to switch. I can be a southpaw or orthodox.
“Prince Naseem, it’s all from my brother; the slide movement, the screw punches. I can go for a whole round with my hands up, or a whole round with my hands down.
“I chose Pacquiao because he has such a high work rate, working behind the jab; angles, left, right and wearing his opponents down.” He insists the combination of styles will soon elevate him to the position of contender — and he has one man in his sights.
Vasyl Lomachenko is the hottest thing in boxing right now. The Ukrainian is third in The Ring magazine’s pound-for-pound rankings after a whirlwind 12-fight pro career that has seen him dubbed the “Tiger Woods of the fight game” due to the excitement he brings to the ring.
Lomachenko has been nicknamed “The Matrix” for his baffling, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them shoulder rolls, but Al-Qahtani thinks he can crack the code.
“I will fight Lomachenko in my 10th fight,” he said. “He skipped the ranks, he proved he can have a title fight in his second fight. I can do the same. I know he is an Olympian and you have to respect him, but I believe I should be in the same ranking.
“I think he’s really good, but I think too many of his opponents follow his game plan. For example, if you’re a heavy puncher, I’m not going to come and box you aggressively and try to knock you out. I will try to break you, I will box my way, follow my rhythm.
“Tony Bellew once said to David Price, ‘I will be a champion one day and I will call out David Haye.’ I will say the same thing right now. I believe once I get a shot at the title, I will call out Lomachenko.”
It is quite the boast from a boxer just three pro fights deep. But Al-Qahtani is an ambitious fighter whose horizons stretch far beyond just the ring.
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