By Ashraf Ahmed
The mixed martial arts scene is growing at a frantic pace with charismatic stars like Conor McGregor helping enhance the popularity. The United Arab Emirates adores the sport but they are missing an icon of their own. However, the tenacious Mohammed Yahya has emerged as an MMA fighter whose ambition cannot be questioned. Yahya is the first Emirati Mixed Martial Artist to officially be signed up by one of the world’s largest international MMA organisations, Bellator, who have handed him a four-fight contract.
He may not admit it, but Yahya could very well be something of a pioneer for UAE sport, but in being ‘the first’ comes an elevated amount of pressure. The 23 year old is eager to put his country on the MMA map and work his hardest to reach the UFC. The local fighter met with SFME’s Ashraf Abdin to talk about his journey to becoming an MMA fighter, his role model and how working with kickboxing giant Gokhan Sakhi is perfect preparation for his inaugural Bellator brawl.
SFME: What peaked your initial interest in MMA? How did you get started?
Mohammed Yahya: I started watching MMA fights on TV when I was a kid and I fell in love with the sport. I was also very much into fighting, and I did have my fair share of fights during school! I enrolled in a MMA class at Contender when I was 14 and I have never stopped since. I then had my first two fights in Tam Khan’s Dubai Fighting Championship and I managed to win both of them which made me wasn’t to step up into bigger events.
SFME: What would you say the MMA scene is like in the UAE?
MY: There are not many fighters on the scene so far, unfortunately. The ones that initially get into the sport don’t really go for it, they just take it as a hobby. The passion is yet to be found but hopefully more people from the Middle East will not just watch the sport but will also compete. Hopefully I can influence this.
SFME: It must be a fantastic experience training with Gokhan Sakhi with all his expertise and knowledge. What’s the main thing he’s taught you?
MY: He is one of the best kickboxers in the world and is going to be joining the UFC so has a lot of experience under his belt. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to spar with him. I am learning so much every day and he gives me a great boost both mentally and physically whenever we train together. I received a body shot from Sakhi once and was nearly throwing up after it and had to stop. He’s a heavyweight and I’m fighting at 70kgs so that’s a huge difference!
SFME: Are there any fighters that you are eyeing up for your first bout on Bellator and when do you think this will be?
MY: I haven’t seen many fighters on Bellator except the big names from the UFC but I am willing to fight anyone, anytime!
The passion is yet to be found but hopefully more people from the Middle East will not just watch the sport but will also compete. Hopefully I can influence this.
SFME: What is your typical week like in terms of training?
MY: I train twice every day, once in the morning and once at night and I rest on Friday, get a massage and see my therapist.
SFME: Who was your role model growing up?
MY: Rashad Evans. I think he was the most well-rounded fighter in MMA with takedowns and striking and they he just puts its all together is just inspiring.
SFME: If you had to compare yourself to another fighter who would you say? What’s your main skill?
MY: I would say that I am a good all-around fighter, I wouldn’t class myself as just a striker or Jiu-Jitsu fighter because I tend to mix it up in the cage. However, when the fight begins, I do my best to dominate it in any way possible.
SFME: How do you deal with trash talk in a lead up to a fight?
MY: I’ve already seen a lot of trash talk on the regional circuit so I’m well prepared for that. I’ve been trash talked a lot by Gulf fighters and they’re the worst trash talkers ever. One guy made a video about me and it went viral. It’s actually my biggest win in terms of shaping my career because Ali Al-Naemi was cussing me on YouTube and calling me Baby Face. Then I made him give up as he didn’t come out for the third round.
SFME: Who do you fancy winning the Las Vegas bout, Mayweather or McGregor?
MY: I think that the winner has already been announced on the contract and that is Mayweather. He has won 49 times and is still unbeaten, and he is very careful with who he chooses to fight. McGregor would not say no to the amount of money that will be generated from this fight so he is in it just for that.
SFME: Where do you see yourself being in five years time?
MY: Every fighter’s future goal is to make it to the biggest stage and that is the UFC. I am taking the journey one step at a time, I am focused on the Bellator and I am positive that the next stop for me is that Octagon.
Mohammad Yahya Saeed Juma Sanad
- MMA Record: 6-1-0 (Win-Loss-Draw)
- Weight Class: Featherweight
- Last Weigh-In: 155.2 lbs
- Born: United Arab Emirates
- Foundation Style: Kickboxing