The Oman Fighting Championship (OFC) sees a new generation of mixed martial art fighters break into the international arena, in a night filled with blood, sweat and tears. Alvin Thomas and Shaquel al Balushi catch the action.
Fast forward to the final fight: Staring at each other menacingly, Sami Ali and Vinod Kumar, the two finallists contesting the OFC lightweight championship title have already started toying with each other’s emotions. With sweat dripping from their foreheads and adrenaline gushing through, the only person standing in their way is the match referee.
And boy, they are impressing the audience.
Bells away, and the referee at a distance, it is clear that this is more than just a title match. This is a war of two nations; a war for the pride of two families and the pride of two premier boxing clubs in the Sultanate.
Sami, with his powerful jabs and swinging kicks takes the early lead from Vinod. However, a minute into the match, Vinod drops his defensive tactics and unleashes his surprise – his swinging power kick.
Black Stallions’ Sami is left clueless and, much to everyone’s dismay, has no answer.
Round two quickly becomes a recap of round one as Vinod whips Sami with swift jabs and kicks, as the audience looks on in shock.
Needless, to say, there’s no round three, and Sami concedes defeat (unwillingly).
The Muscat crowd roars for Vinod, as his title song Started From The Bottom by Drake plays in the background. The underdog has broken the shackles and lifted the belt.
Vinod Kumar, the 28-year-old Punjabi boy, is the new lightweight champion.
By now his opponent Sami is an emotional wreck.
However, all teary-eyed Vinod can say is: “I want to thank my coach and my brothers (colleagues) who supported me throughout the ordeal”.
Working in the CCC construction company in Muscat, Vinod started fighting professionally during his school days in Jalandhar, Punjab, before making a move to kickboxing and mixed-martial arts. He is currently training with the Oman Kickboxing Club.
Meanwhile, Ayman al Khaldy, the brother of former OFC champion Nageeb Abdul Rauff, is also in the running for the middleweight championship title. Stepping into the shoes of his injured younger brother, Ayman has only one mission: to destroy his opponent Hussain Jahjah.
“I am very excited, calm and relaxed,” says Ayman, before the fight.
“I have been training for five months, during which my weight has dropped from 95 to 76.5 kgs.”
Ayman, 33, began karate when he was only eight, and Tae Kwon Do from the age of 11.
“Ayman has grown so much since his early years,” says his coach Mohammed Jeifar.
“His hand speed is phenomenal now and I am sure that his enemies will not see the punches coming.
“This guy could fight anywhere in the world. He and his brother; they could take on even the best fighters in the world.”
Ayman feels he is stepping up to the plate after his brother suffered a disappointment.
He says: “My brother was in the last competition and he won. Unfortunately, he suffered a ligament tear this season.
“So this time it’s my turn. He’s disappointed that he can’t fight today but I will step into the arena and cover for that.
“Inshallah, I will take the title for my family.”
Ayman starts his fight against Lebanese fighter Hussain Jahjah on a high, keeping his opponent locked in defence for the first three rounds of the fight, making swift punches and kicks and sending the audience into a roar.
However, six minutes into the match, a kick from Jahjah dents Ayman’s hopes of winning the title.
Jahjah had struck Ayman on his left foot, and he has to forfeit the match as a result, leaving him to be carried out by his coach and brother, as the audience looks on in dismay.
Further adding the surprise element is 18-year-old Saffat Aziz, from Bangladesh, a professional tae kwon do fighter since the age of 10.
“I’ve been training MMA for over a year, but this competition focuses on K1 rules, which is kickboxing.
“I have had to undergo many forms of stress exercises like underwater resistance training and mountain climbing.
“I don’t think I will have any problem facing my opponent today. I am going to knock my opponent out.”
Saffat, nicknamed the “Thunderbolt”, proves himself as, just moments later, he strikes out his 24-year-old opponent Saif al Farai.
The championship is a starting platform for young fighters.
OFC organiser Jessica Hern says: “The OFC gives youngsters a chance to express their talent on a local level.”
The contest also happens to be the final event in Oman for Sensei (master) Jonathan, Oman’s oldest martial arts trainer.
Saying goodbye after 22 years of serving young students in Oman through his Black Stallion Martial Arts School, he says: “If you ask me where MMA started in Oman, I will say it started here, with me,” the sensei says proudly.
Despite his disappointment in Sami’s title loss, the sensei says: “He [Sami Ali] is like my own son. Since he was small he was training with me. We have been training and fighting internationally, in countries like UAE and Turkey.
“I am sure that Ali will break from the local to the international scene one day.”
In total, the second season of the OFC saw nine fights, including two title fights.
Talking about the success of OFC since its inception, Jessica says: “Since the last OFC, I think one or two new fight clubs have opened up in Oman.
“This year we also have a middleweight and lightweight title fight, as opposed to one title fight. And it is also held at the Al Bahja Hall in Qurum- a good spot for a sequel event.
“Before OFC, our fighters have been going to Dubai and other parts of the GCC in order to fight. Hopefully, we will have an inter-gulf tournament, where the Omani fighters from here will be fighting UAE and other countries.
Talking of the prospects of Omani fighters in the international scene, Chris Negro, an MMA coach says: “If you look at the history of Oman, they have been fighting for centuries. They began fighting when they pushed the Portuguese to the borders of Africa.
“I’m really thinking about starting up a camp for Omanis to train here.”
How to take part in OFC?
To take part in the coming season of the OFC, you will have to join a mixed-martial arts fight club (eg: Rolling Gym, Saham Blue Sharks, RX Fitness) in Oman. The best fighters from the club are chosen to represent the clubs for title fights.