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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: Ziyad Almaayouf has an impressive, and growing, list of firsts.
He made history in August 2022 on the Joshua v Usyk card in Jeddah as the first Saudi boxer to win a professional fight, against Mexican Jose Alfredo Alatorre.
He then went on to break another barrier this year on the Joshua v Franklin Jr. card by becoming the first Saudi fighter to compete at the O2 Arena in London, beating Georgi Velichkov of Bulgaria in four rounds.
There is much more to “Zizo,” who fights out of California, than meets the eye.
At just 23 years old, Almaayouf now has record of 4-0, and is already stamping his name on boxing history in the region.
Raised in a Saudi household with eight siblings, Almaayouf’s upbringing instilled in him the importance of family values. In his home there is an unwritten rule that states no one eats dinner alone; they do everything together.
However, his journey in the sport has presented unique mental challenges. Almaayouf admits that the solitary nature of boxing, and the loneliness of prolonged training camps abroad, often takes a toll on him personally.
He made the move to the US at the age of 19 and describes it as starting his boxing journey from scratch. The level of ring IQ, technical skill, and access to equipment was vastly different from what the Arab world had provided. Despite beginning his training at the age of 11, he did not even lay eyes on a boxing ring until he turned 16. His equipment was basic, lacking even a proper heavy bag.
The Saudi boxer now trains in California under the guidance of renowned boxer and trainer James Walter “Buddy” McGirt.
“I believe that linking up with Buddy McGirt was written in the stars, I have a post on my Instagram from years ago, before I even moved to Cali — it is of me studying Buddy McGirt’s jab,” he said. “So, while in California, when covid closed all the amateur gyms, my coach at the time took me to a professional boxers’ gym for sparring. And in behind me walks in Buddy McGirt himself. I spent months sparring his guys and getting beat up by them until I started to become competitive. I finally found my moment to approach him, and I just went for it — asked him if he would train me. I still don’t know what he saw in me, but he said yes, and I just keep doing what he says.”
Some may see Almaayouf as receiving opportunities on a silver platter, but Almaayouf has his own set of struggles and disadvantages.
“I respect everybody’s work ethic, achievements, and dreams. But at the end of the day this is an individual sport, and I am here not only to see my own dreams come true, but I am here for a much bigger purpose, to see the dreams of Saudi and Arab boxers come true, hopefully easier than how I had my dreams come true,” he said.
“My career did jump start after Saudi’s involvement, and the support for me from the Ministry of Sports, HRH Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Prince Khaled (Al-Saud), but that is where it jump-started, it is not where it started. I have been putting in the work just as much as the others have. How many amateur fights did you have in US and UK compared to the four tournaments a year I had in the Arab world? Or how many heavy bags did you have, compared to the zero that I had? Or how many times did you train in a boxing ring, when I didn’t even see one for the first five years of my training? All of this makes a very big difference in this sport.”
Almaayouf belives many fighters do not have the pressure that comes with the scrutiny he receives.
“These boxers abroad have the small shows, by the time they are 10-0 they have worked on their boxing, got their rounds in and built up that experience, practically under the radar without the criticism, without the worldwide audience watching them and putting the pressure on them without the pressure of a country on their shoulders.
“They get to strictly focus on boxing, their training and their performances without the pressure of debuting on an Anthony Joshua card.
“It is such a privilege to be in that place and I wouldn’t have it any other way than starting on the big cards. But with that much privilege comes just as much pressure. So, I must handle that and still perform as a young prospect.”
Almaayouf says there is plenty to look forward to in the coming months and years.
“I know the bigger plan for me right now from the Ministry of Sports, HRH Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and Prince Khaled as well as the General Authority of Entertainment, is to have me gain an international audience,” he said.
“I know they want me to fight in the US next. That is because it’s different when I am are there and interacting with the audiences locally, hopefully changing their perception of Saudi Arabia and bringing unity between the western world and the Arab world. I can do so much by competing internationally, that is bigger than boxing and that is what gives me purpose. Hopefully I will be back in the ring by December in the US.”
And he has a message to the cynics who suggest he is a “silver spoon” boxer.
“There is only one way to answer and that is on fight night,” said Almaayouf. “I will meet them in the ring and whatever opinion they have of me will change when we fight. I know the path I have walked, and what I do is for a bigger purpose, not just my dreams but the dreams of those who come behind me. I am not just an athlete for KSA but a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia and Vision 2030. This is much bigger than boxing for me, a larger-than-life story.”
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