by Michael Clifton
Jordan’s Hazem Kayyali will arrive in Abu Dhabi for the IMMAF World Championships with a reputation as one of the sport’s most exciting prospects.
The dynamic middleweight came to prominence last September when he won gold at the IMMAF World Cup in Prague, Czech Republic. Kayyali looked impressive throughout the tournament with his exceptional ground game and fluid striking, creating all manner of problems for his opponents.
However, it wasn’t just Kayyali’s technical abilities that got people talking. It was also the confidence and showmanship he exuded during his bouts that left audiences with the feeling they were witnessing something special.
“When you train, and you prepare for something as much as I do, your confidence is sky-high. I have nothing to doubt and if I go in there and I put [out] what I got, I know I’m going to perform, ” Kayyali says. “I’ll go in there and have some fun, and that’s the way I do it. I like to enjoy myself, and [when] I’m in the cage, I’m just calm, cool, collected, and I do my thing.”
Kayyali’s road to the title saw him record four straight wins, with his most impressive outing coming in the final, where he submitted Ireland’s Eoin Sheridan in the second round. On his way to the gold medal matchup, he scored unanimous decision wins over Estonia’s Raigo Kutsar, Ireland’s Stephen Costello, and gained a submission victory over the Czech Republic’s Lukáš Piffko.
The 21-year-old Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt may be relatively new on the IMMAF scene, but he is fast building an impressive track record and is hungry to add an IMMAF World Championship to his growing accolades.
“Whenever you’re stepping into an IMMAF cage, you’re stepping in with the top of the top. But like I said before, when I step in that cage, I will be prepared. I don’t think anybody can stop me. It’s just the way I carry myself. It’s the way I train,” he explains.
The self-belief Kayyali possesses isn’t simply based on natural talent and youthful exuberance but rather from the hundreds of hours’ worth of sweat he has dedicated to his craft.
“My dad is a huge martial arts fan, and he has been into fighting since he was young. I was training when I could barely walk. It’s just something I have built in me. I have so many gifts given to me from God, and I’m gifted with a family that does fighting and I’m gifted to come from a bloodline of fighters,” he explains.
MMA truly is a family affair in the Kayyali household. Hazem has two brothers, Zaki, 17, who competes under the IMMAF banner, and Laith, 23, who turned professional in 2020 and recently fought for UAE Warriors. Between them, they have won 11 BJJ world titles. They were all introduced to martial arts by their father, Mohammad, who saw in MMA a way for his sons to learn the importance of commitment and discipline and to understand what can be achieved through hard work and perseverance.
It was Mohammad who gave his sons their initial combat education; before he sought out the right coaches that would help take their talents to the next level.
“I already developed the most important thing, which is their heart. It all begins after that. [Then] they start training with different coaches”, the elder Kayyali says. “One coach cannot teach a fighter everything.”
His father’s forward-thinking mentality helped shape Kayyali into the fighter he is today. From the start, Kayyali experienced a freedom not given to many rookie martial artists: the freedom to incorporate different disciplines into his practice, discover what did not work for him and develop his own signature style.
“I wasn’t taught one plus one is two,” Kayyali says. “I was taught to explore, to do whatever I want, you know, to build my own style. Nobody came and tried to teach me exactly how to fight. They showed me how to fight and then let me develop my game, develop the way I want to fight, develop the way I like to.”
Kayyali, who is also studying business at university, is quick to give credit to his parents, who have supported him throughout his journey.
“My inspiration in my life is my parents. My parents have been through a lot. They’ve sacrificed so much for me and my brothers,” he says. “Achieving and putting my family’s name out there is the biggest reward for me.”
Kayyali is also aware that he represents his family and country each time he competes. MMA is still a growing sport in his homeland, and Kayyali is determined with the help of his teammates Jordan can become an established force on the world scene.
“I’ll be the guy to put my teammates on the map. I’ll be that guy to put my country on the map. I do this for personal achievements, but at the end of the day, when my brothers and sisters step in that cage and get the same results, if not better results, I won’t be mad about it. I’d be proud to say that my country stood up and did this, and I was a pioneer in that.” he explains. “We’ve got a huge load on our shoulders. But the thing is that we are up to that task. We can do it, and we’re more than willing to do it.”
Hazem Kayyali is someone IMMAF fans are likely to hear a lot about in the coming years, but if he has his way, he will not be the only Jordanian fighter making waves in the future.
The rescheduled 2021 IMMAF World Championships will be streamed live from Abu Dhabi at immaf.tv from 24 to 29 January 2022.