By Erik Uebelacker
Abdulelah Meeraleam became the first Saudi Arabian fighter to win IMMAF gold on Tuesday with his victory over the United States’ Izaac Esparza in the Youth C 62 kg division.
“I’m very happy because I’m the first one to win and be the champion of the world [in my country],” Meeraleam said, translated by Team Saudi Arabia coach Israp Magomedov.
Meeraleam had the nation behind him when news spread of his championship win.
“This is the biggest support [I’ve seen] from other people for the kids, I think,” said coach of Team Saudi Arabia Israp Magomedov. “All of the support on social media, from coaches, kids, friends, families, everyone is really happy. It’s very, very big.”
While Meeraleam may be a world champion now, his mixed martial arts aspirations weren’t always so grand.
“I started in MMA almost by mistake,” he said “I came into the gym because I wanted to lose weight.”
Magomedov hopes the win from Meeraleam will inspire future growth of youth MMA in Saudi Arabia.
“I think we needed this medal,” Magomedov said. “I think you’ll see for the next tournament a bigger team for Saudi Arabia because they’ll see someone that trains with them has a gold medal. This time we came with eight people. I think next time we can have 15 or maybe 20.”
Hailing from Dagestan, Russia, Magomedov glowed with pride over the success of his pupil. He has high hopes for Meeraleam and the rest of the Saudi Arabian team.
“As a coach, I’m really happy,” he said. “It’s my first world champion kid. It’s really nice. I want to say [to Meeraleam], to push, work, and don’t stop because I want to see him hold gold these next few years.”
Magomedov was complimentary of his champion’s work ethic and preparation for this year’s tournament.
“He had very good takedown defence,” Magomedov said. “I gave him guys from Dagestan – very good wrestling.”
Saudi Arabia finished their tournament run with one gold medal from Meeraleam in addition to two bronzes.