By Caoilte de Barra
Two members of the Pakistan team had quite the journey to Tajikistan for the 2022 Asian Championships.
After sponsorship fell through, Coach Usama Mehboob and senior bantamweight athlete Hamza Ijaz (Pictured Below) opted to make the journey by road. A trip that saw them hire three cars and encounter issues with visas and borders. After arriving in Tajikistan, Mehboob explained what happened in the days leading up to the competition.
“We got sponsors initially. They promised to give us travel expenses and everything we needed, but in the end, when they had to pay for the flight tickets, they just backed off.
“We had a very good fight camp and everything and were very motivated for this one, so we thought we have to make it. We could not find another sponsor, so we decided to go through Afghanistan. There were two days left until the competition, and we spent nearly one day getting a visa.”
By the time they got their visas and left Islamabad, registration for the championships was beginning to get underway. However, they still had a fourteen-hour trip across Afghanistan ahead of them.
There was a risk that Ajaz would not be able to compete if he was drawn to compete on Day 1. However, a phone call from team manager Daniyal Nazir Mirza informed them that Ajaz was not competing until Day 2, giving them some hope. The journey through Afghanistan was long, and there were some hurdles along the way.
“We got stopped at lots of checkpoints, and they were asking us where we were going and why it was so important. We reached the border at midnight, and we tried to cross, but there was no one on the border.
“We started to look for a place to sleep, and we didn’t find anywhere for two hours. In the end, someone was sleeping in a little shop. We just knocked on the door, and he woke up and gave us some space to sleep. We didn’t have any blankets or anything. We just covered our body with our clothes and slept until six.”
After waking up at six in the morning on Day 1 of the competition, they made their way to the Tajikistan border, where they spent three hours and were almost turned away until they finally got the green light to progress to Dushanbe, the last leg of their journey.
Upon arrival in Tajikistan, the pair refuelled, got some much-needed sleep and began preparation for Day 2. Ahead of tomorrow, they were elated to have arrived and are excited to show the world what the Pakistan team has to offer.
“We are so happy because it is our dream to represent Pakistan. Someday someone from our team will be a champion in the UFC or other organisations.
“Tomorrow, Pakistan is going to fight three times. We have three fighters. We’re just going to show the world that Pakistan has great talent. We have really good fighters, but we don’t have the financial support backing us, which is really important.”
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation will be live streaming its 2022 Asian Championships live and on-demand at immaf.tv, from 27 – 30 October, from 11:00 hrs (UTC+5). All matches from across 4 full days of elite amateur MMA action will be available worldwide from $9.99 for the Championships Pass.