We are the champions
From hardcore cage fighting to real-life house drama, the MMA reality show Al Batal (The Champion) is proving to be a hit with fans. We speak to head coach Ray Elbe about what to expect from the programme’s second season
The second season of the hard-hitting reality TV show Al Batal (The Champion) is well underway, bringing together the best Arab fighters from around the world to compete for glory and bragging rights.
From Mixed Martial Arts to kickboxing and everything in between, the cast of amateur players are all hoping to make a name for themselves in an industry that has exploded in popularity across the Middle East and North Africa in recent years.
The action packed show which features two coaching teams and a house full of young, testosterone fuelled men has proved to be a popular concept for Arab audiences.
One of the show’s head coaches is Ray Elbe, a world-class fighter and martial artist who has made it his mission to help young Arabs excel in combat sports. He speaks to us about the rise of MMA in the region and why everyone should be tuning in to the show.
You’ve been working with young fighters in the Middle East for many years. From your experience, what do you feel sets them apart?
Fighters in the Middle East have a wonderful support system from their communities. It is really special seeing fighters representing their home countries on the international stage and seeing the type of love they get from their home bases. There is a growing number of professional coaches coming to work with fighters in the region, and I see them continuing to shine when given these opportunities.
In Season 2, the series decided to include Arab fighters who grew up outside of the Middle East. Has this changed the dynamics of the group?
The fact that some of the Arab cast members were essentially raised abroad made for an interesting dynamic. It was a real social experiment watching the fighters interact with one another under the stresses of knowing they could be fighting each other on a few days notice. I think fans watching the show will really find it interesting to see how the different fighters handle the pressures of the lights and cameras.
Many of the fighters are practising Muslims who pray together daily even as they prepare to battle each other in the competition. How did you find this unique dynamic?
It was great seeing the brotherhood amongst the athletes. These guys were more than fighters, they were true martial artists representing mind, body and spirit.
MMA fighting has been growing rapidly across the region. Do you see any potential here for fighters to enter the international arena?
We are already starting to see the success of Arab fighters on the international stage. With the success of One Fighting Championship’s inaugural event in Dubai, and the grassroots efforts of Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship, I think Arab fighters are going to continue to build local followings before showcasing their talents in large international events with global exposure.
What’s the major difference between getting into a street fight and having to prepare for one many weeks and months in advance?
Remember when you were a kid, when that bully slammed his hand on your desk, looked you in the eye, and said he was going to be waiting for you at the bus stop after school? Remember that knot in your stomach? The emotions would get so strong you would fail your math test or skip lunch. Then when school let out and you got to the bus, the bully was nowhere to be found. Well scheduling a fight is a lot like that, only the bully is going to show up, and we are both going to agree to be in the best shape of our lives. Our friends, family, loved ones are all going to know about the fight, and all the pressures related with that are as much a part of the fight as the actual skill it takes to throw a punch, kick, elbow or to navigate a choke or submission hold.
What’s it like having a house full of aggressive young guys all looking for their big break?
These guys really were locked up! No real outside entertainment, no girls, no Internet, Facebook or Instagram. Besides being aggressive young guys all looking for their big break, the show had a good group of trouble makers always looking for their opportunity to have a little extra fun - it really made for great TV.
What do you hope viewers take away from the show?
This is a great show that the community should support. These athletes have worked so hard, and the emotions you see on the screen are genuine. Unlike most other reality TV shows, the events were not scripted. There was no acting. Those are real punches, real kicks, real KO’s and real drama.
What is the best advice you could pass along to young people who want to get involved in combat sports?
Take care of your body. You cannot smoke cigarettes, eat unhealthy food and expect to succeed in any sport, let alone combat sports. Youth wanting to get involved should find an instructor with real experience and a verified resume.
The second season of Al Batal is currently airing on Fox Movies every Saturday at 6.30pm. For updates, visit www.albatal.ae.