“How did I meet Buddy McGirt?” the extremely well spoken Ziyad ‘Zizo’ Almaayouf asks, rhetorically. “I spent months and months studying only his jab. Before I even knew he was a coach. Then I open up Instagram and I say that I’ve been studying him, I tagged him on my story two years before he becomes my coach. Is that not crazy? I feel like the stars just aligned. We sometimes look back on my Instagram and laugh.”
Just a couple of weeks before his (eventual) professional boxing debut, the young Saudi Arabian fighter is in Liverpool for the first time, spending his time in the company of the city’s Smith brothers and his coach, aforementioned International Boxing Hall of Fame inductee and former two-weight world champion, Buddy McGirt. The pair were thrown together by chance, perhaps fate, and as chance would have it, Almayouuf will now make his first appearance between the ropes back in his father’s home country on the undercard of the heavyweight super fight between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua.
“I was born in New York but later I moved to Egypt because I lived with my mother there. My father is Saudi and my mother is Egyptian; I was born in the US and moved straight back there [to Egypt], so I don’t really remember any of my days in New York. I started everything in Egypt: boxing, my school where I graduated. In the Arab world as a whole, we don’t have independent boxing gyms. We don’t really have independent sports gyms; what we have is one big sports centre, shaped like a country club. It’s like a big centre that has every sport: tennis, football, basketball, boxing, everything.”
“When you would be training in one sport, you’d always see the other sports around you. Because boxing isn’t really a thing in the Arab world – the boxing team didn’t really have a place to train. So, where would they go? The running track – where we were. We would do our sprints and our footwork before practice, and we’d always see the boxing team training with their coach, loud voices, high intensity. Everything that catches your attention is being done in boxing. I could see the coach holding these mitts, screaming, and shouting, loud punches of the gloves; from there on, I decided that this is what I want to do.”
That was 10 years ago. Now, Almaayouf is back in the United States, living in California, trying to emulate the man he’d heard and seen so much about in his early days: Manny Pacquiao. He says that what Pacquiao was for the Filipino people, “Zizo can be for the Arab world.” Without confirming whether that is only confined to sporting realms, Almayouuf continues, discussing the difficulties faced culturally when making the switch from Egypt to America on his own.
“I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t difficult, if I said to you it wasn’t very emotional and lonely at times,” the 22-year old confessed. “People can say, ‘Now we have phones and FaceTime.’ But you’re forgetting about the time zones. By the time I had a really bad day in sparring – which was a lot of times in the early days, when I wanted to someone to talk to, when I needed someone back home, they were asleep. And when they were up, I was asleep. In the beginning, it was really uncomfortable physically, but also mentally. It was very difficult not having my family there. But I had to adapt; I had to be comfortable un uncomfortable situations. It did get lonely – it still does until now. You just have to know what to do when you get those feelings and remember why you’re doing it. You’re doing it for the people you miss; you’re doing it for the country you want to be in. That all keeps it alive.”
Almaayouf has teamed up with Rachel Charles, known for her sterling work in assisting fighters with their media and PR representation, and he is growing his profile ahead of what is sure to be a charged return to Saudi Arabia. He doesn’t sound like a man or a fighter lacking direction; he’s composed, thoughtful, and understands the complexities of the sport of boxing. That isn’t always enough, though. And when speaking to McGirt separately, the motivational coach confirmed that his new charge is only just at the beginning of a long, arduous journey to the top.
Almaayouf knows just how fortunate he is to be cornered by one of the best: “When you hear Buddy McGirt in the corner, wow. That’s like music to the ears of boxing fans. He knows the ins and outs of the game; he knows how to make you feel like you have everything under control – even if you don’t. That is what a fighter needs. I wanted a coach who’d been a fighter and who had accomplished everything I want to accomplish. No matter what situation I’m going to be put in on my journey, he’s done it. I just need to sit back and listen. I need to have my ears on coach Buddy at all times.”
First stop: the King Abdullah Sports City Arena, Jeddah, August 20th. Undefeated, Ukrainian unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk will attempt to repeat his wonderful performance in beating the United Kingdom’s Anthony Joshua for a second consecutive time following their first bout in September 2021. Almaayouf knows that he is just a tiny shard in the event’s large, impressive mosaic, and he intends on capturing every second, bottling it for experience. He’ll be there sharing a trainer with a former world champion in Callum Smith and sharing a bill with two Olympic gold medalists battling for heavyweight supremacy, in his father’s home nation, too. Does it get much bigger and more meaningful than that?
“This is a huge event. Saudi is working to have those big events because they love boxing there. They are eager to introduce the sport to people. It opens up opportunities to so many local fighters and it gives people hope. For my family and my friends, I have people coming from all over the world to Saudi Arabia right now, it is crazy to see people are now so open to going to Saudi Arabia now because of a sporting event. It is beautiful, so people deserve to see it, and now, we’re opening up to the world.”