Undefeated fighters calling out big name boxers is nothing new in our sport; in fact, it’s a pretty worn-out trope of the boxing business. However, things could be different in the case of Saudi Arabia’s first professional boxer, Zuhayr Al Qahtani.
Born in the Middle East, Al Qahtani moved to London as a child and took up boxing to defend himself from school bullies. Now, the 8-0 lightweight has his eyes set on the sport’s biggest stages and claims his wealthy backers can help him get there.
“I want to make history,” said an energised Al Qahtani. “I want to take over the lightweight division. Obviously, I’m of Saudi descent and in the history books there’s never been anyone of Saudi descent who’s picked up any kind of world title, or any form of world recognition. So, I’m trying to set the bar high.”
Al Qahtani claims to have wealthy sponsors in Saudi Arabia who are overjoyed to support their nation’s first professional boxer. These backers, Al Qahtani claims, can finance huge fights against top contenders, if they are willing to make the trip to Jeddah.
He explained: “I’m telling fighters: ‘Look, you can get paid fighting me – and you think I’m nobody – the same amount you’d get paid for a world title fight, or for fighting someone big. So, let’s get started’.”
‘The Arabian Warrior’ – as he has been dubbed – hopes that the promise of a huge payday will lure world-ranked contenders to Saudi Arabia to fight him. He’s got harsh words those would-be opponents, too, referring to Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia as “a bunch of jokers” and boasting: “I know for a fact that I will school Ryan Garcia.
“Social media overrated them, they’ve got credit they don’t deserve. You’ve got a model trying to be a boxer, there are no boxing fanatics behind him. I’m talking about Ryan Garcia. It’s the days of social media really,” he said.
Overrated or not, boxing fans will likely scoff at claims that Al Qahtani could beat Garcia or Haney at this stage of his career. Ultimately, there is little on paper to suggest he can compete with top-rated lightweights. He is undefeated, but has failed to stop any of his eight opponents.
That said, he has stepped up in his last three fights, taking on men with winning records and beating them fairly convincingly. He’s trained by former Commonwealth and IBO champion, Richard ‘The Secret’ Williams, too, in his London Bridge gym. However, the Saudi boxer still appears to be very much a work in progress and is yet to compete in a 10-round contest.
His last fight – his first eight-rounder – saw Al Qahtani go the distance with fleet-footed Blackburn-based Kuwaiti, Omar Dusary. In bagging a convincing win, he took important steps forward, but never showed the sort of excellence likely to worry the top-flight fighters he’s already calling out.
“I very much doubt Ryan Garcia will want to step up, although the money would be right for him!” explains Al Qahtani, tempering some of his more ambitious statements. “The Saudis want big fights. They don’t want to see me fight no jokers, they want big fights and – to be honest with you – I’m at that stage, at 31-years-old, where I don’t have time to play around.”
Introducing a slightly more realistic opponent to mix, the Saudi boxer said: “I would even fight Liam Walsh. He fought Gervonta Davis. That fight could show people where I stand.”
The 34-year-old southpaw would be a huge test for Al Qahtani and stands head and shoulders above anyone he’s faced in the professional ring so far. He made a comeback in 2019, following two years out of the sport and is scheduled to fight Paul Hyland Jr. for the British lightweight title in February.
In terms of rankings, there’s little to incentivise the fight for Walsh. However, the promise of a big payday may well appeal to the Cromer fighter.
Al Qahtani seems to be aware that these proposed opponents don’t hold him in high regard, but claims he’s offering the sort of paydays that can be hard to find in boxing. His appearance on the undercard of Anthony Joshua vs John Ruiz II, in Jeddah, has whetted his nation’s appetite for boxing and for Al Qahtani’s career particularly.
He believes he can turn that appetite – and the financial backing that seems to have resulted from it – into huge fights. Saudi Arabia’s only lightweight claims he would happily fight Haney or Garcia next, as unlikely as that is to happen, and will work his way up the rankings if his backers can’t secure the big fights he wants.
All sounding a little far-fetched? Perhaps. But if there’s one thing that turns the wheels of the boxing establishment, it’s money.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.