Syrian mixed martial artist Thabet Agha was recently crowned the winner of the gruelling and blood-soaked first series of fighting reality TV show ‘Al Batal’.
The team behind the first all-Arab MMA reality show took 28 fighting hardmen, quickly shaved the group down to two teams of seven in the first episode and put the contenders through 13 weeks of brutal training and all-out fighting to find out who would be crowned ‘Al Batal’, or ‘The Hero’.
In the final, Thabet, a part-time fighter and full-time accountancy student, emerged victorious after a three-round battle. The bout was emotionally draining for Thabet as he squared up to his team-mate and one of his closest friends on the show, Lebanese ‘sanda’-style fighter Georges Eid. The duo had been living and training together for the duration of the show.
“This is the first time that Georges is not my cornerman or I am not in his corner,” says Thabet. “It was very hard to fight for both of us. But we both knew that if we did not fight and give it our all, we would not get anywhere with it.”
The bout featured three rounds, with fighters given a score for each: after the first two, Thabet knew he had done enough to win and admits that he took his foot off the gas a little.
“I knew I was going to win. Georges was getting tired after the end of round two. I didn’t go for the submission at that point.” Thabet now hopes to turn professional and take on international competitors. But he knows life inside the MMA cage is extremely dangerous, so he is also fighting to secure a foot in the door of the much more sedate world of accountancy. In fact, there wasn’t much time to enjoy his recent crowning, as ‘Al Batal’ quickly had to hit the books and cram for his economics exam this week.
“It is pretty difficult to combine both [lives] and balance them because they are so different. At the same time I know that I’m not going to be a fighter for ever, and that at a certain point I will stop fighting. Only my degree will be the key to continuing a career in something that I love as well. It’s funny when I come to class with a ‘coloured’ [bruised] face, as I call it. I don’t mind the looks or anything,” he says.
During the holy month of Ramadan he also faces the incredible challenge of trying to maintain his fitness and fighting ability while fasting.
“I will go very early in the morning and run. Then before I eat at night - two hours before eating - I will do my second training session of the day, and then after eating, at around 10pm or 11pm, I will do my third training, so I keep it up during Ramadan.”
Perhaps you wouldn’t expect anything less from this Syrian superman, who remembers that getting beaten up in the octagon for the first time was a real lesson.