Jordan is on the UFC map.
A longtime hotbed of MMA in the Middle East, Jordan has produced plenty of talent and the country finally is on the big stage courtesy of bantamweight Ali Alqaisi.
Alqaisi (8-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) opens up Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 32 event when he takes on Irwin Rivera at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. He hopes with his signing, many fellow Jordanians follow suit.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Alqaisi told MMA Junkie. “It makes me insanely proud to be the first of hopefully many Jordanians to make it. MMA in Jordan has been booming since 2011, so it’s about time we got to show our chance in the big leagues. Its funny – the UFC doesn’t yet have a Jordanian fight kit from Reebok. But hopefully by my second fight they will. That’s how big this is for MMA in Jordan.
“We are a tiny country, but have a huge fighting spirit. I cannot wait to display this. I heard (former owner) Lorenzo Fertitta’s wife is originally Jordanian so I hope he and his wife tune in to watch and support, as well.”
Alqaisi, a 2015 and 2016 world kung-fu and sanda champion, had a late start to his career. He dropped his first two pro fights, but since then has won seven of eight overall and five in a row.
“I’ve fought all over the world in kung fu and sanda,” Alqaisi said. “I decided to transition to MMA at 21 and maybe jumped into the deep end too quickly, fighting tougher opponents that I shouldn’t have at that time. But I grew from there and managed to put together a five-fight winning streak in two organizations, fighting in five countries.
“It’s been a lot of work and sacrifice to make it here, but that’s only the first objective. Now I have to prove that I am here to stay. I actually quit my accounting job after university to pursue martial arts. My parents supported me throughout it all, despite how crazy it seemed at the time.”
Alqaisi has spent the majority of his training camps at the Mat05 gym in Amman, training under the guidance of fifth-degree black belt and ADCC champion Samy Aljamal.
He recently relocated to the U.S. with his wife for the birth of his daughter, spending some time training at Fortis MMA in Texas. But once the spread of COVID-19 increased in Texas, Alqaisi decided that a move to Las Vegas to train at 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu and Xtreme Couture was best for his career.
It was a move that paid dividends.
“My daughter was born in March in the U.S., so I came to the U.S. for that,” Alqaisi said. “Of course, that coincided with the outbreak of COVID-19 and the closure of the airports around the world. Jordan airport was also closed off at that time. So we decided to settle in Texas and train there.
“Once the COVID-19 outbreak picked up pace again in Texas, we decided that our chances to get a call-up would be better if we were in Vegas, the fight capital of the world and the HQ of the UFC. My wife, daughter and I have been renting an apartment for six weeks now and we will be here till the end of August. It wasn’t easy moving such a young family, but the move paid off.”
Alqaisi joins Mounir Lazzez as the second Arab fighter to get signed to the UFC this year and with the promotion expected to make another trip to Abu Dhabi in October, Alqaisi thinks we’ll see a few more fighters getting signed.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Alqaisi said. “It’s almost crazy that it’s taken this long. The UFC has recruited fighters who fought in the region on regional shows, but never someone from the region. I think you will see an influx of fighters from the region very soon.”
He takes on former Titan FC bantamweight champion Rivera (9-5 MMA, 0-1 UFC), whom he expects to bring it on the night.
“He’s a great fighter, an exciting fight,” Alqaisi said. “I think we have the chance to put on ‘Fight of the Night.’ Watch and see. I think I always manage to put on exciting fights.”