Faisal Ali is looking to follow in the footsteps of Amir Khan as he aims to become a British amateur champion in mixed martial arts in 2016.
The 25-year-old from Manchester believes he can play his part in encouraging more youngsters from the UK’s Pakistani community to take up MMA.
Bolton-born Khan’s exploits in the boxing ring have made him one of the nation’s highest-profile Muslim sportsmen.
Ali explained: “At the moment I think there’s not really a role model in terms of getting [young British Pakistanis] into MMA.
“In boxing, you have Amir Khan. With MMA, there’s one or two good fighters but nobody really knows them because no-one has taken it to that level.
“So in a way I kind of want to be a role model by encouraging the younger generation who are either troubled or don’t feel they have athletic abilities to try and get into mixed martial arts.
“This is one of my life goals, to get in there and put pressure on myself, because you don’t really get a lot of Asians doing this sport.”
‘Ultimate combat sport’
So why did Ali decide not to follow Khan’s path into boxing and opt for MMA instead?
“I think, in terms of self-defence, MMA is a lot better than boxing. With boxing you’re just stood with your hands up, but MMA includes a combination fighting techniques that allow you to bring people down and use your elbows, which makes it the ultimate combat sport.”
“Turning professional is not hard – what’s hard is becoming a better martial artist and understanding the sport”
The forensic computing graduate speaks with the enthusiasm of a fairly recent convert to MMA, having only taken it up two years ago.
Ali started off doing JKD, a form of martial arts pioneered by the legendary Bruce Lee in the late 1960s.
He then went on to do other forms, as well as wrestling, at Predators Gym in Manchester where his potential attracted the attention and support of established fighters.
However, Ali insisted: “My drive doesn’t really come from the desire to turn professional, because anyone can become a pro fighter.
“I could turn professional in my next fight, it’s not hard, but what is hard is becoming a better martial artist and understanding the sport.”
Now working in his chosen field, Ali admits it can be hard to find the right balance between his job and training.
“I’m in the gym for three hours on a Tuesday and Thursday, I come in on Wednesday for a personal plan. On Saturday I do my wrestling and then private lessons on Sunday, so it does take up a lot of my time.”
“I think if you put in the effort, struggle and hard work you can do well in the sport”
Ali won his first amateur fight in under a minute by taking his opponent down and controlling him on ground, but he admits self-belief is something he needs to work on.
“I think with me it’s mainly the confidence thing because I know I’ve got the ability. It’s just about believing in myself, and I think the more fights I have, the more self-confidence will come.”
Ali, also known as ‘Faz the Destroyer’, is confident of taking his MMA experience to the next level.
“I’m looking to compete on May 7th at the UK Amateur Championships in Preston,” he said.
“I know where I want to go with the sport. Hopefully next year I want to become British amateur champion, then possibly turn professional the year after that.
“I think if you put in the effort, struggle and hard work you can do well in the sport.”