Asian MMA is growing at a remarkable rate with ONE FC going from strength to strength, DREAM being brought back from the dead by GLORY and numerous local promotions like URCC, Road FC and Legend FC.
Countries in the Middle East are also getting on board with Dubai Fighting Championship and Desert Force leading the way. Based in Jordan, Desert Force was founded back in 2010 and has put on six events to date primarily featuring fighters from the Middle Eastern region.
The man behind Desert Force is BJJ black belt Zaid Mirza and he caught up with MMA Mania to discuss, among other things, his ambitions to one day hold a Desert Force event in Las Vegas and how the King of Jordan is a big MMA fan.
How did Desert Force get started?
My idea was to have an MMA event catering for Arab and Middle Eastern fighters. No one had done it before, so Desert Force was launched as primary an Arab organization, but will expand internationally once we build up our fighters.
Can you tell us a big about your own background and how you came to be involved with MMA?
I have been in Martial Arts since I was 8 years old. Started it out with Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Muay-Thai... Till at the age of 14 i was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu an art I haven't stopped training up to the present day. I have been training, teaching and living it for the past 20 years. In 2006 I received my black belt under World Champion Cassio Werneck from whom i got all my belts. All along i was training in MMA back when it was still called "Vale-Tudo".
Why did you decide to base an MMA promotion in Jordan?
I am originally from Jordan. This is where i was born, so it was logical to establish it in Jordan. We have been planting the MMA seed in Jordan for 10 years, ever since I first started teaching BJJ & MMA in 2002. In 10 years the popularity grew and we felt there was a need for the next step, for better, more professional events. It just felt as if all the work had culminated into taking this leap to cater from Jordan to the region. Here we are thankful because we have the support of His Majesty King Abdallah II who is a big fan of MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Do you have plans to put on events in any other countries?
For sure! We want to take Desert Force to other neighboring countries in the Middle East in order to encourage practitioners and gain more fans. I believe that Desert Force has reached regional recognition and we should start moving around the region sooner than later. Within the next three years though, our plan is to invade Vegas. After all Nevada is a desert!
How big are the Desert Force audiences?
Our launch on MBC was MBC Action's most successful program launch and had a record of 25 Million viewers. We are looking to go further this time. Our audience is Pan Arab and MBC reaches Afrcia, Asia, Europe and North America as well. As for the live audiences, in Jordan we have managed to have 2,000 live spectators for Desert Force Round 2 on MBC Action, it is the most we've packed so far and I'm quite convinced that is the biggest live audience for any combat sport in the Arab world involving Arab competitors.
Do you have a TV deal?
Actually we have a solid exclusive partnership with MBC Group. Desert Force is exclusive on MBC Action. MBC Action is targeting youth in the Middle East with emphasis on males, and that is really our core. Our Facebook page has 84% male followers. MBC is the leading TV network in the Arab World and we are very excited to have them part of Desert Force.
Have the media in Jordan been supportive?
Yes. Daily newspapers, websites, magazines, radio stations and all local TV stations reach out to our athletes and constantly include Desert Force content. Jordan has really been an amazing place to start and we couldn't be more thankful to the media and the fans that have turned Desert Force into one of the most exciting live events.
Where do you get your fighters from?
For now We are concentrating mainly on Arab Fighters. Our fighters are all from the region, and some reside abroad but are of Arab descent, such as North Africans in France or Palestinians or Lebanese in North or South America. We have a form on MBC.net where fighters can apply: http://competition.mbc.net/desertforce/index.php
In terms of fighters are there any names people should look out for in particular?
Yes there are a few actually. We just crowned the first Arab MMA Fighter. His name is Hashem Arkhagha and he is from Jordan. Other big names are Ibrahim Elsawi, Gabriel Tayeh, Bechir Majri, Sami Antar, Haidar Rashid, Mohammad Fakhreddine and Mahmoud Salama among others
What is the general attitude towards MMA in the Middle East?
MMA is finally here! Everyone wants to be associated with MMA. The Hype is there and it's like people have just been waiting for something like this to come along... Desert Force definitely filled a need when it comes to Sports Entertainment.1
Do you feel MMA has a lot of potential for growth in the Middle East?
I think so yes. We are creating and paving the way for many athletes. People here can get competitive and that's where you will get the best fighters. MMA has brought back to life many athletes that have given up hope in amateur combat sports where the only hope is the Olympics, Desert Force gives the chance for these fighters to expand their skills and try and make a living out of their passion. In terms of Desert Force Business, I believe you guys have only seen the tip of the Iceberg for now, you have only seen us in Jordan... wait til we hit Egypt, Saudi or Morocco... The Arab world has 320 million people, we still have a lot of work to do.
What are your plans for the future of Desert Force?
For the coming year, we want to concentrate on Arab Talent. 2014 we want to include Turkey and Iran in the mix. 2015 we want to open Desert Force on an international level. Our Goal is to be in Vegas within the next three years, that is the first international location we are targeting outside the Arab World, the Desert of Nevada.