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Bayat and Kabbani: A Grudge Match Made in the UAE



Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 15, 2013. It is often said that “styles make fights.” The grudge match between 2012 UAE Fighter of the Year Mohammad Ali (3–0) and his nemesis Abdul Kabbani (3-1) features two fighters with styles that are just about as different as one would find anywhere.

Dubai resident Mohammad Ali Bayat is the typical finesse boxer (also “out-fighter,” “pure boxer,” or just “boxer”). As a boxer, Bayat, like his famous namesake, seeks to maintain a gap from his opponents and fights with faster, longer range punches. Boxers like Bayat are known for being extremely quick on their feet. The boxer style often makes up for a lack of power. Since they rely on the weaker jabs and straights (as opposed to hooks and uppercuts), boxers tend to win by points decisions rather than by knockout, although some boxers can be aggressive and effective punchers. Boxers such as Muhammad Ali, Benny Leonard, Gene Tunney, and Larry Holmes have many notable knockouts, but usually preferred to wear down their opponents and outclass them rather than just knock them out. Notable out-boxers include Muhammad Ali, Lou Ambers, Wilfred Benitez, Jack Blackburn, Cecilia Brækhus, Ezzard Charles, Kid Chocolate, Billy Conn, James J. Corbett, George Dixon, Chris Eubank, Tiger Flowers, Mike Gibbons, Tommy Gibbons, Holly Holm, Larry Holmes, Harold Johnson, Jack Johnson, Junior Jones, Benny Leonard, Tommy Loughran, Joey Maxim, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, Ken Overlin, Willie Pep, Maxie Rosenbloom, Barney Ross, Gene Tunney, Jersey Joe Walcott, and Pernell Whitaker. It was by out-boxing Kabbani that Bayat was able to win the first meeting between the two fighters on points.

Kabbani, also a Dubai resident, on the other hand is a real brawler and the consummate swarmer. The swarmer (also “crowder,” or “in-fighter”) is a fighter who attempts to overwhelm his opponent by applying constant pressure. Kabbani, like most swarmers, uses a very good bob-and-weave style and constantly moves his head side to side, along with good power, a good chin, and a tremendous punch output (resulting in a great need for stamina and conditioning). The swarmer’s style favors closing inside an opponent, overwhelming them with intensity and punches, usually flurries of hooks and uppercuts. Swarmers tend to be fast on their feet, which can make them very difficult to evade for a slower fighter. They also tend to have a good “chin” because this style usually involves being hit with many jabs before they can maneuver inside where they are more effective. Many swarmers, including Kabbani, are often either shorter fighters or fighters with shorter reaches, especially in the heavier classes, that have to get in close to be effective. Tommy Burns was the shortest Heavyweight champion at 5’7, while Rocky Marciano had the reach at 67-68 inches. However, heavyweight Jack Dempsey (a modern cruiserweight in size) was nearly 6’1 in. tall with a 77 in. reach and an exception to the rule. Famous swarmers include Henry Armstrong, Carmen Basilio, Nigel Benn, Melio Bettina, Tommy Burns, Joe Calzaghe, Julio Cesar Chavez, Steve Collins, Jack Dempsey, Joe Frazier, Gene Fullmer, Kid Gavilan, Harry Greb, Emile Griffith, Fighting Harada, Ricky Hatton, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Marciano, Battling Nelson, Mike Tyson, Bobo Olson, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Patterson, Aaron Pryor, Tom Sharkey, David Tua, Mickey Walker, Micky Ward, and Jimmy Wilde.

The Bayat-Kabbani rivalry has all of the ingredients of a grudge match, two fighters who clearly do not like each other fighting for home bragging rights. To boot, a close fight to the decision amplifies the rivalry. While Ali won the first fight between the two, it was by a very close decision. Kabbani disputes the end result and thinks that he should have won. On the other hand, Bayat thinks he deserve the win and vehemently objects to any suggestion that the decision was handed to him. Similarly, most people who saw the fight cannot agree on the winner. There was no clear winner and the debate rages to this day as who the real winner was in the first fight. What is undisputed, however, is that Kabanni dominated the early rounds and knocked down Bayat a couple of times while Bayat dominated the later rounds with his finesse and conditioning. It appears that Kabbani as the typical swarmer went for the early knockout and could not sustain the workload. Sustaining the incredible of energy required to execute the swarmer style is very difficult and brawling demands a great amount of training. As a result, a swarmer that is not properly conditioned tends to run out of gas, as is what happened to Kabbani in the first fight between the two. Bayat, who is always in shape got stronger as the round went on. Kabbani does not think there is any possibility of him running out of gas.

If there ever was a grudge match, this is it. And it is for UAE bragging rights. While Bayat is Iranian and Kabbani is Syrian, both are Dubai residents. Bayat is bent on proving that his win was not a fluke. Kabbani is resolved to settle the dispute the only way a swarmer knows how, by knocking Bayat out. As they say, there is no dispute over who is the winner when one Kos one’s opponent.

Both fighters have gentle personalities but get so animated about their opponent that each unusually consumed with rage when teased about the possibility of losing to the other.

Said Kabbani, “I will knock him out Inshallah [God willing]. Our last fight, I was not in good shape and yet I almost knocked him out. I spoke to his girlfriend and she told me that that Bayat was in bed for over a month after the last fight. This time, I will break every bone in his body.”

Said Bayat, “I beat him before. I will beat him again. Just because he has put on more muscles, has been training for months and now has an American trainer will not change anything. He may be ten kilos bigger than me fight night but I will outbox him.” Kabbani will come ten kilos heavier for this fight.

Bayat v. Kabbani should be one for the ages and is one of eight or more exciting bouts that will be featured at the first-ever live professional boxing competition being held in Abu Dhabi–Thursday Night Fights @ Yas Island, a version of the acclaimed Thursday Night Fights series that will be held on Thursday, December 19, 2013 at the 5,000-capacity du Forum, located on Yas Island.