“There’s always more you can do,” Ziyad Al Maayouf, Egyptian-Saudi Arabian professional boxer says. And that very resilient attitude is what enabled his warranted success to this day. Ziyad has been boxing since the age of 10. It all started when he was playing tennis at Gezira Sporting Club, where he felt his attention go towards something else, the boxing team right next to him. So he started experimenting, and it was nothing other than “love at first sight.”
Everyday, he’d train from 2-7, six days a week. “As draining as each and every second was, as much as each and every one of it was worth it,” Al Maayouf says. His beloved first coach, Captain AbdelKader, who he recently lost due to Covid-19, would train him relentlessly. There were times where his head would be against the wall resisting punches, and if his reflex wasn’t fast enough, it would hit the wall. From the age of 10 till today, Ziyad has been training like it was his last day to train. No matter the challenges he faced, and the circumstances that made it almost impossible to continue, Ziyad always, always, gave it his all.
When asked about his first loss, Ziyad laughs and says “I don’t even remember it..I lost in 6 seconds, I went straight up, and then straight down.” Even though he was very scared, and very worried, he was proud that he was able to break that barrier, that fear of competing. And it didn’t just stop there. Ziyad came back the next day, having fixed everything. And that, Ziyad insists, is his high, “every time I improve, is an opportunity to get better at what I do,” and that improvement, he explains, “is worth everything.”
His first win was fulfilling in a different way. His first round was tough, very tough. But during the break, Ziyad was asked by his current coach in Egypt, Captain Mohamed, “How bad do you want it?” And this question triggered limitless answers. Zizo realized that it was not possible to want it more. And he went back stronger, he went back with his head in the game, knowing that he had to fight with that very attitude in mind. He further explains that when he had his hands in the air after his first win, “it was the best feeling in the world, knowing you earned the very thing you worked extremely hard to get.”
Zizo explains that his dream was always to fight outside of Egypt, and he managed to do exactly that. He also got recruited by famous Hall of Fame Fighter and former Trainer of the Year, James Buddy Mcgirt, in less than two years. Mcgrit is a two time world champion, and he embodied everything that Ziyad wanted to be as a boxer – leading him to selectively choose him as he always wanted to be the best, and being signed by the best was a means of doing just that. And, in a society where Arab boxers aren’t given half the recognition they deserve, Ziyad has always been determined to change that. He hopes that through his efforts, he can pave the way for other Arab boxers to be recognized for their silenced talents too.
But, when he moved to the United States to continue boxing, the challenges the boxer faced went up to a whole new level. As we continue to see again and again, there was never a challenge that interfered with his determination to make it all the way. “In Egypt they compete to win, but in the States, they compete to live.” And this is when Al Maayouf knew that in order to have a chance of winning, he too had to take on boxing not just as a way to win, but as a means to survive. Ziyad started switching his mentality, knowing he had to find a way to want it more than them, and this is exactly what he did. He knew that he had to work harder and harder. It had to be such that nothing could come in his way. And it was not just for himself, Al Maayouf explains, but for each and every person who had faith in what he was doing. The biggest of them all, he says, was his mother Maha, who was the only one who believed in him all the way through, from the very beginning to that “never-ending end.”
After Covid hit, the only gyms that were open were the underground ones that only included pros, and Ziyad was an amateur boxer. In the beginning he never had a chance, explaining that there were punches so painful that they would “flash in his brain.” They fought 12 rounds, and he used to fight three. It was definitely not a smooth transition. But again and again, Al Maayouf continued to show to himself and everyone around him, that when it came to his success as a boxer, nothing stood a chance of interfering with it, no matter how difficult or insurmountable it felt at the time.
During one fight, the boxer he had arranged to box with turned out to be 10 kilograms more than the weight he was supposed to be. But, Ziyad did not back out. He then took a punch to his ribs, and fractured them. He knew something was wrong, yet continued anyway. “It was frustrating that I got injured. But I say elhamdullah for everything. It was frustrating because I couldn’t train for six weeks. I couldn’t cough, breath or laugh, and if you sneezed, it’s the end of the world.”
But fracturing his ribs wasn’t the highlight of his pain, impressively enough, it was “doing nothing..not being able to fight.” This inability to box, was the only feeling he could not tolerate. But Ziyad persevered nonetheless, and he always knew that everything was always part of a bigger plan, it was always “kheir.” And it was this very faith in God, and his knowledge of the faith God also had in him, that got him to always push through, even when everything else was giving him all the reasons not to.
When Covid hit, the Golden Gloves – the biggest amateur show in the United States, got canceled. “The day I was supposed to fight the biggest tournament no Arab has ever fought, was the day the country went into lockdown.” But still, Ziyad explains, “I maintained my faith in God, I knew everything that happened to me, happened to me for a reason.” Yet, because of the pandemic postponing the Olympics by one year, he had an extra year to turn pro, leading him to be chosen as a part of that qualifying team.
Later on, he landed a punch that tore a ligament in his knuckles. He was mature enough to respect his healing process, yet nonetheless, the same rounds he would do on the bags, he did on the strings or noodles. He always gave it his all, so when it came to not being able to train with the same power, he trained with the same consistency. He never cheated himself when it came to training, always made sure to do the work, and to do it right.
And, it is this very adaptability to circumstances no matter how unbearable they may feel, that makes Ziyad stand out from any other boxer. It is not just his skills, his focus, his amazing technique. It is not just the mental effort and pain he endured. It is not just his continuous hard work. It is not just that he was always the first one to enter the gym, and the last one to leave. It is not just that he believed in himself when no one else did. It is not all the medals he gathered both locally, and internationally either. And, it is also not just the fact that he was the first local boxer to reach such high status, and inspire other Arab boxers to aim for the same. But more than anything, it is his determination, his perseverance, and above all, his shatterproof faith. This insistence on proving himself, and his knowledge that he will succeed in doing so, without a doubt, teaches each and every single one of us – boxer or not – athlete or not – to pursue our dreams unceasingly, because if you don’t do it for yourself, no one else will do it for you.