‘The Mentality Of A Champion’ – Get To Know Moroccan Muay Thai Star Zakaria El Jamari

Zakaria El Jamari Ali Saldoev ONE 166 39

Moroccan Muay Thai sensation Zakaria El Jamari was born to be a fighter.

On May 3, in U.S. primetime at ONE Fight Night 22: Sundell vs. Diachkova on Prime Video, he will make his sophomore appearance in ONE and look for his first promotional victory when he takes on Thongpoon PK Saenchai in a strawweight Muay Thai clash designed to produce fireworks.

Widely recognized as one of the Middle East’s top fighting talents, the 34-year-old El Jamari is poised to make waves if he can get past the Thai fan-favorite when the two meet at the iconic Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok, Thailand.

Before he returns to the global stage, we take a closer look at El Jamari’s journey to the world’s largest martial arts organization.

A Childhood Of Street Fights

El Jamari was born and raised in the hard-working, middle-class neighborhood of Taqaddoum in Morocco’s capital city of Rabat.

He recalls a rough-and-tumble childhood, marked by plenty of fistfights. The multi-talented fighter told onefc.com:

“I used to take part in street fights with other boys who would gather and form circles, and two would fight each other face to face. The neighborhood made me into a fighter.”

While his neighborhood might have helped turn him into the fighter he is today, hand-to-hand combat runs in El Jamari’s blood. Both of his brothers – one older and one younger – practiced martial arts extensively.

His brother Mehdi El Jamari has found success at a high level and is a current WBC Muay Thai International Champion.

El Jamari spoke about his family of fighters:

“We are a traditional conservative Moroccan family. We are close. We love one another. My brothers and I train together and help each other. 

“I would say that I am closest to my younger brother, Mehdi, because we started practicing together, watched fights and films together until he moved to Spain.” 

Finding Organized Combat

With countless neighborhood fights under his belt, the young Moroccan began to show a real talent for hand-to-hand combat.

El Jamari’s exploits on the streets earned him the attention of a local boxing coach, prompting him to take his fighting abilities to the gym:

“When I was 13, a boxing coach saw me fighting and said that I had what it takes to become a fighter and that I had to learn the rules of fighting. I joined him and learned how to fight inside the ring.”

El Jamari quickly fell in love with the art of fisticuffs, trying out kickboxing and boxing. But it was the Ong-Bak film series, with its flashy displays of Muay Thai, that landed him on the art of eight limbs.

After just two years of training, he competed in Muay Thai for the first time and scored the first of what would be many career knockouts:

“I began in kickboxing then moved to boxing and eventually to Muay Thai. I chose Muay Thai after watching fights as part of a Thai TV program as well as both parts of the Ong-bak movie. 

“I had my first fight at 15. It was in Morocco, and I won that fight via knockout.”

Overcoming Adversity

Once he went all-in on Muay Thai, El Jamari rapidly rose through the ranks, winning Arab titles in both Muay Thai and kickboxing to establish himself as one of the region’s fastest-rising stars.

But while he was finding success on the regional and international level, the young fighter was struggling behind the scenes. When he was 26 years old, tragedy struck:

“The biggest difficulty I endured came after my father’s death. He worked as a grocer. He died in 2015.”

Still mourning the loss of his father, El Jamari faced a make-or-break moment in his career. Rather than stay in Morocco where opportunities as a professional athlete were limited, he decided to relocate to Dubai to pursue his dream of becoming a World Champion fighter.

Ultimately, the move to the UAE paid off and soon elevated El Jamari’s career to new heights:

“I had to work. Four months after my father’s death, I left Morocco and traveled to Dubai. It was early 2016. I worked as a personal trainer and searched for fights. I always had my eye on becoming a professional fighter. I always said to myself: I can be a coach, but I am a champion, not just a coach. I have the mentality of a champion.  

“Once I got my chance in Dubai, I won my fights. I eventually became a professional fighter and improved my living conditions. I knew I was on the right track.” 

A Proud Moroccan Athlete

Even though he’s made a career of dismantling opponents with relative ease, nothing about El Jamari’s journey to ONE’s bright lights has been easy.

As he explains, Morocco lacks the infrastructure to develop professional fighters:

“Fighters from Morocco need to be very patient. We lack sponsors and financial backing. I had to work and train all by myself. Becoming a professional is not easy for a Moroccan fighter.”

Despite those roadblocks, El Jamari says that Morocco is a hotbed for combat sports talent.

To make it at the world-class level, Moroccan fighters must accept that nothing will be given to them; they must maintain strict discipline and possess an undying dedication to their craft.

El Jamari says that it was that difficult struggle, though, that made him the elite fighter that he is today:

“Morocco has a lot of great talent. Fighting is in our blood. People love kickboxing, Muay Thai, and all combat sports. But it is not easy to make it. I had to balance my time and energy between work and training. I would go running in the morning then go to school. Then I’d got to work. To become a professional fighter, one has to face difficulties. But it is in these difficult conditions, and not in a life of leisure, that a champion is born. A fighter needs to wait for the right timing and seize that opportunity.”

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