Sherif “The Shark” Mohamed has never wavered in his quest to succeed as a mixed martial artist.
Despite coming from a country where the sport is still in its infancy and facing a tough setback in his first bout, the 37-year-old from Cairo, Egypt, rose to the top of his domestic scene and carried his flag on the international stage.
As he prepares for the biggest bout of his career against Yoshihiro “Sexy Yama” Akiyama at ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE, “The Shark” reveals how he swam through uncharted waters to set the standard for his compatriots.
Taking On A Challenge
Mohamed grew up with his father, mother, and older brother, former ONE hero Mahmoud “El Deep” Mohamed.
His parents – particularly his dad, who was a governmental officer – were strict, but while his sibling was not a keen academic, “The Shark” was always focused on his studies.
“Growing up was tough, but I managed to complete my studies and graduated from business school,” he says.
However, Mohamed was always interested in martial arts since he watched Bruce Lee as a youngster, and harbored a desire to test himself in combat.
Armed with grappling skills from his youth, he started to train mixed martial arts with his brother at the start of the last decade at his country’s leading gym, Egyptian Top Team.
“I already had a wrestling background, so one day, I decided to test myself and swim in new water. That was how my mixed martial arts career all started,” the 37-year-old recalls.
“The inspiration for me to pick up mixed martial arts was the instinct of [taking on a] challenge. Mixed martial arts is not an easy sport at all, it required a true warrior’s heart and I believe I have it in me.”
Falling At The First Hurdle
It was only a few months after familiarizing himself with mixed martial arts that the Cairo native felt that he was ready to put his skills into practice in his first professional bout.
The sport was still in its embryonic stages in Egypt in 2012, so Mohamed says there was only one place for him to make his debut – Egyptian Fighting Championship, which had begun promoting events the previous year.
He was confident in his grappling abilities, but his other skills and conditioning let him down, and he was defeated via TKO in the second round.
“I used wrestling as my background, but it wasn’t enough,” he says.
“I remember my debut clearly, it was a little tough as I was not used to fighting for a 15-minute match. During the fight, I felt that my biggest challenge was the cardio.”
Mohamed was disappointed, but he would not let himself be demoralized, and immediately set to work with his coaches to return as a new and improved competitor.
“There is no point to dwell in defeat. When I lost my debut, I went back to the gym two days later and worked on what I needed to work on,” he adds.
‘The Shark’ Bites Back
It was another two years before Mohamed returned to action in March 2014, but his determination and discipline meant that he had become a completely different animal.
This time around, he flipped the script and knocked out his opponent in the opening round.
“I was beyond happy and excited, winning my first match was indeed a special moment,” the Egyptian says.
That was just the start. Just like before, he went back to the gym to train even harder and make sure he could repeat his success. At the beginning of May, he won two matches by first-round TKO in one night.
In June, he had to go deep into the third round, but this time his cardio was on point and he scored another knockout. That secured a shot at the vacant EFC title, and he was crowned champion after he submitted his opponent with an anaconda choke in little more than two minutes.
“The Shark” went on to win another three bouts by submission, but he put his career on hold at the end of 2015 to launch The Shark Gym off the back of his success that he hoped would allow him to make a living when he retires.
The time Mohamed put into his training and new training center forced him to make sacrifices in many other areas of his life, but he is happy with what he has achieved in competition, and his efforts to grow his sport.
“No matter what, I would not choose a different path,” he says.
“Mixed martial art does not have a lot of history in Egypt. I believe it started in 2010, and we’re still growing.”
A New Chapter
After two years away from action, Mohamed was scouted by ONE Championship. He knew it was his best chance to spread awareness about mixed martial arts in Egypt, so he accepted the offer immediately.
“This was something special. I knew that there were better fighters out there, and ONE Championship had the biggest names I’d had my eyes on,” he says.
“It is a huge promotion that has top-notch athletes. I knew this was going to be a real challenge for me.”
“The Shark” is now preparing for his third bout in the world’s largest martial arts organization, and he is focused on achieving the biggest win of his career against Akiyama – an icon of mixed martial arts.
By doing that, he aims to show the world what athletes from his country are capable of and inspire Egyptians to follow in his footsteps.
“All Egyptian fighters who fight internationally, including me, always try to deliver a good message,” he adds
“We want to show that Egypt does have high-quality athletes.”