Knocking Out Boundaries – Introducing Ziyad Almaayouf

Ziyadh Almaayouf doesn’t shy away from difficult conversations. The young professional boxer has gained recognition in the KSA as a pioneer of his sport. With little representation from his home country, Almaayouf’s end-game was to become his own personal hero. And also, an example for the younger generation as something to aspire to. We sit down with the athlete and lift the lid on mental health in boxing, learning how to deal with both success and failure and what he wants his legacy to be.

What was your main drive behind becoming a professional boxer?

My main drive behind becoming a professional boxer is the amount of history that’s left unwritten in the sport for Saudi Arabia and the Arab World. Growing up in boxing and competing from a young age, I always searched for someone to look up to and idolize in the sport, someone that would motivate me on my own journey.

So I thought to research and find out more about the Saudi Arabian professional boxers and the Arab professional boxers, something a little more closer to home, so I can better relate to them and properly follow their footsteps and blue prints. I found none. I was stunned. I found absolutely no professional boxers from Saudi Arabia. Then the handful of Arab professional boxers I found in my search competing globally, were either brought up abroad, born abroad, or raised and trained abroad.

There were no local Arab professional boxers that were competing internationally, let alone competing at all, especially from Saudi Arabia. I thought to myself, “I want to do that, I want to be that, I want to be the first.” That was, and still is my main drive behind becoming a professional boxer. It is one thing to become a professional boxer, and it is completely another to stick to it. That is what keeps me sticking to it, putting Saudi Arabia on the global map for the sport of professional boxing. Being a symbol of hope for the Arab World, and cementing my name in history as the person to do it.

“The most important lessons that I learnt daily is, patience, delayed gratification, and not caring what other people think or say’’

How do you think being an athlete has influenced your life?

Being an athlete has influenced my life, not only in all aspects, but the most important aspects. Being an athlete taught me a lot. The most important lessons that I learnt daily is, patience, delayed gratification, and not caring what other people think or say. Being an athlete has really planted a new level of patience in me and that comes from being forced over and over in sports to practice delayed gratification. Delayed gratification is accepting and preferring the smaller improvements of the journey, rather than focusing and depending only on the bigger achievement at the end. That keeps me disciplined and working hard at all times, always chasing more improvements, because there is always room for improvement, no matter the achievements gathered. The biggest influence being an athlete has on me is, not caring what other people think or say about me, especially as long as I’m doing what I love and want. I’ve learned that in sports and being an athlete, people’s opinions of you will only matter as much as you let it, and that life truly peaks, when you stop caring what other people think of you. Only then will you be complete.

Ziyad Almaayouf
Ziyad Almaayouf
What impact did sport have on your overall mental health?

Boxing has a very big impact on my overall mental health. It is one thing to talk about sports, and it’s sompletely another to talk about weight making combat sports. We don’t play boxing, you can play any other sport, but not combat sports, not boxing. The weight making aspect of boxing has a very big impact on my mental health. For each fight, we need a minimum of 8 weeks of training camp to prepare, any less than that is considered a risk. During training camp not only do I have to regain my peak elements in speed, power, and reflexes, but also be in peak performance shape. I compete in the 62 kg weight division, the lightweight division, and my natural weight is usually around 70-72 kg, so for each fight camp I drop 8-10 kg of weight. Performance weight loss has a huge impact on my overall mental health because I am a person who resorts to fun foods, or a day out, if I’m under pressure and a lot of stress. I can’t do any of that when I am feeling the pressure of my fight and camp because I can’t eat out, and I can’t go out because I need to be focused, I need to cook and eat my meals at the right time, and go from one training session to another rested and ready. In fight camp, naturally so, being the one doing what I am doing for Saudi in boxing, there is a lot of pressure and stress on me to get things right fast, and perform at my peak every time I fight. I love it, it is a privilege, but with just as much privilege, comes a lot of pressure as well. It is well known, the hardest thing about sports is expectations, expectations for yourself, and expectations of others for you. Although the sport has a big impact on my mental health, I am very well prepared for it. I have a sports mental performance coach, Haitham Gheita, he is the most essential part of my career and team. He teaches me and lectures me on the sport psychology of the brain, and how to enhance my mental performance, which ultimately controls my physical performance. How to handle doubt, fear, pressure, stress etc. We also then train the mind to be faster and more efficient in making choices and problem solving.

“Authenticity is not eliminating risk and fear, authenticity is going ahead with your choices and thoughts despite the presence of risk and fear.’’

How do you learn to deal with failure as well as success?

I learn to deal with failure as well as success by understanding just two simple things. The first is, there is no success without failure, and the second being, I am still learning to deal with both failure and success, so I won’t have it all right all the time, and that is okay. Having this mindset when approaching failure and success, especially making occasional mistakes trying to handle both perfectly, gives me more patience to give myself time to be able to better handle all situations. With patience, nothing ever happens to you, it all happens for you.

How do you want to represent the KSA as an athlete? What do you want your legacy to be?

As an athlete I want to represent the KSA in the most historical way possible. I want this athlete story to be as historical and trailblazing as what the KSA is doing to the world today. It is a historical time for both the country, and me. From the sports perspective, I want to keep winning, keep fighting on the big shows in front of the larger audiences, and keep putting on exciting and improving performances that will get the people talking, as they have been, and are now! There is so much history for Saudi Arabia in boxing waiting to be written, and I want to be the one to write it God Willing. I would like to be the first professional boxing world champion for Saudi Arabia, the first multi-weight world champion, and the first multi-belt world champion. However, the ultimate goal to represent the KSA as an athlete is to show the world that this story is larger than life, larger than the sport itself. This is a trailblazing story. I want to be not only an athlete for Saudi Arabia, but the fist individual athlete and figure of our kind, trailblazing by breaking stigmas and perceptions that many might have on the KSA. Not only am I an athlete for Saudi Arabia, but I would like to think now that I am also a spokesperson for Saudi Arabia, and a representative on the international level for the KSA. An international athlete in a global sport that breaks the language barrier between the GCC and the West. I want my legacy to be that I utilized all of what God and the KSA gave me to better our country’s image in front of the world, and to bring more unity and peace between us all in different countries and cultures.

Ziyad Almaayouf

I want to use the platform given to me to display our similarities and push aside our differences. Using the exposure of fighting on huge events brought by the KSA, I want to be a symbol of hope to my country in Saudi Arabia, and I want to others to feel like they have a superhero to look up to in their own journey of achieving something that seems so impossible, or that maybe also has never been achieved before. I want my legacy to be whatever the people of my country, the KSA, need me to be.

What do you tell yourself when things don’t seem to be going the right way?

Here is the secret. I tell myself this not only when things don’t seem to be going the right way, but I also tell myself this when things are actually going the right way as well. I remind myself to just be calm. Stay composed. When things don’t seem to be going the right way, they actually are, but the only way we will ever see clearly enough to know that, and be convinced of that, is to just be calm. When things seem to be going very much my way, I also remind myself of the same, because the only way to keep it going the right way, is to be calm. With that clarity, I am able to control both situations. Make the right way, keep being that way, and make the bumps on the road a lot smoother than they might seem when I’m first met with them.

What is your definition of ‘athlete mentality’?

My definition of ‘athlete mentality’ is; the ability to pick up the pace, keep running, but not when the finish line is visible and the track is clear, but when there is no finish line visible, and there is no proper track to run on. It is only those who keep going and have not quit in the difficult and uncertain times that end up making it.

Ziyad Almaayouf
What is style to you?

Style to me is uniqueness. I like to summarize it by saying; We are remembered more for being different, not for just being good. Style to me is a way to express so many aspects of my personality, the biggest of them being experimental, and not caring what people think! I like to dress differently, maybe what you might call, untraditionally. Style to me is to get people talking about it after. That is style.

Less is more or more is more?

In the athlete and sports world, especially being a figure building up, simply, more is more. Out of sight, out of might. In boxing specifically, because of the physical demands of the sport, we are not on screens and fighting every week and twice a week like other sports. If it is a very good year, we might fight and be on screens 3-4 times a year. So with that, we need to be doing more, to be more. Wherever we are, look more, whatever we are doing, do more.

What is authenticity to you?

Authenticity to me is the ability to again, understand that life only peaks, when you stop caring what others think. That is where true authenticity in everything you do will come out. What you wear, what you chase, what you say, everything will be authentic to you. Unfortunately we live in a world now where most choose to be authentic to others standards, rather than their own. Authenticity is not eliminating risk and fear, authenticity is going ahead with your choices and thoughts despite the presence of risk and fear.