Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Al-Qahtani (5-1) drew copious amounts of praise and support from various corners of the mixed martial arts community following his "leveled up" performance at BRAVE CF 62, in partnership with Octagon League.
Despite enduring a split-decision loss (30-27 Uulu, 29-28 Al-Qahtani and 30-27 Uulu) to a BRAVE CF debutant, Kyrgyzstan's Ilyor Bakhtiyar Uulu (7-1) in their featherweight bout in Almaty, Kazakhstan, Al-Qahtani earned the respect of many, including some MMA royalty. Some were even convinced that the adjudicators made a colossal mistake in the scoring of the fight.
Over the course of the three-round fight, Al-Qahtani received high praise from the commentators and the crowd every time he landed clean shots onto the body and face of Bakhtiyar Uulu. He was also acknowledged for his step-up in composure and ability to stuff takedowns, a trait he had not had in his artillery before. Taking nothing away from Bakhtiyar Uulu, as the Kyrgyz did nothing wrong but deliver explosive action and a high work rate, and he often exploded with that trademark spinning back kick to the torso of Al-Qahtani inflicting damage.
It was also Uulu who had success with the grappling exchanges early in the fight.
Both athletes left everything in the BRAVE CF cage, and the judges were left with so much to think about. The situation was indicative of how close the fight was and a testament to the amazing BRAVE CF matchmaking.
"Abdullah showed great spirit," said BRAVE CF royalty and super lightweight champion Eldar Eldarov, who had taken Al-Qahtani under his wing at Team KHK Bahrain.
"Some losses are better than victories. I believe this was Abdullah's best fight compared to his previous victories," added Eldarov, reminding people that this was Al-Qahtani's first loss in his professional career after a five-fight win streak.
A livid Eldarov criticized the judging panel and questioned one of the scoring cards.
"One of the judges gave him 30-27, which to me is unacceptable because in the last round the opponent was just barely surviving and was able to successfully score only one takedown. It does not seem fair that the judge gave all three rounds to Abdullah's opponent, and I believe the judges were wrong about their decision," fumed Eldarov.
BRAVE Combat Federation president Mohammed "The Hawk" Shahid showered both athletes with praise and paid special tribute to Al-Qahtani for the pivotal ambassadorial role he plays for Saudi Arabia, a fast-growing mixed martial arts nation.
"I believe Abdullah Al-Qahtani has the potential to become one of the top featherweight fighters not only in BRAVE CF but in the entire global MMA industry," Shahid said. "He showed that he is a well-rounded fighter and ready to challenge the top guys in the featherweight roster. He is a true Arab warrior."
Saudi Arabian MMA Federation president Aziz Julaidan felt that this result will remind Al-Qahtani and all fighters to always go for the finish.
"I think (Al-Qahtani) did enough not to lose the battle," Julaidan said. "I would score it at least a draw, but in any case, all fighters know better not to leave it to the judges."
BRAVE CF Bantamweight contender Hamza Kooheji doffed his hat to Al-Qahtani for the honor he brought to his people.
"I do believe that Abdullah should have won that bout, however, no matter the match outcome, irrespective of the judge's final decision, he proved that he is one of the strongest fighters in his division whose star is only rising. He has brought pride to his country and the entire Middle East," said Kooheji who fell just short of the BRAVE CF bantamweight title when he lost to now-champion Brad Katona earlier this year.
Bakhtiyar Uulu's huge win over Al-Qahtani now makes him an instant player in the 145-pound division. This loss might have not helped Al-Qahtani's chances of jumping into the top five of the division, however, the nature of the loss and the vast improvement in his skill-set will ensure his position just outside the top five rankings of the BRAVE CF featherweight division.