ExCel Arena, London: Ihab Al Matbouli does not come from a privileged sporting background. The second son of Palestinian settlers in the settlement of Baqa’a, on the outskirts of Amman, Al Matbouli created a flutter at the ExCel Arena on Monday when he walked into the record books for being the first-ever boxer from Jordan to win a fight and advance to the next round.
For that matter, Jordan has never had a boxer at an Olympic Games. But that did not matter to the gritty fighter as he outlasted Nigerian Lukmon Lawal 19-7 in the three-round bout in the men’s light heavyweight category.
“This is for all the hard times we have faced, especially during my growing up years. I want to dedicate this win to our King Abdullah II and all the people of Jordan,” Al Matbouli told Gulf News through an interpreter.
Growing up in a place like Baqa’a — about 20km north of Amman — goes beyond imagination for people who come from normal situations. Baqa’a was one of six emergency camps set up by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in 1968 to accommodate Palestine refugees and displaced people who left the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a result of the 1967 conflict.
Between June 1967 and February the following year, the refugees were housed in temporary camps spread over an area of roughly 1.5 square kilometres in the Jordan Valley. But these had to be moved when military operations escalated in the area.
“My parents endured all the hardships and suffering. But as I grew up, I was faced with very much the same realities of life. It was all so insecure growing up in such conditions,” the 26-year-old boxer related.
The second boy in a family of five, Al Matbouli grew up through all these challenges and eventually all five boys were training at the makeshift Al Baqa’a Club in the neighbourhood. The Jordan Olympic Committee, headed by Prince Faisal Bin Hussain, stepped in and thus started a revolution of sorts as boxers started eyeing a better future through the sport.
Ihab’s eldest brother Faraj is 28 and has already started off as a coach at the junior level, his three younger brothers Adil (17), Mohammad (14) and Ahmad (13) among his pupils preparing to represent Jordan at various international competitions.
“This is a historic day and I can see all my hard work coming to some good for me and my country,” Ihab said.
“I dreamt of this day and today this dream has become a reality. Now that I have achieved the first step I want to go all the way for a medal,” he added.
Al Matbouli’s next opponent in the quarter-finals will be top-seeded Cuban boxer Julio La Cruz Peraza on August 4.