Founded in 2011, Black Bulls MMA out of Cairo, Egypt has gone on to produce some of the most talented mixed martial artists to be found anywhere in the Middle East. Two such individuals represent Saracens MMA, the number one sports collective in the history of North African martial arts: head coach Alaa ‘Thor’ Mansour (6-1) and long-time understudy Eslam ‘IRONMAN’ Syaha (7-1-1).
Both multiple-division champions on the Egyptian national scene, Mansour and Syaha both typify and embody the fight team’s mentality perfectly, combining an indomitable will-to-succeed with an unquenchable thirst for continuous self-improvement. To witness these men in training is to go some way to unearthing the sheer drive and determination needed to build the beginnings of an empire in somewhat unfashionable climes. While the major players in mixed martial arts are yet to cast their gaze to Cairo for whatever reason, it is the work of men like Mansour and Syaha, along with their fellow Saracens, that will eventually unlock the door not only for themselves, but also their fellow countrymen.
But what compels athletes like Mansour and Syaha to chase this dream? And what does it take to become a ‘Black Bull’ in Egypt’s capital?
SaracensMMA.com spoke to Alaa Mansour and Eslam Syaha ahead of their double-header at the upcoming Evolution Fighting Championship event on July 13, subtitled ‘Tsunami Aftershock’.
‘We started with a fantastic team,’ Alaa Mansour told us, ‘We decided to name it after the way we felt, and our appearance,’ he laughs. ‘We were all black, we were all muscular, and we had the mindset of bulls!’
Alongside the likes of Mahmoud ‘The Octopus’ Fawaz (8-2), Mohamed ‘Sambo’ John (3-1), Mostafa ‘Tyson’ Mohamed (3-0), Omar ElMograby (2-0) and Mohamed Shehta (3-2), Mansour and the Bulls racked up wins and dominated the competition at AUFC, one of Egypt’s top promotions. The team grew; one of the main additions to the line up coming in the form of powerlifter Eslam ‘IRONMAN’ Syaha.
“I joined the team one year after it was founded,” Eslam told SaracensMMA.com. “It’s a fantastic team, and a great place to train. Alaa and the other coaches are very talented and very driven, and insist on success, always.” He adds: “Black Bulls MMA is strong; the level of talent distinguishes us from other teams here, and the fact we are always looking and trying to seek ways to develop really appeals to me.”
That is a sentiment shared by Mansour himself. While he could coo over fighters like Syaha and Fawaz and the records they have achieved in MMA, ‘Thor’ remains grounded. “I don’t see a single fighter who will be the future of Black Bulls MMA – the target is to take this team to the top, not just one or two, but every single fighter that trains with us.”
Those are lofty ambitions, but it is the mark of Alaa’s character that even personal success – while an obvious driving force behind his ferocious training regimen and in-fight aggression – isn’t the be-all and end-all. Success for him is an opportunity for his training partners and students; and while Mansour has enjoyed international fame competing for Desert Force and the temporarily disbanded Phoenix FC, seeing his best fighters compete on similar (or even bigger) stages would give him just as much satisfaction.
That is one of the key reasons Mansour suits the Saracens MMA ethos. A Brotherhood of MMA, Saracens is focussed on achieving success for the many, not the few.
Syaha, for his part, has come on immensely under Mansour’s tutelage, as well as by working with the wider Saracens Team, led by Ahmed ‘The Prince’ Faress.
“Our link with Saracens goes back to the days before either team existed. Myself and Faress trained together in Wushu, and we had great success together.” Mansour states.
Syaha adds: “Saracens MMA is not the only team we train with, but they are good friends, and the ties between the two teams goes back a long way. They are an excellent team in practical terms, and in terms of the combat side. They have some great martial artists in their team, and they compliment Black Bulls very well. They are always looking to develop and progress; they are very ambitious.”
So, who can become a Black Bull – and how?
“We welcome anyone to come and train with the team,” Syaha responds, “We welcome people to come and take advantage of our training, and decide if we’re right for them. If they like the team and want to succeed, that’s what we’re about: developing fighters and making them better at whatever they want to do.”
Alaa agrees: “I promise that one day, people will come from all over the world to train with Black Bulls MMA. That’s my dream. People will hold their training camps at our facilities, and we will grow bigger and better.”
As for competing? At Evolution FC: Tsunami Aftershock, Alaa will face off at welterweight with Abdulla Al-Jabareen , a member of the Jordan National Kickboxing team, and a very accomplished striker. Alaa, however, will not be intimidated by any such accolades. An 11-0 kickboxer himself, Mansour will look to bring his own vicious striking game, and seek to build on his most recent win – an 11-second KO of Tunisian Abdul-Rahman Dridi in the finals of a Desert Force Middleweight Grand Prix.
Eslam, meanwhile, will face off against compatriot Waleed Gamal at middleweight, and seek to extend a six-fight winning streak. For fight fans not familiar with these two Black Bulls competing under the Saracens banner, July 13 will be a great opportunity to witness these world class athletes in action!