Mohammed Jaraya remembers seeing kickboxers on the television as a young boy and instantly being certain of what he wanted to do with his life.
A few years later, aged 12 or so, he was able to attend some events staged by Its Showtime, the Netherlands’ leading organization at the time.
Twice he went to the Amsterdam Arena to watch fighters like Badr Hari, Melvin Manhoef, Semmy Schilt and Gokhan Saki do battle before thousands of roaring fans.
Now, having just turned 22 years old, he is in the process of preparing to fight in that very same arena. And he can’t quite believe it.
Jaraya (64-6, 36 KO’s) exhales loudly, having unconsciously been holding his breath while considering what the upcoming GLORY 59 AMSTERDAM fight with Murthel Groenhart (67-23-3, 38 KO’s) will mean to him.
“To fight in the Ajax stadium was always my dream, but I thought it would never come true. Now it’s happening,” he says, sounding almost incredulous.
“When I fought at the Rotterdam Ahoy Arena last year, that was amazing. It was the biggest arena I had ever fought in and I thought that was [the peak]. But Amsterdam Arena is another level again. The dream of a little boy has come true.”
Jaraya also travelled to Oberhausen, Germany in 2016 to be in the crowd for the fight between Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari. Now he’s taking center stage to fight Hari’s team mate. (There’s an interesting parallel there with the UFC’s Conor McGregor: the first time the UFC came to Dublin, Ireland, he too was just a fan in the crowd.)
“When you’re in the crowd at these kind of big show, the atmosphere is crazy, it’s just amazing,” he enthuses. “Now I’m part of it and I’m so excited. This is what you live for as a fighter. These are the kind of fights I want to be part of.
“I am thinking about it 24/7, every second of the day - eating, driving, training - and it’s making me so sharp. It pushes me in the gym.”
As soon as the fight between Jaraya and Groenhart was announced, social media pages lit up.
Fan reaction to the match has been hugely positive and for good reason: you would be hard pushed to find two fighters more guaranteed to stage a war.
“Everyone knows Murthel and what he can do. He’s a big name. My supporters give me so much love and support: as soon as the fight was on my social media I got about 15,000 likes on it,” says Jaraya.
“That’s huge and I want to thank everyone for their support. I see it like a relationship: they give me love and support and I give them what they want to see, the knockouts and the wars.
"For me the most important thing is that my supporters get value for the money they spend on me. Winning or losing is secondary.”
Murthel Groenhart’s resumé speaks for itself. He is the former GLORY welterweight champion and also a K-1 MAX tournament winner, the first fighter ever to achieve such a distinction.
“I’ve watched Murthel since I was a kid. I always looked up to him when I was younger, I watched all his fights. He’s one of those fighters you want to be like and now for me to be fighting him in Amsterdam Arena, it’s crazy” says Jaraya.
“It motivates me so much. I’m training crazy hard and I’m going to do everything I can to knock him out. I am the underdog for the first time in my career and that means all the pressure is on Murthel.”
The Jaraya gameplan is always a straightforward one; he engages the opponent immediately and throws heavy artillery non-stop. There’s no change in plan for this upcoming fight.
“I don’t like to do too much analysis. It’s a fight. I have to do my thing and be focused for every second. I can win two rounds and most of round three but Murthel can still KO me in the last second if I lose concentration,” he says.
“I see this as definitely a knockout fight. It’s not going the distance. Fight of the Year - Fight of Ten Years! It’s going to be a hell of a fight. I hope he’s training hard and keeps his hands high. We are going to shock the world.”
GLORY 59 AMSTERDAM takes place Saturday, September 29 at the Amsterdam ‘Johan Cruijff’ Arena in Amsterdam, Netherlands.