Egypt’s Moataz Radi, or “Mizo”, competes succesfully with China’s top kung fu fighters in international championships, but yearns for recognition in his own country where football dominates.
As Egyptians obsessively follow the preparations of the national football team for the World Cup in Russia and every move of star striker Mohamed Salah, Mizo is preparing for the next world championship in a sport that lacks sponsors and supporters.
Despite his heavy build, 28-year-old Mizo, who is almost two meters tall, moves lightly during training at a modest gym in the October 6 district in western Cairo.
He is preparing to join the national team’s training camp ahead of the world championships later this year in China.
Kung fu, also known as wushu, is an unarmed Chinese martial art practised through display or combat.
– ‘Bruce Lee inspired us’ –
According to Mizo, the sport became popular in Egypt through movies.
“Egyptians learned about kung fu from Bruce Lee and Jet Li, and they pictured kung fu players always in mid-air,” said Mizo.
Like other Egyptians, Mizo was initially attracted to football, before he was forced to quit because he wasn’t good enough. In kung fu things were different.
Since 2006, Mizo had dominated the sport in Egypt for his weight class of above 90 kilograms and has also enjoyed success on the world stage.
“I won the world gold medal in 2015, silver in 2016, and bronze in 2017, and I am now training for the coming championship,” Mizo told AFP at training sporting the dragon-pattern shorts, which he wore at the previous world championship.
He is becoming a model for younger kung fu players.
“I hope to be like Captain Moataz, or even have the grit and will that he has,” said 21-year-old Abdel-Rahman Mahmoud.
– Martyred sports –
In November 2014, Mizo broke his leg so badly that, he says, no one expected him to fully bounce back. Yet the following year, he competed in his first world championship and won the gold medal.
“I saw in Moataz during the period of his injury perseverance that I have never seen in any fighter in the world,” said Ahmed Abdel Aziz, the kung fu manager at Mizo’s club.
During that time, Mizo had three three-hour training sessions a day, said his coach Ramadan Abdel Meguid.
Mizo was born in Cairo to a middle-income family, and graduated from Cairo University where he studied literature.
“I’m the only Egyptian — even the only Arab and African — to win the a kung fu world championship’s gold medal for the +90 kilogrammes weight class, and I found that my popularity in China is more than in my country,” said Mizo.
He said he reached stardom without any support from the state.
No government representatives received him at the airport upon his return from Jakarta in 2015 with a gold medal, as the celebratory scenes he had dreamed about failed to materialise.
However, the government gave him a 50,000 Egyptian pounds (around $6,500 at the time) as a reward.
“I call these sports that we play the ‘martyred sports’ and that’s because of the media’s lack of interest in them,” said Mizo.
Mizo, a Barcelona club fan, said football swallows most of the sponsors’ attention as the most popular sport in the country.
In October 2017, Mizo participated in one of the sport’s top tournaments –“the king of kung fu”– in China, invited by the local kung fu federation.
The tournament had eight matches, “but more than 70 channels were covering it and there were a lot of viewers.”
At home, without sponsors, Mizo, gives kung fu lessons to provide for his wife and young daughter and cover his training, travel, and injury costs.
He also hopes to win a second gold medal.
“This sport runs in my blood.”