Pro Wrestling Proves Big Hit With Egypt Crowds

Popular entertainment form in the U.S., mixing theatrical performance with athletics, is gaining traction in Egypt where thousands come to watch the strong men wearing face paint do battle in Ismailia

Member of the Egyptian Arab Federation of Professional Wrestlers "EWR" Mohamed Samier, 28, in action with Androw Tharwat, 27, during a public fight in Ismailiya, north of Cairo, Egypt Oct. 26, 2018.
AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS

When a high school in the northern Egyptian city of Ismailia hosted a pro wrestling event, the crowd spilled over onto the roofs of neighboring buildings.

Pro wrestling, a popular entertainment form in the U.S., mixes theatrical performance with athletics and is gaining traction in Egypt where thousands came to watch the strong men wearing face paint do battle in Ismailia.

Momen Hassan Ali, nicknamed "the crazy one", Egyptian Arab Federation of Professional Wrestlers "EWR" athlete, paints his face before a public fight in Ismailiya, north of Cairo, Egypt Oct. 26, 2018.
AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS

The program was run by Ashraf Mahrous, the 37-year-old founder of the Egyptian Arab Federation of Professional Wrestlers.

The martial arts coach learned about pro wrestling from watching American, European and Japanese wrestlers on TV. He started organizing matches in 2013, he said, but it was only about two years ago that large audiences of more than 1,000 people started showing up.

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He says he funds the wrestling program from his own savings, hoping the program can become profitable and also more international once he has found a sponsor. Entrance is free.

Mohamed Samier, 28, a member of the Egyptian Arab Federation of Professional Wrestlers "EWR", reacts before his public fight at the Abu Sultan High School in Ismailiya, north of Cairo, Egypt Oct. 26, 2018.
AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS

“The dream of my life is to go international,” said Mahrous who also goes by his nickname Captain Ashraf Kapunga.

Momen Hassan Ali, a wrestler nicknamed “al-Magnoun,” meaning “the crazy one”, said a day of training starts around 7:30 a.m. and doesn’t finish before the Maghrib prayer, which takes place right after sunset.

Aya Hanid, 22, a member of the Egyptian Arab Federation of Professional Wrestlers "EWR", poses with teammates before public fights in Ismailiya, northern of Cairo, Egypt Oct. 26, 2018.
AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS

The wrestlers performing in Friday’s match were all men, but the program is the first in Egypt to also allow women to participate.

“Girls of Egypt can do anything,” said 22-year-old Aya Hanid, one of the female wrestlers. “Not just get a degree and then get married and stay at home.