In 10 short years, Adel El-Tamini has gone from living in war-torn Iraq to an opportunity to fight on national television — with Hollywood superstar Chris Pratt by his side.
El-Tamini will be flanked by Pratt on his way to the cage Saturday night at Bellator 214 in Inglewood, Calif., the lightweight fighter told MMA Fighting on Tuesday night. Pratt, famous for such movies as Avengers: Infinity War, might even be in El-Tamini’s corner for the fight against Brandon McMahan, which will open the main card on Paramount Network.
El-Tamini said he and Pratt have developed a close relationship after meeting each other at Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable gym in West Hollywood, Calif. Pratt was present recently at the facility when El-Tamini officially signed his Bellator contract and posted about it on social media.
“This man is like family to me,” El-Tamini said.
On Instagram, Pratt described El-Tamini as his “brother from another mother.” El-Tamini said he spent Monday night at Pratt’s home eating dinner with him and his new fiancée Katherine Schwarzenegger.
El-Tamini, 29, says he is in awe that someone like Pratt and another famous friend, Wiz Khalifa, believe in him so much. The former Kyokushin karate champion grew up in Baghdad and saw the worst things imaginable growing up. He said he could never believe the spot he’d be in now. El-Tamini says he has forged a bond with them through martial arts.
“I told him, if we had 80 percent of people like you, Chris, there’s no war,” El-Tamini said of Pratt. “Nobody gonna kill anyone. There’s not gonna be any war. So humble. This guy, his forgiveness. It’s just — man! And he saw the same thing in me. You know those guys, they don’t trust, they don’t believe in anyone easy. I’m a person that’s not even from here. I can hardly speak his language. But this guy sees something different in me and I see something different in him, too.”
El-Tamini came to Los Angeles a decade ago. He was helped to the U.S. by the United States Marine Corps, he said. El-Tamini and many men in his family worked as drivers for the Marines in Baghdad. Every day was a risk; El-Tamini’s brother was shot and lost both eyes. His immediate family now lives in California, but back then it was easy to imagine not even making it to the next day.
“Every time I saw my mom and my dad, I hug them,” El-Tamini said. “When I was leaving, we didn’t know if I was coming back or not. We know a lot of people, especially from Baghdad, it was really bad. Young guys, they leave and they don’t come back. It was real bad.”
El-Tamini said his first karate sensei was killed by a bomb at a gas station in 2003. He said he witnessed one of his close friends gunned down just feet away from him. All the while, he always dreamed of being a martial arts champion at the highest level, someone others can look up to.
When he came to the United States, El-Tamini said he worked as a dishwasher, then at a car wash — anything he could get. At times, he was sleeping in his car or at the gyms he trained at. He takes pride in never resorting to illegal activity to make money. El-Tamini said he taught himself how to read and write English, never taking any courses, just learning through watching television and hearing people on the street.
“When I got here, it’s more challenging,” he said. “I always challenge myself. ‘I can do it, I can do it.’ Hurt, injury, no food. So many times I slept with no food, no dinner. No money, no nothing.”
But he believes, through his faith in God and his belief in true martial arts, that everything is about to change. El-Tamini said he has the support system and people like Pratt, Khalifa and Glazer backing him up. Plus, his team at Kings MMA in Huntington Beach, Calif.
The kid from Baghdad who was lucky to survive on a daily basis will compete on national television in the United States, an A-list star possibly right there in his corner.
Now there’s something out of a Hollywood script.
“This is where my life is starting,” El-Tamini said. “This is where my career is starting. This is my legacy. I’m gonna do it. Not just for myself.”