Palestinian MMA brothers fight negative stereotypes (Video)

Askar Askar (left) and his brother Asef spar at Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Michael Bacos/Medill)

By Michael Bacos

Askar Askar and his brother Asef were teenagers when they came to the United States from Palestine in 2001 to reunite with their father.

They were bullied in school because of their ethnicity. So Askar’s dad enrolled him in tae kwon do in Chicago, while Asef decided to bulk up by lifting weights until he decided to take a tae kwon do class, too.

Then one day, when walking home from the class, they stumbled across an LA Boxing gym and decided to take up MMA.

“We went in and got our asses whooped the first day,” said Askar. “It was a straight-six-month period of getting destroyed.”

Askar and Asef Askar talk about how they got into MMA and how they hope to destroy the negative stereotypes cast on Arabs and Muslims. (Michael Bacos/Medill)

The brothers decided to quit, but one of the coaches berated them, inspiring them to give it another shot.

Years later, they have moved on from beating bullies.

Now, they are moving into the professional ranks.

Askar racked up a 7-2 record in the amateur MMA ranks and won his first professional fight Saturday in Michigan City, Indiana. On the same card, Asef improved to 4-0 as an amateur and retained his Hoosier Fight Club featherweight title.

Being Palestinian, Asef said, is great preparation for MMA.

“Palestinians go through wars everyday,” he said. “We’re some of the toughest people out there.”

Askar has experienced his share of racism during his first few fights for Hoosier Fight Club.

“Every time I walked out, I got booed,” said Askar. “You get that one guy that’s pretty racist and starts yelling, spitting and being judgmental against us. The biggest thing is, you ignore it and prove them wrong in the cage.

“Just because you think a guy with a long beard, long hair and a turban blows up stuff doesn’t mean it’s all of them. I want to prove everyone who thinks we’re a terrorist wrong.”

The Palestinian community in Chicago has thrown its support behind the Askar brothers –including an estimated 500-1,000  fans at their fights in Indiana.

They hope to become so popular that Palestinians will fly to the States to watch them fight.

“Sports helps you fit into American culture,” says Asef. “It shows that just because we’re Arab, we’re doing what everyone else is doing. It’s not like we stick to one thing because we’re from a certain culture or background.”

Askar Askar (left) and his brother Asef spar at Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Michael Bacos/Medill)