By Payam Younesipour
November 6, 2021
“Things have been said that can’t be taken back, by numerous people in his circle. I will release exactly what at the press conference, and you will see just why this is so personal to me. I can’t promise you the most technical fight in the world, but I will promise you that I will bring my absolute everything and turn this into an event you will never forget… I would love to pack this arena out and have 20k screaming friends and family show this guy EXACTLY what it means to be strong enough to stand up for what you believe in .”
The British boxer and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Martyn Ford posted the above on his Instagram page on Thursday, November 4. It was a clear message to his upcoming opponent, the Khuzestan-born bodybuilder Sajad Gharibi, whom he is set to face in London next April. Standing at a towering 207cm tall, Ford has been described as “the scariest person on the planet” while the massive Gharibi is known as the Iranian Hulk. What do we know about this “monster” so far – and how much for a ticket?
Born on December 19, 1991, Sajad Gharibi lives in Bushehr and quickly gained a huge internet following because of his enormous physique. Claiming to weigh 390 pounds, the powerlifter has grabbed the attention of English-language media such as the Daily Mail and the Sun: the latter, in a clear nod to his nickname, wrote: “We bet you won’t like him when he’s angry.”
For those who missed the gag, the Hulk is a massive, mutant, anthropomorphic green monster that features in the Marvel universe. First created by comic book writer Stanley Martin Lieber (better known as Stan Lee) and Jack Kirby in the 1960s, despite being effectively a superhero, the Hulk cannot control his anger, often leading to destructive rampages. Before Sajad Gharibi, Brazilian footballer Givanildo Vieira de Sousa also called himself “the Hulk” due to his also being a bodybuilder with a resemblance to Lou Ferrigno, star of the 1977 film The Incredible Hulk.
According to the Sun, Gharibi, who is 188 cm tall and weighs 180 kg, can easily lift loads equal to his own weight. As a teenager he was reportedly interested in boxing, but launched a professional career in powerlifting and bodybuilding in 2009 and has pursued no other vocation since then.
Like many others in his line of work, Gharibi wants to be seen. He courts the public both in media appearances and online, with more than 450,000 followers on Instagram. Some of his publicity stunts went further than expected; in an interview with the Young Journalists Club on July 23, 2016, Gharibi claimed that Ghassem Soleimani, the former commander of the IRGC’s expeditionary Quds Force, and the “Defenders of the Shrine” – Iran’s proxy forces overseas – were his role models.
In a different interview with the same outlet, which is close to the Islamic Republic’s security institutions, he also claimed that the ISIS had published his pictures and tried to claim he was on their side. He then announced on his Instagram page that he was off to fight ISIS himself. The Young Journalists Club duly published a series of semi-nude photos of Gharibi showing off his muscles, announcing the Iranian Hulk would be joining Ghassem Soleimani fighting extremists abroad. “The Iranian Hulk shook the limbs of ISIS,” the breathless headline read.
Gharibi then made the same claim again in a direct interview with Fars News Agency: “I wrote a letter to the Defenders of the Shrine and sent it to Syria, and I will definitely go and defend the shrines as much as I can. I am a Shiite Muslim and I oppose all Shiite Muslims who claim to be Muslims but are not willing to help anyone else.” A follow-up article profiling Gharibi by the Young Journalists Club in July 2016 described his training regimen – he apparently eats seven to 11 meals a day in the run-up to a fight – but when asked by the reporter if he was now registered to be sent to Syria, Gharibi was less than forthcoming. “I didn’t talk about Syria anywhere,” he said. “I just said that I am the defender and soldier of my country.”
But in October that year, the Spanish newspaper A.C.E. reported the possible upcoming presence of Sajjad Gharibi in the WWE or US wrestling competitions. A.C.E. claimed that Gharibi wanted to compete in the WWE with such stars as Triple H and Brock Lesnar. In less than three months, his plans appeared to have changed. Gharibi did go on to sign up for the WWE but has never taken part in any tournaments.
Two years of relative quiet passed before Gharibi made headlines again when he told Iranian media that he was about to take part in the “struggle of the century”. He had left bodybuilding for MMA, he said, and would be squaring up to the formidable British fighter Martyn Ford. Gharibi said it was Ford that had challenged him, scoffing: “This invitation was not my personal choice and I think it is mostly about propaganda, media and news, and will not go unanswered. Of course, I have to say that he is not a professional martial artist. He is a Hollywood actor.”
Born in England in 1982, Ford is an actor, bodybuilder and world-famous boxer. IMDB estimates his worth at around US$12 million and his monthly income between $50,000 and $200,000. Aside from bouts, Ford uses his eye-popping physique to promote everything from bodybuilding supplements to luxury cars to construction companies. He also has three million followers on Instagram and courts fame, making him a perfect match for Gharibi.
Despite this, years of speculation dragged by before the fight was finally confirmed. Initially Gharibi said the two would definitely face off in Poland in 2018, but the deal was cancelled. In the interim the pair have goaded each other online: Ford said he’d “smash” Gharibi “in no time” while two weeks ago, Gharibi posted a video of himself crushing a bone with a fist and yelling: “Martyn! Just sign the contract.” The video was captioned: “Haters gonna say it’s Photoshop… This is real life Hulk, not fake Hollywood pretty boy.”
Finally, Ford has confirmed the fight will take place on April 2, 2022 at the O2 Arena in London. This time it looks serious: Eventbrite’s pre-sale webpage promises doors will open for the “heaviest fight in history” at 6pm that night, with the fight continuing until 11.30pm GMT. Tickets to watch the two gigantic athletes battle it out start at £40 to £80 for regular seats, with special tables for 10 people closer to the stage run from £2,500 to £10,000 – plus VAT.