Afghan boxer wins country's first-ever professional fight
Millions of Afghans were glued to their television sets on Tuesday night to watch the first ever professional boxing match staged in the war-torn country.
They were treated to a title fight between Hamid Rahimi, who was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Germany, and Tanzania's Said Mbelwa, with the World Boxing Organization's Intercontinental middleweight belt up for grabs.
While millions watched it live on two Afghan TV channels, including state-run RTA, hundreds of people, including senior government officials, lawmakers and diplomats packed into the Loya Jirga hall in Kabul amid tight security to watch the fight, with tickets changing hands for between US$50 and US$100.
Rahimi claimed victory in the seventh round after Mbelwa's shoulder was injured.
"This belt is not mine, this belt is Afghanistan's belt. It's yours. I love you," an ecstatic Rahimi told the crowd from the ring.
The event, billed as the "Fight 4 Peace," was another milestone in the country's rehabilitation after life under the Taliban, when it would likely have been banned.
The group, which ruled much of the country between 1996 and 2001, prevented the population from taking part in many activities seen as un-Islamic, with restrictions placed on many sports. Kabul's main sports arena, Ghazi Stadium, was infamously used as a venue for public executions and stonings during the 1990s.
"I am sure none of the two [fighters] would even dare to get into the country, if the Taliban were still ruling. I am so happy that now we are moving towards a future where the world is giving us a recognition," Sayed Ahmad Peerzada, a shopkeeper, told CNN.
The excitement was also echoed on social media, with thousands taking to Twitter and Facebook to show their support for the match.
Khalid Quraishi, an Afghan living abroad, wrote on his Facebook page: "Hamid Rahimi opened a new chapter in the boxing history in Afghanistan! Thanks to his opponent for accepting to come to Kabul too!"
The result even resonated at the Presidential palace in Kabul, as President Hamid Karzai offered his congratulations to both boxers.
"The president, besides congratulating Rahimi, thanks his Tanzanian opponent who came to Afghanistan to take part in this fight," a statement from Karzai's office said.
Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1983 and escaped to Germany with his family in 1992 after the country was embroiled in civil war. He has won 20 of his 21 matches so far.
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