Israeli world champion judoka Sagi Muki (R), and Iranian Saeid Mollaei on February 10, 2020. (Instagram/screenshot) Instagram/screenshot
Iran judo

The Iranian athlete who escaped his country’s tyranny to compete against his Israeli opponent is a “story of bravery, friendship against all odds, and the true spirit of sport.”

By Yakir Benzion, United With Israel

Hollywood’s MGM Television announced this week that it is partnering with Israel’s Tadmor Entertainment company to develop a television series about Iranian judo star Saeid Mollaei, who defected from the tyrannical Islamic country after he was ordered to lose a bout at the world championships in order not to compete against Israeli champion Sagi Muki.

The two companies have acquired the life rights to the duo and are working with the International Judo Federation to develop the series, which will feature exclusive footage of the athletes. A documentary about the pair is also in production.

MGM is calling the series: “The incredible true story of Iranian Saeid Mollaei, one of history’s bravest athletes, who despite threats from his handlers, refused to give in and chose to compete against his friend Sagi Muki from Israel.”

In 2019, Mollaei said his handlers tried to force him to throw matches at that year’s judo world championship in Tokyo so he would not have to face the Israeli Muki, who went on to win the tournament, JTA reported. Fearing for his life, Mollaei received sanctuary in Germany with refugee status and eventually became a citizen of Mongolia, the country for which he now competes.

“Soon these two incredible judokas will meet on the mat for the first time during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. This is a story of bravery, friendship against all odds, and the true spirit of sport,” MGM stated.

MGM/UA Television president Steve Stark said: “Sagi Muki and Saeid Mollaei are both inspiring and groundbreaking athletes whose rivalry and impossible friendship has transcended the world of judo to captivate sports fans and hearts across the globe.”

Last month, Mollaei made a historic visit to Israel to compete at the Tel Aviv Grand Slam judo tournament, where he was given a hero’s welcome.

“I’m really happy to be in the competition,” Mollaei said in English. “Thank you for everything and the welcome, all the best to all Israelis – take care of yourself.”

When he met Mollaei at the airport, Israel Judo Association president Moshe Ponte greeted the Iranian judoka with a big hug.

“When I saw Saeid Mollae and his coach Muhammad, I got as excited as I have not been for a long time,” Ponte told Channel 12 news. “This is a completely different excitement, this is a historic moment for this amazing, brave and nice man that everyone loves – and in Israel we also love him very much – and he is a real hero and a real competitor.”

“The whole world knows him, we made history by bringing hearts together and bringing Saied from Iran to Israel, and I wish there would be peace between the two peoples,” Ponte said.

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