Celia Peterson

As the sun goes down on a Friday evening in Dubai, a few hundred Pakistani men congregate to watch the latest round of traditional Kushti fighting. ‘Welcome to the international Kushti stadium of Dubai’ laughed one man, looking at the patch of desert wasteland before us. Nestled between the Deira Fish market and a busy roundabout, some of the crowd has travelled from far to watch just over one hour of sparring before sunset.

Hailing from a 3,000 year heritage spanning India, Pakistan and Iran, Kushti fighters traditionally adhere to strict training programmes, focusing on maximizing their sporting prowess and living a pure life where diet is strictly controlled to maximize muscle and drinking, smoking and sex are banned. It is steeped in tradition with a mystical and philosophical heritage.

Back in the ring of sand, the referee, an elderly man with a colourful stick enters the circle and starts gesticulating and shouting in Urdu for the fighters to present themselves. Prospective fighters in traditional Pakistani robes come forward from the crowd dancing and jumping to huge applause. Sparring partners are then matched at which point the men change into bright coloured underwear. A musician playing the bag pipes creates a carnival atmosphere, and the fighting begins with huge cheers from an excited crowd.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: The referee awaits the arrival of prospective kushti fiighters to present themselves.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: A prospective fighter comes forward from the crowd dancing and jumping to huge applause to present himself as a contestant.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Portrait of a Kushti fighter.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Mohamed Shahed and Mohamed Salwa are presented to the crowd ahead of their fight. The fight is contained to the darker patch of sand where the ground is prepared with water to keep it soft to avoid injury of the fighters.

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Dubai, UAE - 08/11/2015: Expatriate Pakistani men watching the Friday Kushti battle between Mohamed Shahed and Mohamed Salwa.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Faisal (right) is from Hyderabad in India and works as a mechanic in Dubai. He started Kushti 7 year's ago having previously studied judo. He trains after work each day with his friends for around 2 hours between 7-9pm.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Faisal (top) is from Hyderabad in India and works as a mechanic in Dubai. He started Kushti 7 year's ago having previously studied judo. He trains after work each day with his friends for around 2 hours between 7-9pm.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Expatriate Pakistani men celebrating the victory of a Kushti fighter.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Portrait of a Kushti fighter.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: A male Pakistani crowd watch on as a Kushti fight progresses. The average fight takes around 10 minutes and matches continue for as long as the evening light allows.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: The fighting is occasionally paused as the fighters and masters of ceremonies stop to rub sand on each other’s sweaty bodies, serving both to aid their grip during the battle and as a blessing.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Mohamed Shahed and Mohamed Salwa fight each other overseen by a referee. Kushti involves various moves including locks, throws, and submission holds and rules do not permit strikes or kicks.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Faisal (bottom) is from Hyderabad in India and works as a mechanic in Dubai. He started Kushti 7 year's ago having previously studied judo. He trains after work each day with his friends for around 2 hours between 7-9pm.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Faisal (right) is wrestled to the ground by his opponent, carefully watched by a predominantly male Pakistani crowd. A wrestler wins when he manages to pin his opponent's hips and shoulders to the ground. Victory can also be achieved by submission or a knockout.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: One of the judges intervenes as Mohamed Shahed (blue) and Mohamed Salwa fight each other. Fights are overseen by a referee inside the ring as well as an extra referee watching from outside the main circle.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: An inner circle of men with mobile phones surround the combatants photographing and videoing their every move. The tension occasionally becomes too much if the judging has been deemed not fair. Here, they celebrate a call to victory for one of the fighters.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Mohamed Shahed, one of the winning fighters collects donations from the crowd after his fight. There is no fixed amount for winning, an average collected amounts to 50-100aed.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: One of the winners surrounded by fans taking selfies after the match.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Mohamed Salwa, a Kushti fighter from Pakistan, followed his brothers to Dubai and is currently unemployed. He started Kushti 8 year's ago, got married, started a family and continued wrestling. He trains every morning and evening by running 2 kilometres and lifting weights.

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Dubai, UAE - 16/11/2015: Mohamed Salwa and Mohamed Nader, pose after showering with a hose pipe in a nearby wasteland after the fight.