Iranian, Israeli judo bromance to be subject of US miniseries

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Sports stories have often been the basis of great cinema – think of Chariots of Fire – and now MGM/UA Television and the Israeli company Tadmor Entertainment have acquired the rights to turn the story of the friendship between Iranian world judo champion Saeid Mollaei and his Israeli counterpart Sagi Muki, into a miniseries.

Mollaei, who first made headlines when he refused to return to Iran after reportedly being ordered to throw a match to avoid fighting Muki at a match in Japan in 2019, came to Israel in February to participate in the International Judo Federation (IJF) competition in Israel, the Tel Aviv Grand Slam. Mollaei represented Mongolia in the two-day event.

After Mollaei arrived in Israel, Israeli judoka Sagi Muki posted an image on social media of the two with their arms around each other.

Mollaei says he fears for his life if he returns to Iran, and he lives in Germany.

In an interview that aired on Channel 12 this weekend, he described how the two have become friends. MGM and Tadmor describe this as a story of bravery and friendship against all odds, infused by the spirit of sportsmanship.

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The project is being developed in collaboration with Mollaei and Muki, as well as with the IJF, headed by president Marius Vizer. The series will feature exclusive, never-before-seen footage and interviews with the athletes about the dramatic moments in their careers.

There is also a companion documentary about the duo currently in production.

This is the second project to come out of MGM’s first-look deal with Tadmor Entertainment, following last year’s announcement of a new documentary series, Eichmann – The Devil Speaks, which will premiere in December 2021 on the Israeli Public Broadcasting Corporation, KAN.

Mollaei said, “I am truly honored beyond words by the project. I am a sportsman, and now I am a free man, too. Through what happened, Sagi became my friend, as did many other people around the world. It is a fantastic opportunity to show that judo and sports are an amazing way to break barriers.”

Muki echoed these sentiments, saying, “It’s my honor and privilege to be part of this extraordinary project with my dear friend Saeid. We want to forward the message that sport is above politics, and we are all one family. When Saeid and I meet in the final, the first winner is already set: our friendship! I truly believe [that] with the help of this project the second winner will be the understanding between our peoples.”

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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.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to partner with our great friends at Tadmor Entertainment and the IJF to share their very emotional and life-changing story with the world.”

Tadmor CEO Emilio Schenker said, “We are beyond excited to begin working on this unbelievable true story with MGM/UA Television’s inspiring team, headed by president Steve Stark….

“Together with the help of two of history’s greatest athletes – Sagi Muki and Saeid Mollaei – and our friends at the IJF, we are confident that we will create a story that will inspire peace and unity.”

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