x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Boxing: Eisa Aldah's battles in and out of the ring

Tthe Emirates' only professional boxer talks to Gary Meenaghan about the struggles he faces just to promote an event ahead of his bout with Miguel Angel Munguia.

Bel Remaitha Gym, oversized and awkwardly located in Al Rashidiya, sits between a neon-lit Islamic bank and a cafe selling cheese manakish and zaatar pizzas.

The constant commotion outside is directly juxtaposed to the depressive scene inside: it is 8pm on a Monday evening yet the boxing facility is all but empty. No pounding of punchbags, no skipping of ropes, no sparring in the regulation-standard ring.

The famous Wild Card Boxing Club in Los Angeles, this is not.

Eisa Aldah, the Emirates' first professional boxer, cuts a solitary figure as he appears from a side door, places down his kit by the ring and begins slugging away at one of seven long black punchbags. He has arrived alone, free from trainers, coaches or sparring partners. It is a scene far removed from what he has grown used to.

Since making his professional debut in 2007, Aldah has been gradually mixing with protagonists of world boxing. Not only is he now training with Mike Tyson's former coach Stacey McKinley but, through a long-established friendship with the former WBO featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed, Aldah was introduced to Amir Khan in 2008.

The two boxers grew close, with Aldah sharing meals with Khan and his family at the Briton's home after sparring sessions with him at a gym in Bolton, a town in the north-west of England. It was here Aldah met Freddie Roach, Khan's venerated trainer who invited him to train for two weeks at his world-renowned Wild Card gym in California.

"It is a simple gym, but everybody is busy and training intensely," Aldah said. "There you can spar with 100 fighters on any given day, but here, you know ... it's hard." Aldah's voice fades away as he casts his eye around the empty room in Bel Remaitha.

"There is so much history at Freddie's place. I remember seeing photos on the wall of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson, George Foreman, Joe Frazier ... It's amazing. Here we don't have that. But that is my ambition: to develop boxing in my country. Maybe one day, my photo can hang on the wall."

This evening, at the Aviation Club, Aldah will look to add to his seven wins from nine fights when he faces his most experienced opponent yet in Miguel Angel Munguia, a Mexican welterweight with 19 knockouts under his belt.

The fight is part of the Dubai International Boxing Championship, a 10-bout mixed-discipline event that intends to become a regular fixture on the UAE sporting calendar.

The contest is organised by Aldah's EMD Sports Services, the company the Emirati set-up after being afforded a glimpse into the worlds of the likes of boxing promoters Frank Warren, Don King and Bob Arum. The company's objective is to host a world-title fight at Dubai's Shiekh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Sports Complex within three years.

"I would say seeing Amir and his company Khan Promotions and how they operate, that was more beneficial to me than meeting with Don King," Aldah said. "Amir's team are so professional and organised; now I have a better understanding of what's required.

"But I am fighting in the ring and also fighting outside the ring to make things happen. We do not have the professionalism that boxing in the United States or Europe has. Everything takes longer here. You have no idea some of the challenges and criticism I have had to deal with."

As well as having to reluctantly include different fight disciplines - MMA, muay Thai, kick-boxing - on the undercard in order for the event to get recognition, Aldah's opponent, even before he has entered the ring, has caused problems.

Munguia, a 29-year-old native of Mexico City, had difficulties obtaining a UAE visa to fight, delaying his arrival to the extent that when the 20 boxers taking part in tonight's event were presented to media on Tuesday evening, the star attraction's opponent was absent. According to Amir Shafiy Pour, Aldah's Dubai-based coach, Munguia has since arrived.

"We're getting him here late, so that he's tired and we can knock him out early," Shafiy Pourjoked.

Aldah has undoubtedly matured since working with Khan and, having picked up "some secrets" from Floyd Mayweather Jr when the American boxer visited the UAE last year, he is hoping a convincing win over an experienced fighter can prove his detractors wrong.

Standing in the Bel Remaitha gym, slamming his fists into the punchbag and distracted by nothing but the sweat that irregularly runs into his eyes, the dedication is there. Whether he can convert it into success similar to his famous friends only time will tell. But it is precisely this that is not on his side.

Since his debut five years ago, the 33 year old has fought just nine times, none of which lasted more than 12 minutes. His goal of being a world champion is quixotic and yet everybody is allowed to dream.

"This is not the same Eisa Aldah as the first fight," he said. "Now I am confident in the ring, my movement, my distance, my ability to take a punch. The ring is my home and boxing is my life. People say 'Eisa Aldah started too late', 'he's old', but I believe that you if you dedicate your life to something, you can achieve anything."

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

7pm, Dubai Sports 1