x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Regional gym to open in Dubai

Mixed Martial Arts instructor Tam Khan's vision of creating the first training centre in the UAE has become a reality.

DUBAI // Three years ago, Tam Khan had a vision of creating the first training centre in the UAE for the sport he loves.

Today, that vision becomes reality as the mixed martial arts (MMA) instructor opens the region's first gym dedicated to the sport, the Contender MMA Centre.

"MMA's popularity is soaring, and since I arrived here it has come along in leaps and bounds," Khan said. "It is the future, the most complete form of combat, and I just hope this is the start of many projects, that we can all work together in the UAE, all of the clubs and centres, to make the sport grow."

Enthusiasm for MMA in the UAE seems to have grown considerably since 2007, when Khan, a native of the UK, first arrived in the desert.

Flash Entertainment of Abu Dhabi last year bought a 10 per cent stake in Zuffa, the company that owns the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

The capital played host to UFC 112 at Yas Island in April, and also now boasts its own Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship.

And, in case anyone forgot what those two events looked like, UFC programming is shown almost hourly on local television.

Now the country also boasts the first MMA gym in the region, after Khan gained the approval of the appropriate authorities.

He believes the very fact of the centre's existence will go far in securing the future of the sport here.

His argument was convincing enough that one of the UFC's stars, the Brazilian Wanderlei Silva, the former Pride champion, is expected to attend the launch today and spend a few hours training Tam's students.

Silva has travelled from Las Vegas for the opening, becoming the latest MMA star to lead practical workshops for enthusiasts here.

One previous visitor was Royce Gracie, a member of the UFC Hall of Fame and leader of the Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) school, of which Khan is a devotee.

Others who have been part of MMA sessions here are UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva and the Nogueira twins, Antonio Rodrigo and Antonio Rogerio.

"It's so important to have Wanderlei here as it gives beginners and fans of the sport the chance to train and ask their idols how to become like them," Khan said.

He hopes the centre will become a focal point for MMA training.

"I want to give the people of the UAE the opportunities I had to train, and fighters in Europe and the [US] have," he said. "The hardest part was getting approval because we are a first, so there is no specific MMA licence. But we got the go-ahead, which is a huge step forward for MMA here."

The 4,000-square-metre centre, located on Sheikh Zayed Road, boasts a cage to train in as well as punch and kick bags, large grappling and BJJ mats, a weights and cardio area and a juice and protein bar area.

It could prove of great assistance to international MMA fighters travelling to the UAE for competitions such as the UFC 112. A proper MMA gym in the UAE could see more professionals arrive in the country early to acclimatise and finish their training camps.

"We have already been asked to do so [for upcoming events]," Khan said. "It enhances our legitimacy, shows that we can compete with the best gyms around the world and that the UAE can also be a hub for MMA. "I have a feeling we may have an influx of top professional fighters coming in to prepare for big events," Kahn said.

He hopes to see Emirati as well as expatriate fighters develop at the centre.

"Everyone, in my opinion, is a contender, no matter who you are or what your background. "If you have the right training and coaching, anyone has a chance. No one is born great; you make it through hard work and dedication."

loatway@thenational.ae