x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The way ahead for boxing in the UAE

Eisa al Dah is fighting not just for himself but for the future of boxing in the UAE. But his trainer Anthony 'Chill' Wilson believes the sport needs a major push.

In the lobby of the Bel Remaitha Sports Club in Dubai, the training site for Emirati boxer Eisa al Dah, about 100 young Emirati, Syrian and Lebanese boys piled through the entrance.

It was easy to imagine that among them might be a boy who was the future of boxing in the UAE. A boy who would grow up to grace the Olympics, carve out a professional career and draw crowds to fights in this country with all the excitement of a world title challenge in Las Vegas.

That dream was quickly dashed upon entering the gym upstairs. The facilities were impressive enough, but not one of the young boys from downstairs was there. They were somewhere else in the building taking part in games of indoor football and basketball.

"People have to realise that boxing is a young sport in this country," Jessie Robinson, the chief executive of EMD Sports Services and al Dah's promoter, said. "There's no history of boxing in the UAE.

"Eisa's not just fighting in the ring, he's fighting to make boxing popular."

Some cynics might say there is more chance of al Dah knocking out Manny Pacquiao than winning that particular battle.

Although the number of people participating in contact sports in the UAE is on the rise, the trend has largely bypassed boxing.

There are several reasons. At the youth level, the amateur scene is "virtually non-existent" according to Robinson, with few clubs dedicated exclusively to boxing. Most clubs only offer it as part of training for other disciplines such as kick boxing and Muay Thai.

The Boxing Federation established an "elite" national youth team in July 2009; however, they failed to send a single entrant to the Youth Olympics in Singapore last year.

Another reason could be the constant - but as yet unfulfilled - promises to deliver a big name boxer such as Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr to fight here. Robinson has come closest, by luring Michael Moorer, the former heavyweight champion, to Dubai in March 2007.

Billed as "Destiny in the Desert", that card included a fight for al Dah, the UAE's only professional boxer, who won his first professional outing that night.

A second EMD event, "Global Impact" took place a year later, with al Dah again on the card. But EMD has staged no more encounters here, until now.

At 32, however, al Dah is not the future of boxing in this country. A pioneer for the sport? Yes. But in boxing terms, a little long in the tooth to make his mark on the bigger stage.

If the Boxing Federation harbours hopes of grooming top-class fighters, they could do worse than listen to the advice of Anthony "Chill" Wilson, the respected trainer from the US who will be in al Dah's corner for his fight against Ignasi Caballero Perez tomorrow night.

"If they're serious about getting more kids involved in boxing then they should recruit top-class coaches from countries with a proven track record," Wilson said.

"Then, they need to set up a central academy where the best fighters from around the country are handpicked and sent to learn under one coach - and I mean one."

The boxing authorities could do a lot worse than make Wilson that "one coach".

 

sluckings@thenational.ae