Dubai's UFC Gym's 'fight club' draws in new batch of recruits looking to get fit
A taster session for teachers run by a British judo champion proved hugely popular
It is the rising star of international sport and as the booming popularity of UFC continues, UAE residents are strapping on the gloves and hitting the octagon.
Inspired by world champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and American star Ronda Rousey, fitness enthusiasts who have been cooped up at home this summer turned to mixed martial arts as a stress reliever.
The National joined a taster class exclusively for teachers at the UFC Gym in Jumeirah Beach Residence this week.
Half of those to sign up were women - proof that a sport that combines judo, Taekwondo, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts is becoming more attractive to both genders, according to trainer and gym engagement manager Lisa Garrett.
It’s been great to get out and meet people again and it is a bit more fun than just running on a treadmill
“People imagine this is like a fight club, but it is so much more than that,” said Ms Garrett, 42, who has represented England at judo.
“Our coaches teach beginners how to wrap their hands and then train for 50 minutes for a full body conditioning workout.
“It is empowering the fighting spirit, while making exercise fun.”
Classes would usually have a 30-person capacity, but are reduced to 50 per cent under current distancing rules.
Coaches either focus on conditioning, or skill - with Brazilian jiu-jitsu a key aspect of teaching and training.
A 24-foot octagon is central to the gym, where fighters take on round after round of punishment during bouts.
Although sparring between opponents is currently not allowed, coaches are on hand to teach skills necessary to deliver pinpoint punches.
The gym can host competitions and grading ceremonies to achieve different levels of competence with children as young as four taking part.
“If women see other women taking up the sport and doing well, it inspires them,” said Ms Garrett.
“Ronda Rousey has had a big impact in encouraging more women to take up MMA.
“It is the same with younger people wanting to get involved.”
One of those women trying out the sport for the first time was Natalie Hadfield, a 28-year-old teacher from Lancashire who works at Sunmarke School in Jumeirah Village Triangle.
“I thought I would give it a go as I’m interested in boxing and wanted to get in shape by doing something fun,” she said.
“It was really tiring, but great to get rid of some pent up energy.
“The last few months have been boring, so it’s been great to get out and meet people again.”
“It is a bit more fun than just running on a treadmill.”
The sport was already popular before Abu Dhabi hosted the spectacular Fight Island series last month, for which millions of viewers tuned in for a series of bouts in an isolated Yas Island.
The JBR UFC Gym has 1,200 members and its branch in Business Bay has 2,000 – proof the sport is becoming hugely popular across the country.
Youth classes run in different age groups from 4-7,8-11 and 12-15. While the average age of those taking to the ring is 35, fitness classes are suitable for all.
At 45, Robert Welsh was one of the older teachers to try out the sport.
The Briton works for the Ministry of Education at various schools across the country, and started Thai boxing 20 years ago.
"A lot of teachers struggled with the lockdown, either with the online teaching itself because of the new technology or losing the classroom environment,” said Mr Welsh.
“Many felt isolated or anxious about potentially losing their jobs, so hitting the bag has been a massive help for them.”
Mr Welsh is part of Teacher Socials, an events group dedicated to helping teachers find a work-life balance.
The teachersocials app will offer discounts on eating out, well-being tips and social activities and goes live on August 23.
“Mental health and fitness go hand in hand,” said Mr Welsh.
“If one deteriorates, then the other usually follows.
“We have held several events to get teachers together from Dubai to help those who felt alone and needed to relieve some pressure.
“The classes are great, they can burn calories and are brilliant stress relievers.”
Updated: August 11, 2020 01:19 PM