x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE boxers saying hitting smart is key to victory

The sport of boxing is thriving in the UAE, but it is much more than simply a test of who can punch the hardest.

DUBAI // Boxing fans watching the men's bouts in the 10 weight categories when the London Olympics begin this month will be on the lookout for future professionals.

There have been several memorable Olympic bouts featuring some of the world's greatest boxers, including Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, and George Foreman, both of whom won gold medals.

In the UAE, the sport has a professional scene as well as a budding amateur presence.

Mehdi Ramezani, who has fought in three professional bouts in the UAE, said there is more to boxing than giving and taking punches.

"Whenever I am boxing in a competition, I am playing chess," he said. "It's not only about taking the punches, it's thinking how you fight: your strategy, attack and defence - which takes a lot of thinking."

Mr Ramezani, who works as a financial adviser, has a training regime that does not allow him to rest between sessions like other professionals. "Most pros are earning [a living] from it but I am not," he said. "The daily time spent training is not so different but at the professional level it's harder, it's more dedication. You have to be very focused in your training."

Having a job while competing professionally makes it difficult to focus completely on the sport, he said. However, although his work is hindering his professional ambitions, it pays the bills.

Mr Ramezani, an Iranian, trains for two hours every morning and two to three hours after work.

His daily routine starts with a fast run of six kilometres in 24 minutes. Then it is back to the gym and, depending on the day, he works on the punch bag and technique, or on weights, cardio and strength.

In boxing, everything has to move fast and every muscle is connected. From fancy footwork to fast punches, a top boxer is a well-rounded athlete in peak physical condition. "There is no end," said Mr Ramezani, 33. "Every day I learn something new, along with new techniques."

Outside the ring, he said, the sport also helps in everyday life. "It makes you stronger when facing problems and you focus a lot. Life is challenging anyway and boxing helps you tackle it whenever something happens to you. It takes a stronger person, mentally, to do boxing."

Mark Porter, 42, from Scotland, took up the sport a year ago but has hung up his gloves.

"I think there is more to boxing, he said. "Before going into it, I'd say I was quite short-tempered and aggressive. I learnt a lot of self-control and got a lot of self-discipline. [I] go into situations a lot better instead of overreacting."

Mr Porter has moved on to the triathlon, which also require a rigorous training regime but not at the level of boxing. "I think it's the only sport, cardio-wise, that will bring you up to a level that is second to none. Nothing will get you get as fit as boxing," he said.

Mr Porter took part in the Transguard White Collar fights, an event that offers eight weeks of training to people who have never fought before. I was physically stronger and fitter than ever before when I finished the White Collar," he said.

He had planned to continue competing, but found he could not find the time necessary for preparation. "If you are going to fight, you have to do two solid months," he said.

One commitment Mr Porter is willing to give this summer is to the Olympic boxing.

"I'll definitely be watching it," he said. "I was always a fan of boxing but after participating, it gives a better understanding of the commitment involved in the sport. It gives you a better appreciation of what they go through."

Mr Ramezani will watch friends from Tehran compete. "They are good fighters and have a good chance to get medals," he said.

eharnan@thenational.ae