x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UFC world champ to coach in UAE

Former UFC champion moves to Dubai to train up residents in Mixed Martial Arts.

Professional fighters and world champions have been regular visitors to the UAE over the past few years to spar or host seminars, but this is the first time a former world champion has decided to move here and set up shop. Mike Young / The National
Professional fighters and world champions have been regular visitors to the UAE over the past few years to spar or host seminars, but this is the first time a former world champion has decided to move here and set up shop. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // The emirate could become a hub for professional mixed martial arts fighters and fans, according to one of the sport's biggest names.

After headlining the first Dubai Fighting Championship a couple of years ago, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champion, Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez, is moving to Dubai to coach full time.

Professional fighters and world champions have been regular visitors to the UAE over the past few years to spar or host seminars, but this is the first time a former world champion has decided to move here and set up shop.

"I very excited about moving to Dubai, it's a very upbeat place and I get to work with some great guys," Rodriguez said. "This is going to be a great experience and opportunity. Dubai looks like it could be the premier location for martial arts."

Rodriguez will coach at Glory MMA and Fitness Centre in Al Quoz, which opened last May.

One of the largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) facilities in town, it has indoor and outdoor training gear for martial arts, strength, conditioning and fitness. The gym's centrepiece is an octagon cage.

"The most important thing here is that we are building a world-class facility with world-class coaches," said Rodriguez, who is a Jiu-Jitsu specialist.

Joining him will be striking coach Carlo Dekkers, brother of the late kickboxer Ramon Dekkers.

He will work alongside the centre's current striking coach, Team Golden Glory's Chalid "Die Faust" Arrab.

Dekkers and Rodriguez are both due to arrive in Dubai this weekend.

"It is unprecedented in this part of the world to have this calibre of fighting talent and experience under one roof," said Tam Khan, the gym's coach and managing director. "You had to go to America to find this class of coaches and facilities, but we are trying to bring that here. We want people in America to notice us and say, 'let's go train in Dubai'."

"This is a chance of a lifetime for people who want to train with some of the most experienced trainers in the sport," said Dekkers, who has been coaching kick-boxing and Muay Thai for more than 25 years.

"We are very excited to come over and pass on the knowledge we have to new people, that's what I love."

Rodriguez said the move was not just about breeding fighters.

"There is a growing trend now for using MMA training to get fit and healthy, so that you can get your workout while you're doing something exciting and interesting, not just lifting weights at the gym.

"Our goal is to build the sport in different communities. We've had our shot. Now it is time to step away from the spotlight and build other champions."

Khan's goal is to get a UAE or Emirati fighter into the UFC, the sport's biggest stage. "That's my accolade and these guys have been there and know what it takes to get there."

With Rodriguez and Dekkers calling Dubai home for the foreseeable future, residents can expect to bump into some of the world's top fighters around town.

"If the market is big enough, I will bring the Golden Glory fighters here to compete and train," Dekkers said.

"I want to bring all my friends to come and stay at my house," added Rodriguez, whose list of buddies includes former UFC champions such as Tito Ortiz and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.

malkhan@thenational.ae