My first real exposure to the phenomenon that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was via a video one of my former colleagues sent me, showing a female fighter having her ear punched off. Why he thought such frightening footage would be of interest to me is anyone’s guess, but it still induces involuntary gagging whenever it springs to mind.
Little did I know that several years later, I’d be stepping into the octagon myself as a budding brawler learning the ropes (or the chain-link) from a coach who had recently spent four months honing his skills with the crème de la crème of the sport in the US.
“Go lightly with me,” I think, as coach Amit Thapa thunders his shin repeatedly into mine. As I feel my tibia throbbing, the urge to retaliate becomes almost overbearing. “Just take it,” I tell myself as the red mist abates. “It’ll be his turn soon.”
Let’s get this straight, Thapa is a beast of a man – as fleet of foot as he is bound of muscle. I’d spotted him warming up before our session, hearing how hefty a thud his fist produced on his cohort’s pads and hoping my rudimentary pugilistic prowess wouldn’t show me up.
Pretty soon, the gloves are on and it’s my chance to take out some pent-up frustration on my new nemesis. But UFC is about far more than brute force and unadulterated thuggery. Thapa illustrates that there is a certain finesse to the sport and that without the right technique, even the toughest of the tough will soon be on the canvas.
I admit, my left is very much the swinger, lacking both precision and power, so the virtues of a good jab aren’t lost on me. However, following it up with a right and left hook, then a kick to the ribs, is seemingly a combination I can’t fathom. I know my footwork is completely off kilter, and no matter how many times Thapa tells me to “use my core” and shows me how to do so, I still find it hard. It does feel and sound great when I connect with my right though, even if I’ve imagined a grimace from my trainer.
Gasping for some water, and a little respite, I’m soon out of the octagon and onto the mat to face my next challenger – I mean coach – Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt, Thabet Al Taher.
Although far more jovial in character, Al Taher means business, and no sooner had I mopped my river-like brow, I’m being manhandled, flung over his hip to the floor and having a knee forced into my sternum. This is his “submission move” – several steps to intense pain for your rival.
Al Taher assures me I will learn the moves by heart after six repetitions, and after I cagily begin to follow his instructions, I can see what he means. The clarity with which he talks me through the manoeuvre means I have him flying through the air and crashing back down to Earth.
I wish I’d listened properly to his guidance, though. Once I have him in an arm and headlock, he taps on my leg for me to let go – and I’d forgotten this means release in jiu jitsu. Instead, I lean back with all my might, hurting my neck and almost pulling Al Taher’s arm out of its socket. Thankfully, he takes my ignorance with good grace.
The Middle East’s first UFC gym has far more to offer than purely martial arts-based activities. Before my massively painful initiation ceremony, its affable CEO George Yiasemides had given me the grand tour, highlighting how each section would combine to make workouts as complete as possible. I was hugely impressed, even though the only reason I’d ever set foot in a gym before was because my sister worked in one, and the tea was good.
My own session is far from over as CrossFit expert Slavisa Velickovic extracts what little energy I have left for a series of quests, including kettlebells, squats and box jumps.
Hugely leg-weary and hurting in places I’ve only read about, I eventually take my leave. I will be back when the gym is fully operational, though, and leave delighted to have met the team and to have had a sneak preview of this hot property. I was most glad, however, that both ears remained intact… Memberships from Dhs349 per month. Bay Square Building 01, Business Bay, www.ufcgym.me (800 832 496).
Four to try Get kitted out at the UFC Gym store
The shop All bases are covered here, with a fine selection of Reebok gear to get members fight-ready. UFC aficionados can also grab themselves some fanwear, with everyone’s favourite octagon star, Conor McGregor, heavily featured. There’s no word yet on when the Luke Wilson line will be released. www.ufcgym.me.
Reebok TLAF Box ss tee The sports brand has the licence to provide all the UFC stars with their fight garb, and if it’s good enough for them, it is for you too. You’ll be happy to discover that despite overheating, this T-shirt’s built-in SpeedWick technology will keep your skin dry and comfortable at all times throughout your workout. Dhs135-175.
Reebok tlaf mma short These bad boys are baggy and cool enough to help you withstand a rigorous workout, again thanks to the SpeedWick design. An added bonus is the anti-microbial material that reduces odour. These shorts also come with a handy little pocket for your mouthguard. Dhs345.
Zprint training shoe You might not be a big fan of “practical” trainers, but these are very durable and comfortable. Although they feel lightweight, you can tell they will be able stand up to a good pounding. You might even find yourself foregoing socks – sweat won’t cause any rubbing or foot odour. Dhs425.