As befits a boxing coach in a Rocky-esque red tracksuit, Zack Taumafi doesn’t mince his words. ‘Once you start sparring and cop a good hit, it gives you a wake-up call,’ he enthuses. The Australian trainer is promoting and organising this week’s KO4: King of the Ring event at Chi. ‘On Friday we had sparring class. After the first round, we already had three or four guys looking for a tissue.’
King of the Ring is Zack’s fourth event in Dubai, and his Marina-based KO Gym has been going for four months now. The event brings together fighters in a synthesis of boxing, kick boxing and elements of Muay Thai, a mixed martial art style that Zack says has become the hallmark of a modern boxing gym.
The main event at Chi sees four competitors face off in an elimination match. Al Hassan Okine, a Dubai-based boxer from KO Gym dubbed ‘The Ghanaian Van Damme’, is competing, and Zack is keen to stress the aesthetic of watching a good boxer like this in the ring. ‘If you learn boxing properly, it’s beautiful to watch. You learn it’s not a blood sport.’ Also taking part from KO is Kerry Bennett, a female UK boxer trained in Muay Thai.
The most refreshing thing about Zack’s gym is his hesitance to get students sparring. He explains that, having visited a number of boxing clubs operating here, the approach has often been to throw beginners into the ring before they even have a grasp of the basic fitness needed to be competent. ‘Sparring is only for those who are advanced, and prepared for fights,’ he says. Several weeks, even months, of group sessions is necessary before sparring is an option. ‘There’s a lot of ego. People think that sparring makes you a man, and it’s stupid.’
As a workout, the daily group classes are formidable. Zack’s son Vic, one of the combatants in the second tier of boxers fighting at Chi this week, has Time Out lapping the gym with dumbbells, followed by a punishing regime of crunches, burpies and press-ups – each punctuated by another stagger around the gym. This, we’re told, is a mere taster of what the full group sessions entail, but there is something weirdly satisfying about the intensity of the workout. Zack and Vic are encouraging throughout. Even the padwork combos, unleashed with a string of commands (right uppercut, left hook and straight…), are hardly a breather, at 40 minutes of near-constant fist-throwing.
We collapse next to Zack, who says he puts all competitors through this sort of training in the annual White Collar Fight Night. ‘They only have seven weeks to train. So they come in the morning to do fitness and technique training, then are back in the evening for sparring and more technique. It’s hardcore, three times a week.’ Competitors for WCFN, which pits white-collar dayjobbers against one another, all are newcomers to boxing. ‘But in those seven weeks,’ Zack continues, ‘you see reality. It’s easy to watch someone box, but until you get in there you can’t grasp the sheer fitness that the sport demands.’
Next month, Zack is in the capital promoting a huge boxing event to be held at One To One Hotel. State Of Origin features another 10 fights which, he hopes, should help to build a more solid basis for boxing across the country. ‘Back home, you can’t just open a gym unless you’re qualified and have a licence as a boxing trainer. Here you can start something up and just say, “I’m a champion.”’ His hopes are that with more events, the authorities will recognise the need for some enforced ground rules.
In the Abu Dhabi event on November 26, there are two Emiratis competing (including one 98kg 16-year-old). But local talent, Zack says, needs more exposure. ‘There are a lot of people with skills here, but they can be lazy. I have to tell them that. I get guys who come to me for training and after half an hour they’re sat back down. People are looking for an easy fix, and that goes for expats as well. They don’t think they need to do the hard work until they step into the ring against someone who has put the work in.’
KO4: King of the Ring is at Chi, October 23. General seating is Dhs150 and ringside seats are Dhs250. See www.timeouttickets.com or call 800 4669. Group classes at KO Gym are held Saturday to Wednesday, Dhs60 a session or Dhs500 for a month’s pass. Private one-on-one classes are Dhs200, or Dhs1,500 for 12 private classes. Call 050 286 1673 for info.