Prince Amir doesn’t look like a veteran Muay Thai fighter. Not that we know what a veteran Muay Thai fighter ought to look like, but we weren’t expecting to see a man sporting black-framed spectacles and an unruly mop of black hair waiting to meet us at the new Champion Club gym in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Still, despite looking as though he’d be more at home at a Bastakiya gallery than a boxing gym, Prince Amir has three world Muay Thai titles to his name. ‘They called me a smart Muay Thai boxer,’ explains Prince Amir. ‘I didn’t have to use my physicality to win fights; I used my head.’ That explains the glasses, then.
Born in Iran, Amir Shafiypour took up karate before moving to Sweden; there he converted to boxing and won the Swedish National Championships. He changed codes for a third time when he started learning Muay Thai and subsequently moved to Thailand. It was after honing his skills there that he went on to win his first world title (welterweight) in 1996, before adding the world super-welterweight and middleweight titles to his already impressive record. Prince Amir has since retired, but says he came to the UAE because of the quality of life and the fact it is close to Iran. ‘After working here, my business partner and I decided to open this gym,’ he says. ‘My goal is to bring top-class fighters to the UAE. We have gyms in the UAE that are good, but I don’t think anyone can bring the high-level [fighters] we need in this country.’
Abu Dhabi has already become a regular fixture for the Ultimate Fighting Championships, but Prince Amir seems more interested in promoting Muay Thai from within the UAE, rather than importing it. ‘I don’t want to bring other organisations into the UAE,’ he says. ‘We don’t need UFC, we don’t need K-1 – we can build our own. We just need patience. It will take time: two, three, four, five years. It will take this time to train stars.’ Prince Amir’s ambitions are well intended, but he’s not the first, nor will he be the last promoter in the UAE who hopes to bring high-profile fights to the UAE independently of UFC. The Abu Dhabi Fighting Championships are growing in stature, but if the UAE is to be able to draw the biggest names, independent gyms such as The Champion Club will have to work together. Prince Amir is open to this suggestion, though he says he wants to bring in opponents from abroad, rather than pit his fighters against those training at other gyms.
The popularity of UFC and mixed martial arts is undeniable, but with so many young fighters keen to train in multiple disciplines, are traditional combat sports such as boxing and Muay Thai in danger of being eclipsed? Prince Amir dismisses the theory. ‘They’re different sports, [they have] different techniques… it’s like watching soccer and Aussie Rules. There’s a different beauty. I’d much rather watch [Californian boxer] Shane Mosley fight 12 rounds than watch a heavyweight MMA bout.’ So what lies ahead for Prince Amir and The Champion Club? He’s currently training fighters for the next Abu Dhabi Fighting Championships on October 22. The rest of us, meanwhile, can settle for regular Muay Thai classes on weeknights.
See Prince Amir’s fighters compete in the Abu Dhabi Fighting Championship at ADNEC on October 22. Doors open 5pm for a 7pm start; grandstand tickets start at Dhs250. For more details, see www.adfc.ae
Muay Thai moves
Talk the talk with Time Out’s beginners’ guide to Thai boxing
The roundhouse kick
This kick can target three areas: the knee (to unbalance an opponent); the ribs (to wind or weaken); and the neck and/or head (for a potential knockout blow). Prince Amir says the move is particularly effective when your opponent is trying to box you.
The straight knee
In a clinch, grab the opponent’s neck and pull their head down to meet your raised knee. Alternatively, thrust your knee straight into their midriff. Charming.
‘Use the elbow to finish them off,’ advises Prince Amir. Elbows can be used to follow up a punch laid with the same arm, using your other arm to protect your forehead. Otherwise, the elbow can be utilised as a blow in its own right (rather than following up a punch), or as a block.
Muay Thai classes at The Champion Club cost Dhs60; monthly membership is Dhs500. See www.thechampionclub.com