From being too scared to come out of his comfort zone, Matt Fortune learns some harsh lessons during eight weeks of boxing training for a local reality TV show…
It’s amazing what you discover about yourself when blood trickles from what feels like an almost-certainly broken nose and onto your top lip before 6am. For the fifth day in a row. For the fifth week in a row. And then when all you really need – and probably deserve – is some quiet reflection, you remember this is all going to be on TV in the UAE, Britain and Singapore. How could you forget? As you fight back tears, a camera crew are on you like a flash, asking for some sort of coherent reflection on what just happened.
Now, some context. Back in May I sent a tentative application to Nomad Media suggesting I might be cut out to be one of the 50 “stars” of its rebranded reality TV show, Fighting Fit Dubai. Featuring former Commonwealth champion Roy Gumbs, ten-time record holder Eva Clarke and a couple of former Olympians, as well as never-before-boxed individuals from all walks of life across Dubai, it is, for contestants, an eight-week intense physical training camp building towards an amateur boxing bout. Gulp. I was signing up for around 80 hours work for what boiled down to be nine minutes of trying not make an idiot of myself in front of friends, family and 1,500 other people under the floodlights at Emirates Golf Club on Friday November 11. And here we are, with Fight Night now so close I can almost left jab it. Well, if I was brave enough to throw it.
The smash hit first season of the show was known as White Collar DXB, a title that perhaps made it too much about boxing and not enough about the individual journeys of those involved, each of them offering a nugget of inspiration to the audience. This year, there’s the super-fit personal trainer with anxiety issues that rendered her incapable of getting into the ring, a former professional sportsman whose promising career was cut short by niggling injuries, and the young, overweight Brit who lost both parents to heart disease and is determined not to go the same way. And that’s the crux of the show and the process; people you care about using boxing fitness and competition to overcome their own personal difficulties.
My shtick? Well, having once suggested I was happiest when I was at work in an argument with my better half (I didn’t mean it like that!), I’ve just never prioritised my well-being over and above my professional life, despite knowing full well one would probably facilitate the other. I’m also rubbish at being rubbish, and as a result, try to avoid at all costs anything that might highlight my ineptitude. I hate it, genuinely, and couldn’t tell you the last time I learned something from scratch and saw it through beyond about a fortnight. Spanish lessons: couldn’t roll my Rs, so packed that in rather than practise. Yoga: my limbs are “too awkward”, so sun salutations were swiftly sidelined. CrossFit squeezed a month out of me, but when I failed to transform into a character from Greek mythology, that too was dead-lifted off the schedule.
But what about when there’s no hiding place, like the hand-to-hand combat of boxing? Truth is, the answer to that question has been different with every passing week since the process began. From embracing it with a nothing-to-lose attitude, to being so frustrated and full of doubt that I punched a door, the sport has been a unique learning curve, both physical and mental. For the former the results have been external and internal, so it was impossible not to want more, however tiring the 4.40am alarm calls got. Boxing will do that to do you; igniting shoulder, arm, chest and core muscles, as well as kickstarting your cardiovascular system in a way most other sports will simply fail to do.
And for the latter, you need only look at those tears, experienced immediately after exiting the ring after 20 minutes, seven two-minute rounds and in excess of 100 punches thrown and landed; they weren’t from pain, but simply from the excruciating feeling of adrenaline levels plummeting through the floor as heavy as a Mike Tyson hook. I was back for more the very next day. The only comparison I can draw is to skydiving, and even then, the topsy-turvy emotions are borne out of the fear (jumping out of the plane) and relief (landing safely back on solid ground) –juxtaposition, rather than euphoria.
How I’ll feel on Fight Night, with the general public and army of people in my corner, is anybody’s guess. One thing’s for sure, I won’t be the same person whose application letter was accepted less than three months ago.
Fighting Fit Dubai screens Wednesdays on OSN Sport 4. For tickets to Fight Night, visit dubai.platinumlist.net.
Four to try Boxing gyms
Founded by the UAE’s first-ever professional boxer Eisa Al Dah, EMD covers the whole spectrum of boxing, from technique to fitness and footwork, and boasts one of the most complete set-ups for combat sports.
Sun-Thu 6pm-7pm, 7pm-8pm. Sunset Mall, Jumeirah Beach Road, www.emdfitness.com (04 338 4001).
Fit boys gyms
A dedicated boxing and martial arts centre with a crew of professional fighters to help you get fit and bout-ready. It has a full-size ring and plenty of equipment to ensure you develop your technique. Despite its name, the gym is open to girls, too.
Daily 6.30am-8pm. Red Diamond Building, JLT, www.fitboysgym.com (04 434 3661).
One of the city’s most popular specialist boxing gyms, Round 10 is frequented by people of all ages and regularly hosts amateur events. Classes focus on technique and fitness through punches, drills and more.
Sat-Thu. 5.30am-7.30pm. Al Quoz, www.round10boxing.com (04 338 0101).
The Warehouse gym
The home of Fighting Fit Dubai, this is one of the more recognisable gyms in town courtesy of a unique graffiti décor both indoor and out. The Al Quoz spot has a ring and numerous bags, and also hosts CrossFit conditioning and Strongman events.
Daily 5.30am-11pm. Umm Suqeim Road, Al Quoz, www.whgym.com (04 3232323).