Dubai boxing gym helps bullied children fight anxiety in the playground

Ringside coaches aim to build confidence in youngsters

Inspired by power punchers Mike Tyson and New Zealand’s very own David Tua, Kiwi David Fifita left his Emirates career behind to help children overcome anxiety through boxing.

The 38-year-old had four amateur fights, before dislocating his shoulder and taking up coaching after losing his job as a travel agent with Emirates during the pandemic.

He is one of a team of boxers and martial artists at Ringside gym in Al Quoz, now coaching children bullied at school, or who have struggled with anxiety.

It gives them confidence and encourages them not to be bullied, or bully anyone else
Hossein Sharifi, kickboxer and professional lightweight fighter

“Boxing is a lonely sport, but it teaches so much discipline,” he said.

“I have only been coaching for six months but I love it. Emirates called me up asking me back, but I want to stay coaching.

“This makes me happy, I don’t want to sit behind a desk and put on weight. This is for me.

“I am also learning so much from other coaches who are trained in different styles.”

At 23, Mr Fifita won his first amateur bout and what started as a spark quickly became a roaring blaze.

At university in New Zealand, he continued to box as he studied to become an occupational therapist helping the elderly recover from illness and injury.

He went on to have three more amateur fights, each with three, two-minute rounds, but when he dislocated his shoulder in his final bout he moved to Dubai for a career as an Emirates travel consultant.

When he lost his job because of the pandemic, he was invited to coach at Ringside gym where he trained.

The gym teaches several styles, including kick-boxing, Muay Thai and combination sports like mixed martial arts.

“Some kids come to us and are so shy, but this is their outlet,” said Mr Fifita.

“There are two five year old girls who are really into it.

“In their first session they were crying and wanted to go home, now they have grown in confidence and love it.

“That is my enjoyment, they learn and they have fun.”

Iranian Hossein Sharifi, 24, a kickboxer for eight years and professional lightweight fighter said children gain in confidence after just a few sessions.

“It gives them confidence and encourages them not to be bullied, or bully anyone else,” he said.

“You see a big change in confidence in the children who first came here with nothing.

“Now they speak more and are fearless.”

Sessions range from an hour to 90 minutes and involve cardiovascular fitness exercises, balance training, co-ordination and technique.

Age groups are split into 6-10 year-olds, who train on Saturdays from 1-2pm and Thursdays and Sundays from 3.30-4.30pm.

We are now getting a lot of interest from women and children who want to take up boxing for the first time
Payam Honari, founder Ringside

Children aged 11-15 train from 2-3pm on Saturdays and 4.30-5.30pm on Thursdays and Sundays.

Prices range from D55-Dh250, with membership from Dh400.

Carmen Conradie’s son Alex, 7, started attending boxing classes in April and now visits the gym five days a week.

“Alex has not had any issues at school, but some of his friends have and they have come to these classes and seen a big difference in their confidence,” said the mum from South Africa.

“This is purely for fun and exercise, I’m not sure I would like to see him get into the ring for a proper bout when he is older.”

The gym was founded by Iranian businessman Payam Honari, 33, who started Ringside after struggling to find any centre dedicated to the art of boxing.

Mr Honari, also an amateur fighter, said the transformation in the children who pass through the gym is impressive.

“I’ve seen kids come in here who are shy and don’t want to interact with anyone,” he said.

“After a few weeks of boxing sessions, their parents have told us they’ve seen massive improvements.

“We are now getting a lot of interest from women and children who want to take up boxing for the first time."

Updated: October 5th 2021, 3:39 PM