Dubai pianist hitting back after adversity to become boxing reality star

Fighting Fit Dubai is helping novice boxers make lifestyle changes to tackle mental health challenges

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When life left Liezl Talaver on the ropes, she turned to boxing for salvation.

The Filipino pianist was plunged into a deep depression when her grandfather died in June, leaving her plagued by panic attacks, self doubt and an urge to self harm.

But those dark times seem so long ago for the 27-year-old, who has transformed her outlook after signing up for the six-week Fighting Fit programme, an online reality show challenging novices to step into the ring.

A month into a gruelling schedule of early morning gym sessions and late night sparring, Ms Talaver feels she is winning back control.

“The biggest challenge is trying not to feel pressure, as I have been struggling with anxiety and depression,” she said.

“I’m battling with it every day. It effects my body and what I eat.

“I had panic attacks, and would fight with my siblings or anyone in the way.

“Since getting into boxing, I have learnt to control my aggression.”

Double daily training sessions and a change in diet, switching from ice cream, pizza and cakes to a tight calorie controlled healthier alternative has transformed her physically, and mentally.

Ms Talaver has four sisters and a brother, and although they are supportive of her new-found pugilism, her parents are not so keen.


Giselle Camoens, a participant of Fighting Fit Dubai reality show, trains at Real Boxing Only Gym.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)


“My siblings would see my panic attacks, when I would be banging my head or hurting myself,” she said.

“They worry about me, but see the positive effect boxing is having.

“My parents are more concerned about me getting hurt in the ring.”

Ms Talaver sought professional help at a Dubai clinic, but when the psychiatrist she was referred to immediately recommended medication, she walked out.

“The worst I felt was when I was having bad ideas about how I should hurt myself,” she said.

“Something was making me feel like I had to bang my head really hard into the wall so that whatever was clinging on inside and making me feel that way would disappear.

“I wanted to claw at my chest to pull out all the pain.

“I would cry over anything, particularly if it was something making me feel uncomfortable.

“I told the doctor I was concerned about becoming addicted to the medication.


Liezl Talaver, a participant of Fighting Fit Dubai reality show, trains at Real Boxing Only Gym.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)


“When I took up boxing and exercise, it helped my control.

“Now I know when my attacks are coming and how to avoid them.”

Ms Talaver is one of 24 fighters taking part in the selection process for Fighting Fit Dubai, a joint project between UAE-based Nomad Productions and global sports media giant, ESPN.

Producers claim an international audience of millions is tuning in to view the fighters progress across 28 episodes.

Competitors are aged 25 to 57 and hail from a diverse collection of backgrounds.

Two teams of six, and 12 reserves, will be selected from the six week training programme to make the final on April 26 at Zabeel House by Jumeirah, The Greens .

Another competitor hoping to win selection in the showpiece final is Indian mum, Giselle Camoens, 32.

“I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone to test myself,” she said.

“I didn’t expect boxing to affect me as emotionally as it has done. Hitting another person takes its toll.

“After my first fight in the trials, I felt terrible and broke down crying. I was more worried about hurting another person, than getting hurt.”

Boxing is the first sport Ms Camoens has tried - and it is leaving a permanent mark on her personality.

Her husband is often working away, so she is left alone with four-year-old son, Hunter for much of her time.

Giselle also works in a male-dominated environment, so boxing has helped find her voice and build confidence.

“There are some strong personalities at the office, and I have always found it tough to say no in the past to extra work,” she said.

“This is helping me stand my ground. My colleagues are shocked at the difference.

“My dad had a stroke a year ago, and was paralysed and bed ridden, so it has been difficult for the family.

“Boxing has given me a good outlet to relieve some of the stress and a break from the hospital.”

Season three of Fighting Fit Dubai can be viewed online at