Dubai: Big dreams are high risk, but they can act as motivation.
Take the case of Prince Amir Shafiypour, the three-time world Muay Thai boxing champion, who runs The Champion Club in Jumeirah Lakes Towers and is a passionate promoter of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts).
Prince Amir admits that he is not an expert at making big dreams happen but insists that he is determined to turn his into reality.
Born in Iran, Prince Amir says that his goal is to bring top-class fighters to the UAE and to turn Dubai into a Las Vegas-style venue for MMA.
In a recent interview, he told Gulf News why he is one of the key reasons this will happen.
Gulf News: Does your interest in being an active promoter of MMA stem from the fact that you once were a fighter? Is this what makes it your personal calling?
Prince Amir: There are two things to mention here: One is my passion. I’ve been in this sport for over 30 years and the second thing is the UAE is the city [country] in which we would like to build the sport as much as we can and to reach international level.
How hard is it to promote a sport like MMA?
It has been hard, not just here but all over the world, mainly in relation to convincing the sponsors and the media. But things are beginning to change. It’s getting better.
There are a lot of fight clubs and MMA promoters out here, but it seems The Champion Club, with your support, has a chance to stand out?
With my career and background I can confidently say I am one of the best people to run a gym like this. With what I have on my shoulders, nobody can compare with my standard. Opening a club is one thing, to run it another, to develop a champion is another. Anybody who knows how to play chess will know how to make the right moves, but a champion can finish the game in three moves. If you don’t know how to finish the game, it can take hours. This is the same thing with other sports, like MMA. As a coach you need to know how to develop good fighters who can succeed and who can have a future. I think I know my job very well.
What’s your take on the current state of MMA, both in the UAE and Middle East?
It’s growing very quickly in the UAE and one of the reasons is because there are a lot of people who are not just locally based who are involved in developing and promoting the sport. It’s not just about running a business but running it well, running it professionally. Whoever does it the right way, will achieve success. Whoever is looking at MMA and getting excited about it, won’t help you succeed. It won’t last long.
Do you think that the authorities in the UAE are doing enough to promote MMA?
We work very closely with the Dubai Sports Council and I can say that they’ve been very helpful. It’s a building process; we have to take one step at a time. I have to show them what I can do to get their full support and to help us take it to another level. We’ve put on several successful events and I’m sure at this point, the Dubai Sports Council, the authorities, the sponsors all know that we mean business. They know who the right guy is.
We want MMA to succeed and we are dead serious about taking it higher and higher to reach the level of other countries. I think the people now believe in me as they know that even with the limited budget that I have, I bring a five-star show to the table every time. I assure you that with a little more support, I will bring Las Vegas to Dubai. And I’m serious.
How realistic is that boast. Can it really happen?
There are three cities in the world that are identical — Las Vegas, Queensland in Australia and Dubai, and all have the same interest: To develop their city through sport and entertainment. In Dubai the attraction is the fabulous high-rise buildings, mega shopping malls, a Sports City, the best racecourse in the world. Stuff like this is attracting people’s attention and luring them here.
Basically Dubai is the Middle East hub for sport and we can use this reputation to showcase MMA to the world. I think MMA represents a golden opportunity for Dubai to further boost its image and reputation as a major sporting hub and can attract people from all over the world when it get to an even higher level.
Just imagine, if you have a Las Vegas-style MMA event here, there will be massive worldwide interest through television, the media, promoters and fans. What more can Dubai ask for? Beautiful advertising that will showcase the city to the world.
My club is not run by a businessman, but a sportsman like myself. When I walk in here, I’m equal to everyone who works here and everyone who trains here. We train together, we have fun, we enjoy what we’re doing. It’s not just about getting people to come here, pay the membership and train. We are a family, we call it The Champion Club family. Everybody is treated like family.
What do you say to people who say your sport is too barbaric?
Let me try to explain. Every human being has adrenaline in his body that he needs to sometimes get out of his system. If we don’t have ways to get it out, then the adrenaline will surface somewhere else, perhaps through violence in the street. So basically, while MMA may look violent, for the audience watching it is not.
I’ve been in this sport for over 30 years but I don’t have any injuries, I’m healthy and I’m happy. I don’t have any problems. Regarding injuries, you can get injured in any sport because you’re not expecting to get injured. But you can twist your ankle playing tennis and suffer a worse injury than a hit to the body.
In football, somebody can kick you in the head, you don’t expect that, so you get injured. But in MMA, it’s different. Another good technical answer is to compare MMA with boxing. In boxing fighters target the head 70 per cent [of the time], so just imagine how much punishment the head can take in 12 rounds. In MMA, which incorporates boxing, jiu-jitsu and grappling, you don’t concentrate on any one spot of the body.
What is your ultimate dream for MMA and Dubai?
I don’t want to be overstating something, but my ultimate dream is have a stadium in Dubai where 20,000 fans can watch world-class MMA fights.