Hamzah Sheeraz is becoming a bit of a regular around town in Dubai, and this time he is here to pay it forward.
The 22-year-old professional boxer splits his time between home in London, the United States and his training base at Real Boxing Only Gym in the UAE, and earlier this month he went 14-0 in his pro career when he defeated fellow English fighter Bradley Skeete by TKO to retain his WBO European light-middleweight title.
Following his latest success, he took some time out to recuperate in Dubai — but he also has another mission on the agenda.
Hamzah has a vast wealth of experience, with more than 100 amateur fights, going back to when he took up the sport at the age of eight and fought his first bout at 11.
Now, just over a decade later he is ready to pass on his wisdom to the brightest young fighter based in the UAE. While training at Real Boxing Only, Hamzah spotted the talent and potential of rising star Arjun Singh Hayre — and he sees a great deal of similarities in the 14-year-old and his younger self — despite the differences of growing up in England and Dubai. Hamzah has decided to take on the role of mentor for Arjun, to help take him to the next level, where the older boxer believes he can achieve great things.
“Arjun is the future of boxing here in the UAE, but he will need to make sacrifices to move up a level, and I am here to help guide him,” Hamzah told Gulf News in an exclusive chat alongside Arjun at Real Boxing Only. “It is always hard, but when I was the same age as Arjun here, you had to sacrifice things like going out with your mates, avoid eating things that a usual teenager would be eating. You have to train twice as hard as — in my opinion — any other athlete of that age would be training. Even though you are still a teenager, you are facing mental barriers that you need to break on order to find out who you are and if you are capable of doing it at the top. I am sure Arjun has that — we has already won national titles here and that speaks for itself.”
Arjun — like Hamzah — started boxing at eight years old and has made a name for himself in the UAE, which he has called home since he was seven. He won the UAE National Champion title in the Under-13 category in 2020 before the Covid-19 lockdown. He also tasted success on the Amir Khan show in November at La Perle, Dubai. Now he is eager to learn from — and work hard with — Hamzah, who is really impressed at how the UAE has advanced, thanks to facilities such as Real Boxing Only.
“What Arjun has achieved already is so impressive, especially out here in the UAE, where boxing is growing with gyms like Michelle (Kuehn, managing director at Real Boxing Only) has right here to get boxing out there,” Hamzah said. “If you were to ask me two years ago I would say England and the UAE were totally different for boxing, but now they are competing and the UAE is getting on par.
“Arjun doesn’t realise it but he is doing it all by himself so far, winning these titles in the UAE. Even back in England we heard about it. Everyone back in the UK knows about him as one of the top amateurs out here with his coach Waleed (Din).
“Now I have vast experience and the benefit of hindsight that I can pass on to Arjun. There are countless things I could have done differently. Absolutely loads. I almost look at myself as the crash test dummy, because I didn’t really have anyone helping me in the amateurs. Even though I was doing it in England and he is here in the UAE, now I can give Arjun loads of advice on what to do, how to go about certain things, what not to do and not to eat. Obviously I am here to help in every way I can but he is a fighter and has to find it out for himself.”
Arjun himself cannot wait to get started and learn from an unbeaten pro like Hamzah.
“I am going to be asking him from all types of advice,” he said. “Even when I see him in the ring training with his team, you can see the little moves he is making and his boxing IQ, and I see I can learn so much.
“Then of course there are things like nutrition advice and how to do things in and out of the ring, and how I can take that into the ring myself.”
It may be hard to imagine, but one of Arjun’s biggest challenges is trying to fight athletes of similar age and weight to spar against and fight against to gain experience. “In the UK there are so many tournaments, there are the ABA contests,” he explaied. “If I was in the UK I would be getting fights every two or three weeks, here it can be once every four months.
“There are also a lost of distractions here with all the landmarks and events, whereas in England you just get your head down, and that is what I am trying to focus on here.”
Arjun already sticks to a strict training and dietary regime to help him improve as he gets older. “I always get to the gym whenever I can,” he said. “I am training five times a week and even on resting days I always go for a run from 6pm to 7pm. I don’t eat the junk food and have a nutrition programme that I follow to keep me on top of any other athletes my age in Dubai.
“Sparring is the problem here. I very rarely spar as there are not enough guys to spar with.”
Hamzah explained that he was sparring almost every day when he was Arjun’s age and had regular fights and competitions too.
“When in England I was also sparring all the time,” Arjun said. “And I really want to find that here to improve as a person and as a boxer.”
However, Hamzah has every confidence in his young student: “Arjun will become the first boxer based out here to break through on the amateur scene, so hopefully I can help him achieve that. It would be great to see as we have had no one come through from the grassroots in the UAE and Arjun will be the first.”