How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit
Real Boxing Only gym has rebounded from the COVID-19 disruptions thanks in large to a loyal customer base. (RBO)
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Updated 27 July 2021

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit

How boxing clever during COVID-19 lockdown helped Dubai gym emerge fighting fit
  • Founder of dedicated Real Boxing Only turns to franchising as city residents fuel expansion plans

RIYADH: One year ago, the idea would have been unthinkable: Michelle Kuehn, founder of Dubai’s Real Boxing Only (RBO), in her Al-Quoz office fielding questions about franchising the gym dedicated solely to the noble art.

That she can even talk about it after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic nearly devastated the business she started in 2018 is a testament to the resilience of her and her staff. And, above all, people’s desire to re-embrace exercise, and embrace boxing, during a year like no other.

For Kuehn, the response after the lockdown was lifted and many restrictions eased would eventually exceed all expectations, but for business owners such as her, it was a situation they had never experienced before.

She said: “I wouldn’t say it was back to normal at all, especially in June 2020. Although we were allowed 50 percent capacity, we were probably only running at 30 percent. We found that a lot of people, although keen to go out, were afraid to go to the gym, being around others was definitely at the back of their minds.”

At first, the customers came back slowly, dipping their toes into uncharted waters, but their welcome return would not be, on its own, enough to ameliorate the financial hit that RBO had taken.

“The good news is we have a lot of loyal customers, so they were here first day, ready with their masks on. We had a lot of restrictions, so we had to redo the entire gym to make everything two meters apart which meant taking out boxing bags, moving treadmills. Class capacity was so small. By the end of June, I almost considered closing because we weren’t going to make it if we continued like that,” Kuehn added.




Real Boxing Only has seen an increase in new memberships in 2021. (RBO)

“Then I decided that was just not going to happen. So, we worked really hard from July to September, and in October I had a consultant come in and talk about the best ways to approach growth at a time that you can’t really grow because you can’t have that many people in your gym.

“So, I doubled down on classes. Instead of having one at 6.30, one at 7.30, I’d run three at 6.30. They were spaced out, smaller classes but at least I was running the same amount of people in the gym as I would have in one class normally before.”

With many customers losing their jobs or put on unpaid leave, and others facing uncertain futures, RBO had frozen memberships during lockdown and into July 2020. To attract new members, Kuehn’s team went on what she called a “discount spree.”

She said: “The only thing I could do was focus on new business, so I did a sales and marketing drive with my team, and we focused on just getting new business in. Luckily by September you could see people were happy to be out again, and they were feeling more confident because by October, November we broke records. That continued all the way into the new year, that’s when I decided to look at an extension.”

Kuehn noted that people had flocked back to the gym for health reasons.

“I definitely think health was on top of their minds and doing something fun. Having been stuck in the house for five months, no one wanted to feel overweight and just start jogging again. Boxing’s fun, everything about training here is fun. But it’s high fitness, these people were sweating off weight and they were feeling fitter than they ever felt. And that in itself is addictive, they were telling their friends and I had so many referrals coming in.”

Getting people to pay, or commit to long-term memberships, remained a challenge.




The new extension at Real Boxing Only gym. (RBO)

“We had to be serious and hit numbers. I also trained the other side of the team, the ones that interact with clients. I wrote all the class programs, I worked with coaches to make sure that there was some consistency, uniformity and when people came, they were spoken to well, they were treated well, there was no judgement. The coaches were encouraging and some of the best coaches in the city work here, they’re boxers that we brought from around the world,” she added.

Redeveloping the business in the circumstances reignited Kuehn’s interest in growing RBO, though eventually not in the way she had initially intended.

“Expanding was something I was looking at in 2019, toward the end of the year, I was starting to consider options for expanding. We get a lot of questions from Abu Dhabi, from Deira, asking if we have branches, all over the Emirates really. But I wasn’t convinced on whether to expand or franchise.

“I was leaning toward expanding but then when we were shut down during COVID, I realized the risk I was at. If I had five gyms like this, I would have closed probably four because the overheads would have been too much for one company to support. So, that kind of answered my question.”

Having decided that franchising was lower risk than expanding, Kuehn and her team had to make sure that the business could be duplicated, with new staff trained to ensure the same quality of service would be on offer.

It was, ironically, the original RBO’s expansion into an abandoned warehouse next door that helped solidify the franchise model.

“We set a target for March 1, for how many members I needed to have to be able to afford the new extension, and we hit that by January,” she said.

“I had to rush into the new extension which is 4,000 square feet. We went from 6,000 to 10,000. In the last 12 months we’ve grown 206 percent. With growth come larger challenges; now I have a much bigger team, a lot more clients, a lot more expectations to uphold, which has helped me write my franchise model.

“Every mistake we make, I change it, and I write that into the franchise model. For the last 12 months I’ve been creating the operating manual for my franchise, everything is systemized.”

With extra space, the number of classes doubled to 360 a month; higher staff salaries had to be met while ensuring RBO still had some of the most competitive rates in the city.

With business considerably more secure than a year ago, Kuehn is now in a position to negotiate her first franchise of RBO.

“Abu Dhabi will have one, but not until next year, and then I would consider a second, smaller franchise in the UAE, maybe in Dubai as well,” she added.

“And the UK next year is my target. Should the UAE and the UK go well, you want the franchise to sell itself. You don’t need me and my numbers, they can go and speak to any franchisee. As long as that goes well, Saudi and Oman I’ve considered as targets as well.”


Juventus finally gets 1st win of Serie A season

Juventus finally gets 1st win of Serie A season
Updated 22 September 2021

Juventus finally gets 1st win of Serie A season

Juventus finally gets 1st win of Serie A season
  • De Ligt scored the winner in the 72nd minute to complete a comeback after Juventus fell behind four minutes after the break
  • Juventus moved up to 12th place, eight points behind leader Inter Milan

ROME: Critics had been demanding that Juventus use its younger players more during a horrendous start to Serie A.
They had to be appeased after Moise Kean, Federico Chiesa and Matthijs De Ligt each scored in a 3-2 win at Spezia for the Bianconeri’s first Italian league win of the season on Wednesday.
De Ligt scored the winner in the 72nd minute to complete a comeback after Juventus fell behind four minutes after the break.
Playing in place of Juventus captain Giorgio Chiellini, the 22-year-old De Ligt coolly redirected in a loose ball that was being knocked around following a corner.
The 23-year-old Chiesa had equalized six minutes earlier with a typical goal for the Italy winger: he darted straight to the goal by dribbling through the legs of a defender then just barely got his shot off as he was sliding toward the ball.
The 21-year-old Kean — like coach Massimiliano Allegri in his second stint at Juventus — had given the visitors an early lead with a long shot after Adrien Rabiot knocked down a ball over the top from Leonardo Bonucci.
Spezia had struck back with goals both sides of halftime, the first coming with a solo effort from Emmanuel Gyasi, who dribbled by Danilo on the left flank and looped a long shot into the far corner.
Gyasi celebrated like Cristiano Ronaldo, his idol and the recently departed Juventus player, by leaping into the air and pumping his arms down toward his body.
Janis Antiste, a 19-year-old French forward, put Spezia ahead by beating De Ligt on a counterattack with the help of his shot being deflected by Bonucci.
Spezia nearly made it 3-1 but another effort minutes later was cleared off the line by Manuel Locatelli.
Juventus moved up to 12th place, eight points behind leader Inter Milan.
Hellas Verona has four points from two matches since hiring Igor Tudor to replace Eusebio Di Francesco as coach after three straight losses to open the season.
Nikola Kalinic scored twice in a 2-2 draw at promoted Salernitana three days after Verona handed Jose Mourinho his first defeat as Roma coach.
Mamadou Coulibaly equalized midway through the second half for Salernitana.


Europeans aim to ‘make it count’ in Ryder Cup defense

Europeans aim to ‘make it count’ in Ryder Cup defense
Updated 22 September 2021

Europeans aim to ‘make it count’ in Ryder Cup defense

Europeans aim to ‘make it count’ in Ryder Cup defense
  • Garcia will be playing in a 10th Ryder Cup when Europe launches its defense on Friday on the Wisconsin course hugging the shore of Lake Michigan

KOHLER: Europeans aim to 'make it count' in Ryder Cup defense AFP Kohler Padraig Harrington is hammering home the idea of European exceptionalism as his players prepare to defend golf's Ryder Cup in hostile territory against a star-laden US team.

Upon arriving at Whistling Straits, Europe's players learned where they line up in the history of just 164 players who have represented the continent.

Despite their wealth of experience and depth of enthusiasm for the biennial match play showdown, Europe's players were clearly moved to learn what rare company they're in.

"It was very powerful," Spain's Sergio Garcia said of the video that featured such past Ryder Cup greats as Jose Maria Olazabal and Tony Jacklin.

Every player to represent Europe — Great Britain and Ireland before the format changed in 1979 — was assigned a number, right through the members of this year's team of 12, who were urged to "make it count."

Garcia will be playing in a 10th Ryder Cup when Europe launches its defense on Friday on the Wisconsin course hugging the shore of Lake Michigan.

England's Lee Westwood will be playing in his 11th — but he too was struck by the video that contrasted the 164 to the 5,780 people who have climbed Mount Everest, 570 people who have been in outer space and 225 men who have won a major golf championship.

"You have a far greater chance of going into space or climbing Mount Everest than you have representing Europe in the Ryder Cup," Westwood said.

"It's something to be proud of, being able to pull on the clothing with the European team crest on it."

European teams have won nine of the past 12 Ryder Cups, thrashing the United States 17.5-10.5 in France in 2018. That includes three of the past six held on US soil.

In harkening to history, Harrington boosted the spirit of camaraderie that Europe must have to maintain its dominance against a US team that features eight of the world's top 10 players - the highest number for either team since the inception of the world rankings in 1986.

US captain Steve Stricker, aiming to make the most of all that talent, capitalized on the United States' home advantage by convening his team for an early weekend of practice at Whistling Straits, before the hoopla of Ryder Cup week was in full swing.

Jordan Spieth, heading into his fourth Ryder Cup, wasn't sure how helpful the days of light practice would be, but said Tuesday they had been beneficial.

"I thought the commitment of guys to get up here was cool," Spieth said.

"We were messing around. We were hitting shots. We weren't really like chipping and putting to all the pins.

It was more let's have some fun and play a match with each other and just kind of see — get our feet on the ground, see the grandstands, see the setting ahead of time so that when we arrive today, you're not kind of taken aback."

That could be especially useful for a US side featuring six Ryder Cup rookies, and it plays into Stricker's goal of "out-preparing" Europe.

"Certainly I think things can adjust, but as far as how prepared you can be on Tuesday for a Friday start, I would say it's probably the most that I've seen in the four Cups," Spieth said.


UEFA says FIFA snubs request for talks on World Cup concerns

UEFA says FIFA snubs request for talks on World Cup concerns
Updated 22 September 2021

UEFA says FIFA snubs request for talks on World Cup concerns

UEFA says FIFA snubs request for talks on World Cup concerns
  • Gianni Infantino has been deploying retired players and Arsenal’s ex-manager Arsene Wenger in a campaign to win support for the overhaul of world football
  • “UEFA is disappointed with the methodology adopted, which has so far led to radical reform projects being communicated," European football's governing body said

LONDON: Intensifying its opposition to FIFA’s push for biennial World Cups, UEFA complained Wednesday that Gianni Infantino’s world body has yet to respond to its request for talks to discuss the concerns of European nations.
Infantino has been deploying retired players and former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in a campaign to win support for the overhaul of world football, which UEFA said is a sign of “promotional campaigns of unilaterally pre-determined concepts” rather than an open consultation process.
Doubling the frequency of World Cups would create significant disruption for club competitions, continental tournaments, including the European Championship, and existing global events like the Olympics.
“UEFA is disappointed with the methodology adopted, which has so far led to radical reform projects being communicated and openly promoted before having been given, together with other stakeholders, the chance to participate in any consultation meeting,” European football’s governing body said in a statement.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has already said that Europe could boycott the World Cup if Infantino succeeds in securing approval for his plan from the FIFA Congress of 211 member associations. Most of those countries never get to play at the World Cup, which will feature 32 men’s teams for the last time in 2022 before expanding to 48 nations in 2026.
“There are real dangers associated with this plan,” UEFA said in a statement after an executive committee meeting, “the dilution of the value of the No. 1 world football event, whose quadrennial occurrence gives it a mystique that generations of fans have grown up with; the erosion of sporting opportunities for the weaker national teams by replacing regular matches with final tournaments; the risk to sustainability for players, forced to engage in summer high intensity competitions every year instead of longer recuperation breaks in alternate years.”
More than a week after asking FIFA “to organize a special meeting with them to be able to voice their concerns on the impact of such plans,” UEFA said it “to date not yet received a reply.”
Major women’s tournaments, such as the World Cup and continental events like the European Championship, are currently held in odd-numbered years. The men’s World Cup and Euros are held in even-numbered years. FIFA’s new vision would mean every year would feature a men’s tournament, including continental events.
“We are grateful for the attention reserved to the UEFA European Championship, with the proposed double frequency of its final event,” UEFA said, “but we prefer to address such a sensitive matter with a comprehensive rather than speculative approach.”
UEFA flagged up “the risk for the future of women’s tournaments, deprived of exclusive slots and overshadowed by the proximity of top men’s events.”
A World Cup would also clash with the Olympics, unlike now, if the new plans are approved.
UEFA highlighted “the impact on the global sports system and respect that football, as the most followed sport worldwide, must show to consolidated spaces of exposure and exploitation used by other sports.”
FIFA has been stepping up the publication of in-house interviews featuring former players stating the case for a review of the international match calendar and for holding the World Cup every two years. Infantino has not been made available for comment since May.
“The serious concerns that the FIFA proposal provokes ... cannot be dispelled simply with unsubstantiated promotional slogans on the supposed benefits of a thicker calendar for final tournaments,” UEFA said.
“The respect for a consultation process with the stakeholders — which should be unbiased — would suggest abstaining from promotional campaigns of unilaterally pre-determined concepts that nobody has been given the possibility to see in detail and which have wide-ranging, often unexpected, effects.”


Canelo Álvarez, Caleb Plant trade blows at news conference

Canelo Álvarez, Caleb Plant trade blows at news conference
Updated 22 September 2021

Canelo Álvarez, Caleb Plant trade blows at news conference

Canelo Álvarez, Caleb Plant trade blows at news conference

BEVERLY HILLS, California: Canelo Álvarez and Caleb Plant couldn’t wait until Nov. 6 to start throwing hands.
The super middleweight champions traded blows at their news conference Tuesday to promote their upcoming title unification bout, and the exchange left Plant with a cut under his right eye.
The fighters scuffled after exchanging verbal barbs during the ceremonial faceoff before the news conference began in the garden of the Beverly Hilton. Apparently in response to a comment from Plant about Álvarez’s mother, the Mexican superstar knocked Plant backward with a two-handed shove.
“You can say whatever you want to me, but not about my mother,” Álvarez said afterward.
Plant stepped forward and threw a left hook at Álvarez, who mostly dodged it and countered with a left hand to Plant’s face. Plant said the blow struck his sunglasses, which jammed into his cheek and caused the cut.
“We were just saying things, just the normal back-and-forth banter, and then he did what he did,” Plant said.
Álvarez put it succinctly on Twitter while posting video of the brouhaha: “Don’t talk about my mom.”
The fighters’ camps eventually separated them, but Plant was left dabbing at the blood on his cheek. He eventually put on his sunglasses for a frosty, combative news conference in which Plant repeatedly called out Álvarez for his doping violations in 2018.
Álvarez (56-1-2, 38 KOs) will risk his WBC, WBA and WBO super middleweight titles against Plant (21-0, 12 KOs), the unbeaten IBF champion from Tennessee, when they meet at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Plant repeatedly said Álvarez and trainer Eddy Reynoso are “cheaters.” Álvarez was suspended for six months for clenbuterol detected in a drug test, although the Mexican champ claimed the banned substance came from tainted meat.
“This sport is too dangerous for people to be popping positive,” Plant said. “He’s a cheater. It’s not up for discussion. Did he get suspended? Did he test positive? It’s not about what I say. It’s about what the (athletic) commission said. You have to take that up with them, not me.”
Reynoso responded angrily when pressed on Álvarez’s past positive test and the more recent failed doping test for Oscar Valdez, Canelo’s training partner. Speaking in Spanish, Reynoso didn’t directly address Plant’s comments, but instead profanely suggested Plant wasn’t training hard enough to win in seven weeks.
“Taking illegal substances doesn’t happen because you’re confident,” Plant said. “It happens because you’re afraid. That just gives me more confidence. I’ve dedicated a lot to this sport, and it will be my life’s work coming together in that one moment when I beat him. It would etch my name in the history books, and that’s what I’m here to do.”
Álvarez is unbeaten in 15 fights since his only career loss to Floyd Mayweather in 2013. He traded insults with Plant after their physical exchange, but kept his public comments more brief.
“For me, it’s for history, for Mexico, for my team,” he said. “I’m going to knock out this guy in less than eight rounds.”


Golden Shoe winner Lewandowski hopes to become ‘even better’

Golden Shoe winner Lewandowski hopes to become ‘even better’
Updated 22 September 2021

Golden Shoe winner Lewandowski hopes to become ‘even better’

Golden Shoe winner Lewandowski hopes to become ‘even better’
  • Lewandowski netted 41 times in 29 games for Bayern in the 2020-21 season

MUNICH: Europe’s “Golden Shoe” winner Robert Lewandowski sent out a warning to defenses around Europe on Tuesday when he likened himself to a ‘good wine’ that was still improving.
The Bayern Munich striker also offered warm praise and thanks to his wife Anna when he received the award as top scorer in European football last season.
Lewandowski netted 41 times in 29 games for Bayern in the 2020-21 season, breaking the great Gerd Mueller’s record of 40 goals in a Bundesliga season, set in 1971-72.
His tally represents the highest in Europe since Cristiano Ronaldo bagged 48 goals for Real Madrid in 2014-15.
The 33-year-old forward insisted, though, that there were still plenty more goals and titles yet to come.
“I’m still here, and I will be here for a long time!” said Lewandowski.
“Age is just a number, I feel very good, my form indicators have never been so good.
“I know that with my body I can still play for years at the highest level. I am like good wine and I hope to become even better.”
This season, Lewandowski has already scored seven goals in five days as champions Bayern top the early Bundesliga table.
“It’s not over yet, we are still hungry for titles,” said Lewandowski who hopes to help Bayern to a second Champions League title to add to the one he won with them in 2020.
“I don’t need to go and prove myself in another league,” said the striker who was linked with Real Madrid a few years ago.
“With the Champions League, I can measure myself against the best. I am 100 percent focused on Bayern and I don’t think about anything else.”
At the ceremony held at Bayern’s Allianz Arena, the Poland striker was effusive in his praise for his wife who is also his personal “motivation coach.”
“I have to thank my wife, she is a great support for me and a motivation when things are not going so well,” he said.
A former Polish international karateka, Anna Lewandowska is also a nutritionist and oversees her husband’s diet.
“I am very proud of him,” she said. “He is extraordinary as a person, as an athlete, as a partner, as a friend and as a husband.”
Lewandowski is only the second Bundesliga player to win the award after Mueller, who won in 1970 and 1972.
Lionel Messi has won the award a record six times while Ronaldo has taken it four times but they only scored 30 and 29 goals respectively in 2020-21.