UAE international boxing event pulls no punches with knockout fight card

UAE international boxing event pulls no punches with knockout fight card
The Atlantis Hotel on Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (File/AFP)
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Updated 11 August 2021

UAE international boxing event pulls no punches with knockout fight card

UAE international boxing event pulls no punches with knockout fight card
  • Friday fight night at Atlantis hotel on Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah will feature 6 bouts, 2 for vacant titles

DUBAI: Boxing nights are not a common occurrence in the UAE, but some of the world’s best fighters could soon become regular visitors to the country if the organizers behind this weekend’s Legacy Boxing Series - International Boxing Fight Night have their way.

On Friday, Legacy Sports Management is bringing six professional fights, two of which are title bouts, to the Atlantis hotel on Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.

Former world WBA light middleweight champion Austin Trout, who will take on Alejandro Davila in the super welterweight division in the night’s main event, told Arab News that he was glad the wait for his fight was finally over.

Austin Trout is topping the bill at International Boxing Night. (File/Legacy Sports Management)

He said: “I’ve had to mentally psych myself into not worrying about the possibility of is it going to happen, is it not going to happen, will (the coronavirus disease) COVID-19 stop, are the flights going to come through?

“All those things that were buzzing around the fight, I’ve just been training, my coaches expect me in the gym regardless, if the fight was happening or not. We’ve been working hard.”

Trout’s last fight was in February’s unanimous decision win over Juan Armando Garcia in Mexico, and the 35-year-old southpaw pointed out that he was in great condition to take on another strong Mexican opponent in Davila.

“It’s been good here, it’s been hot, but I wasn’t expecting it to also be so humid, which is great for losing weight. My weight is good. It’s something that you have to get used to, so I’m glad that Legacy brought us out with enough time to acclimatize,” the Texas fighter added.

It will be Trout’s first time in Dubai, and he has been training at the Real Boxing Only gym in Al-Quoz alongside several other boxers who will be taking to the ring in the Atlantis at the weekend.

He said: “Facilities here are great, and we have everything we need. It’s a nice professional atmosphere. Everybody that’s in here works, so it’s not like some gyms where you come in and you see some people slacking around, nothing like that. I love the environment and the atmosphere here.

“I’m very excited to be back in the ring, even more excited to be fighting here in Dubai,” added Trout, who has a professional career record of 33 wins, five losses, and one draw.

“A big part of my career we were fighting abroad, and honestly it was the most fun part of my career. I really enjoyed it. I was in love with boxing. So, I’m happy to do more travelling, more fighting.”

He also hoped that boxing would follow mixed martial arts’ example of staging more fights in the UAE and the Middle East.

“From my understanding and what I’ve always gathered, is that Middle East loves combat sports. There really is no reason why there shouldn’t be a lot of boxing. UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) kind of paved the way with Fight Island (on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi) and they’ve had some good success with that, so I’m hoping boxing follows suit and brings a lot of fights over here. It’s always appreciated,” Trout said.

While his focus remained on Friday’s bout, Trout was clear about his future ambitions.

“We don’t have any set plans, we always have to get past what’s ahead of us, but I’m looking to get to the title. I’m looking to be a two-time world champion, the moves we make will be toward that goal,” he added.

The organizers also hope many similar events will follow.

Karim Akkar, chief executive officer of Legacy Sports Management, said: “Dubai stands for quality, and we are keen to bring the best fight cards to Dubai and spotlight the city as the new place to be for boxing.

“Dubai is the place where we want to build world champions in the next year. Everyone loves the city and boxers around the globe were overwhelmed with the opportunity to fight here.”

One of the highlights on the fight card will be the clash between Ismaikel “Mike” Perez and Tony Salam for the vacant WBA Intercontinental cruiserweight title.

Ireland-based 'Mike' Perez during a training session in Dubai ahead of Friday's fight night. (File/Legacy Sports Management)

Perez said: “Being in Dubai will make it special, most people dream of coming here, and fighting here. It’s a blessing to be here, it’s a blessing to have Legacy behind me and to give me this opportunity. It’s a blessing to be fighting for a title. It took me three to four years to get here, just to come back like this, I have no words to explain it.”

The Ireland-based Cuban noted that finding the right balance of training since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic had not been easy.

“I don’t think I had any problems in a fitness way, I’ve been training for three years straight. Even with gyms on lockdown, I would go running every day, do what I could. I didn’t do too much boxing at the time. Where I live, it’s hard to find a gym that can let you train, especially me as an immigrant. But in the last six months, I’ve done everything, sparring, everything,” he added.

Perez fought for the WBC cruiserweight title in 2017, but the last few years have not been easy for the 35-year-old.

He said: “It took me three years before I found Legacy in the end. My wife and I were talking about it, she was like I know you love it but maybe it’s time to go ahead and do something else. And just when I was about to decide to move on and stop boxing for good, I found Legacy, and the opportunity to come. I just can’t wait. I will do my very best, I want this.

“I’m ready to go. Even after Friday, if they tell me to go next Friday, I’m ready to go. All I want is just to fight.”

Also on the bill is a highly anticipated bout for the vacant WBA Intercontinental super middleweight title between the talented American Anthony Sims Jr. and Hernan David Perez from Argentina. It will be a second chance to secure the belt that the 26-year-old from Indiana aims not to waste.

Anthony Sims Jr. has his sights on winning a a world title in Dubai. (File/Legacy Sports Management)

He said: “I lost my last fight, which was for the world title, so it’s like I’m getting a chance to do it all over and do it the right way. It’s the chance of a lifetime. Lightning never strikes twice, but to me it struck twice in one year, and I’m just blessed.”

Sims was also looking forward to fighting in front of a new crowd in a new environment. “I always want to fight in front of beautiful people, of all ethnicities and races across world, and I’m getting to do it right here in Dubai.”

He pointed out that the camp in Dubai had been ideal ahead of Friday’s fight.

“The gym is amazing. Both gyms supply your different needs. One gym has all the bags you need, and the other has more diverse bags, both have amazing rings, and a great atmosphere. You don’t need for anything, it’s perfect,” he added.

And beyond Dubai, his focus was clear. “After this fight, we’re going for somebody in the top 10.”

Rounding up the card will be the super featherweight bout between Bekman Soylybayev and Ramiro Cesena; Fernando Daniel Martinez versus Gonzalo Garcia Duran in the super flyweight category; and Ramona Graeff against Karina Kopinska in the female lightweight division.

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
Updated 05 July 2022

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach

Al-Ittihad name Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach
  • Portuguese tactician has reputation for producing teams that are hard to beat
  • Familiar faces from English Premier League likely heading to the Red Sea port

LONDON: Al-Ittihad appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach on Monday, with the former Valencia, Porto and Tottenham Hotspur boss replacing Cosmin Contra at the eight-time champions of Saudi Arabia.

The Portuguese tactician, who spent four years in charge of Wolverhampton Wanderers before heading to North London in the summer of 2021, has been available since being dismissed by Spurs in November after just four months in charge. He has been handed a two-year contract by the Jeddah giants with his main task to deliver a first title since 2009.

After spells with Valencia and Porto, the former goalkeeper took over at Wolves in 2017. After securing promotion into the English Premier League, he then established the West Midlands club as a force in the top tier. That record took him to Tottenham but after three wins in the first three games of last season, it all started to go wrong at White Hart Lane with just nine goals scored in the first 10 league games. After damaging defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Manchester United, he received his marching orders.

Unlike at Tottenham, however, when Nuno arrived after a number of other coaches had turned the job down or were unavailable, he has been Al-Ittihad’s number one target after the decision was made not to offer Contra a new deal.

The club announced the departure of the Romanian, whose contract ended last week, earlier in the day and wasted no time in announcing their new man.

Contra had talked openly of his desire to stay at the club and of his plans for next season. After his appointment last August, the former Dinamo Bucharest coach took Al-Ittihad clear at the top of the table to the extent that, in February, they were 16 points clear of Al-Hilal. It all went wrong as the Tigers dropped 13 points from the final eight games of the season, a ruin that allowed Al-Hilal to take the title on the final day.

“I would like to apologize that we let you down at the last minute, and although we did our best, we did not live up to the aspirations of our fans,” Contra said on social media. He highlighted that great champions bounce back from big disappointments by learning from their mistakes. “Al-Ittihad will return next season stronger to achieve the title that we have been waiting for a long time,” he added.

They will do so without him. The way the team threw away the title has led management to believe that a firmer pair of hands was needed at the helm. There was particular disquiet at the hugely damaging twin defeats against Al-Hilal in the run-in and the way Ittihad threw away a 3-1 lead against Al-Feiha to draw 4-4 on May 6. That the latter result came just three days after Al-Hilal had surprisingly been defeated by Al-Fateh, giving Al-Ittihad an opportunity to take a huge step toward the title, was painful and a sign, so those in charge believe, of a problem with the team’s mentality especially in pressure situations.

Nuno’s reputation for producing pragmatic teams that are hard to beat has earned him plus points within the Jeddah hierarchy. His goal is clear: To deliver a first league title to this corner of Jeddah since 2009, a dry run that has gone on too long for all involved with the two-time Asian champions.

He has, according to those behind the scenes at the club, already made it clear as to which players he wants to bring in, and there should be some familiar faces from the English Premier League heading to the Red Sea port. There will already be talent waiting. The club are keen to keep Brazilian attacking duo Romarinho, who scored 20 goals last season, and Igor Coronado. Moroccan striker Abderrazak Hamdallah is also wanted though there is interest from elsewhere in the region as well as Europe. Egyptian center-back Ahmed Hegazi is also likely to stay.

With Nuno Santo’s arrival at Al-Ittihad coming just days after Rudi Garcia took charge of Al-Nassr, who finished third last season and Al-Hilal’s announcement that they have renewed the contract of head coach Ramon Diaz, next season is already shaping up to be exciting. Al-Ittihad have got their man and have their sights set upon going one better in 2023.


Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks
Updated 05 July 2022

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks

Rafael Nadal into Wimbledon quarters as Nick Kyrgios lurks
  • Rafael Nadal shows no mercy to Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp in their evening clash on Center Court

LONDON: Rafael Nadal swept into the Wimbledon quarterfinals on Monday, staying on course for a crunch meeting with Nick Kyrgios, who was on his best behavior in a battling five-set win.

In the women’s competition, 2019 champion Simona Halep demolished Spanish fourth seed Paula Badosa in just 60 minutes to set up a meeting with Amanda Anisimova.

Nadal, chasing a rare calendar Grand Slam, started his campaign at the All England Club slowly but is now in the groove as he hunts a third Wimbledon crown.

He showed no mercy to Dutch 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp in their evening clash on Center Court, overcoming a late wobble to seal a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) win.

“I think I continued in a positive way until the end where I played a bad game,” said the Spanish second seed.

“In a personal way, for me to be able to be in quarterfinals after three years (away from Wimbledon) it’s amazing for me so very, very happy.”

Nadal broke his opponent five times in the match, capitalizing on his fourth match point to reach the Wimbledon quarters for the eighth time.

If the 22-time Grand Slam champion beats 11th seed Taylor Fritz and Kyrgios gets past Chile’s Cristian Garin, they will meet in a mouthwatering semifinal on Friday.

Kyrgios earlier shrugged off a shoulder injury to beat US player Brandon Nakashima 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-2.

The maverick Australian was a changed man just two days after his stormy third-round victory against Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Kyrgios looked to be in trouble when Nakashima broke for 4-3 in the fourth and took the set courtesy of a lazy Kyrgios service game.

But he rallied in the decider, passing the 100-ace mark for the tournament and breaking twice to secure the win.

Kyrgios, who needed regular physio treatment, hammered 79 winners, including 35 aces.

The last time the 40th-ranked player reached the last eight at a major was at the Australian Open in 2015, a year after he reached the same stage on his debut at the All England Club.

But he is seen as a major threat to Nadal, whom he beat on his way to the quarter-finals in 2014.

The Australian, 27, said he was trying to stay “in the moment.” 

“I’m not thinking about lifting a trophy or making semifinals or making the final,” he said.

“I’m just thinking about my habits every day, just trying to put in a good performance on the court, then put in a good practice session, try to stay positive, try to really separate.

“You know, once I’m off the court, enjoy time with my team, my girlfriend, and just really enjoy that, then get into the game mode.”

The unseeded Garin pulled off an astonishing comeback against Australia’s Alex de Minaur, whom he had not beaten before.

The Chilean recovered from two sets down and saved two match points in the fifth set to beat the 19th seed in a gruelling contest lasting four hours and 34 minutes.

America’s Fritz, who beat Nadal in the Indian Wells final earlier this year, cruised past Australian qualifier Jason Kubler for the loss of just eight games.

Former world No. 1 Halep is looking increasingly dangerous as she makes stately progress toward a second Wimbledon crown in a draw now short of big names.

The Romanian’s match against Badosa appeared tricky on paper but proved anything but, with the 16th seed coming through 6-1, 6-2.

Halep, yet to drop a set at Wimbledon this year, will face Anisimova of the US for a place in the semifinals.

Anisomova, seeded 20, ended the dream run of French player Harmony Tan, who shocked Serena Williams in her opening match, winning 6-2, 6-3.

Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina beat Petra Martic of Croatia in straight sets and will face Ajla Tomljanovic after the Australian ended the run of French veteran Alize Cornet.

Earlier, Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton said tournament bosses had lodged an appeal against fines handed down by the WTA women’s tour for bans on Russian and Belarusian players.

The All England Club imposed the sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and players were also prevented from playing in Wimbledon warm-up events.

Both the ATP men’s tour and the WTA reacted to the Wimbledon ban by stripping the Grand Slam of ranking points.

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event
Updated 05 July 2022

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event

US, Jamaica women win in World Cup, Olympic qualifying event
  • The eight-team tournament at Monterrey serves as the North American qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the 2024 Paris Olympics

MONTERREY, Mexico: Two-time defending champion US blanked Haiti 3-0 on Monday in the opening match of the CONCACAF W tournament, a regional qualifier for the 2023 Women’s World Cup and 2024 Olympics.

The two-time reigning Women’s World Cup champion US seized a 2-0 half-time lead through goals by Alex Morgan in the 16th and 23rd minutes. Midge Purce added the third in the 84th minute for the Americans.

In the day’s other match, Jamaican captain Khadija Shaw scored in the eighth minute to give her team a 1-0 victory over host Mexico.

The eight-team tournament at Monterrey serves as the North American qualifier for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, and the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Group A features the USA, Jamaica, Mexico and Haiti while Group B comprises Canada, Costa Rica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

The two top teams in each group will advance to the semifinals and next year’s Women’s World Cup with third-place group teams advancing to next February’s global playoff for three final Women’s World Cup spots.

The CONCACAF champion will advance to the Paris Olympics while the runner-up and third-place teams will meet in a playoff next year to determine another 2024 berth in France.

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open
Updated 05 July 2022

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open

Poulter, 2 others win court stay to play in Scottish Open
  • The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman

VIRGINIA WATER, England: Ian Poulter and two other players who signed up for the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series won a stay Monday from a British court that allows them to play in the Scottish Open.

Poulter, Adrian Otaegui of Spain and Justin Harding of South Africa challenged their suspension from the Scottish Open and two other tournaments, the penalty for playing a LIV Golf event outside London without a release from the European tour.

They will be added to the field this week at The Renaissance Club for the Scottish Open, the first European Tour event co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

The PGA Tour suspended its members who signed up for the Saudi-backed series run by Greg Norman. Poulter is also a PGA Tour member.

Poulter was among 16 players who hinted at legal action over European tour penalties, though the temporary stay after a hearing before Judge Phillip Sycamore, who was appointed by Sports Resolutions (UK), applied only to the three players.

“I will simply say we are disappointed by the outcome of today’s hearing, but will abide by the decision,” European Tour CEO Keith Pelley said in a statement. “It is important to remember, however, this is only a stay of the sanctions imposed, pending the hearing of the players’ appeal as to whether those sanctions were appropriate.”

Pelley was at the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland and said he would withhold a more detailed response until the charity event was over, out of respect to the hosts. McManus has attracted a world-class field that includes Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Scottie Scheffler and a host of other major champions.

Poulter also is playing the two-day event in Ireland.

Earlier in the day, he told BBC Sports he was fighting for his right to play golf.

“My commitment to the European Tour has been there since day one,” he said. “And it’s still there today. I’m proud of playing so often, when it was to the detriment of world ranking points and FedEx Cup points I could have earned playing more in America.”

Along with the suspension, players who competed in LIV Golf without permission were fined £100,000 ($121,000), roughly the amount of last-place money in the $20 million LIV events.

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France
Updated 05 July 2022

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

Five things to watch out for on the Tour de France

DUNKIRK, FRANCE: The Tour de France gets back underway Tuesday after a successful three days in Denmark with a series of testing stages that will shape the destiny of the 2022 yellow jersey.

Here, AFP Sport takes a look at five things worth watching out for in the next seven days:

— With three hilly stages, two mountain days and the treacherous cobbles, attack-minded Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin will be straining at the leash to once more claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey after a fine run in 2021. He can probably not do it in the mountains, but the one-day specialist sits just 20 seconds off Wout van Aert’s lead and may even go for the gun between Dunkirk and Calais on Tuesday.

— The Tour takes on 20km of the old mining roads that led the Paris-Roubaix to gain its nickname ‘the Hell of the North’. That stretch could provide a shake-up in the overall standings and may also reveal the true nature of the pecking order inside the teams with more than one leader.

If Tadej Pogacar’s hand injury is worse than he is showing, it will be put to a rude test. Ineos could protect Adam Yates, or opt to allow Geraint Thomas to plow on if he is in difficulty. Primoz Roglic would appear stronger for Jumbo, but they also have Jonas Vingegaard as a possible leader and will also consider how long to try and keep Wout van Aert in yellow.

— The last time the Tour took on this climb in the Vosges mountains to the storied summit finish, Thomas gained time on all his key rivals on the punishing upper reaches contested over gravel. The Tour winner will likely not be revealed here, with time differences between the overall contenders expected to remain within 30-40 seconds. But this is the Tour’s first summit finish, first mountain stage and will provide major form pointers ahead of the crucial Alpine stages ahead.

— The 10th stage in the Swiss Alps is potentially the most gruling test of the week, with over 40km of tough ascents. It will put Ineos’ promise to race aggressively to the test. They have two climbers in their ranks capable of a bid to put time into defending champion Pogacar, or at least wear him out on a Tour thin on traditional mountain challenges.

— Ineos were talking up a fight ahead of the Tour, suggesting they would race aggressively in their bid to end Pogacar’s reign. Their two leaders are climbers Daniel Martinez and Yates who will have to wait for the mountains to launch an attack. Jumbo-Visma, runners-up in the past two years, said they would be concentrating on just surviving the opening stages. The merits of those differing strategies will be put under the microscope this week.