Annie ‘The Lioness’ Aroyan steps back into the ring in Dubai with an eye on becoming world champion

Annie ‘The Lioness’ Aroyan steps back into the ring in Dubai with an eye on becoming world champion
On Saturday, March 12, the 22-year-old super bantamweight will step into the ring at the Grand Ballroom in Dubai’s Conrad Hotel to take on Saranyaphong Theinthong of Thailand. (RBO)
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Updated 06 March 2022

Annie ‘The Lioness’ Aroyan steps back into the ring in Dubai with an eye on becoming world champion

Annie ‘The Lioness’ Aroyan steps back into the ring in Dubai with an eye on becoming world champion
  • The 22-year-old from Armenia has had meteoric rise since taking up boxing, and on March 12 faces Saranyaphong Theinthong of Thailand at the “Countdown to the Middle East Crown – Boxing Series 3”

Few sports provide such inspirational stories as boxing. The rise of a young girl from a small Armenian village to become Annie “The Lioness” Aroyan is the perfect example.

“My mother would borrow money from the neighbours and she would give it to me and say, ‘You have to go to pay for training’,” she said. “I promised myself that I would not give up. Lots of hard things happen in life, but I keep looking forward.”

On Saturday, March 12, the 22-year-old super bantamweight will step into the ring at the Grand Ballroom in Dubai’s Conrad Hotel to take on Saranyaphong Theinthong of Thailand, at  the “Countdown to the Middle East Crown – Boxing Series 3”.

The event, promoted by DJMC Events and Team Roshan Sports Promotion, also includes a clash between Urvashi Singh of India and Halima Vunjabei of Tanzania for the vacant Women's International Boxing Association World Super Bantam belt, in the first ever female world title fight in the UAE. 

It’s been a fast rise for someone who didn’t take up boxing until the age of 15.

“Before, in 2008, I started doing karate,” Aroyan said from her training base at Dubai’s Real Boxing Only gym. “I did five years and I was champion of Armenia. Then the gym in our village got closed down. So I had to go to another city to continue my karate training.

“There, they had karate and boxing training next to each other. I felt more of a connection with boxing, so I said I want to move to boxing. My mom said: ‘Why? you are already a blue belt.’ But I said no, I can feel that in boxing I can grow more.”

It didn’t take her long to make her mark on the amateur boxing scene in her country.

“In 2015, after six months, I become the champion of Armenia in boxing. So I moved to national team. And from then, I started thinking I would reach a high level because even my parents and coaches were saying: ‘You’re made for boxing, you have long arms, you are tall for your weight’, and I have good power.”

“I participated in Bulgaria in 2017, and in 2019 I participated in World Championship in Russia. I was a three-time Armenian champion, junior and youth in 2015, 2016 and 2017.”

None of this would have happened without the support and faith of her family, Aroyan said.

“Whatever I say, they never say no. I am not from a rich family and sometimes, to be honest, we don’t have the money.”

“My mom is the biggest supporter and she is the reason I’m in Dubai and boxing,” she said. “I came here to Dubai and I trained here for a few days. And she said, stay here and make your life. I thank my mother for her efforts and support. She always supported me, and my father, my brother always supported me, as well.”

The hard work and sacrifices paid off. Aroyan amassed more than 70 amateur fights, before turning professional.

Like other boxers from her country, she had to go abroad before making that step up, moving to Dubai in 2019.

“In Armenia there was no professional boxing. I always watched our boxers like Arthur Abraham, Vic Darchinyan, they were never amateur, they directly moved to being professional. In Armenia the government doesn’t support boxing much. So I was thinking I will lose years by staying amateur. I decided to turn professional. I don’t know why, but I feel much better as a professional.”

She has a record of six wins out of seven professional fights, and in April 2019 she fought what is to date is her favorite bout yet, against Thai boxer Nongnun Sor Praithong in Dubai.

“It was my fourth fight, at Emirates Golf club, the opponent was very good and it was a 50/50 fight,” Aroyan said. “But I won in four rounds, and I won 48-36. It was very tough.”

She has not fought since 2019, and she is keen to make up for lost time.

“Because of COVID and a hand injury I was in Armenia, but my coach and I are now working hard and I’m ready for the March 12 fight.

“I’ve been working with my coach Waleed Din. We did strength conditioning, we did proper training, it was a proper camp.”

Next Saturday, she is fighting six rounds of two minutes each against Theinthong in a fight that could propel her toward her next goal in boxing.

“My aim is always to move one step forward, and my next step is a title fight,” Aroyan said, a target she could achieve in May. “I want to be the best in my weight category, I want to be a world champion. I’m 22 years old, and when I see other boxers, who are 30,35, 38, they’re all telling me, ‘you have a good future,’ they all see a future champ.”

She has ambitions beyond becoming a champion and, not surprisingly, they include going back to her roots in Armenia.

“My dream is to be a world champion, of course, and support my family,” she said. “After I’m done boxing, I want to be a promoter, I want to help kids from my country turn professional.”


Ons Jabeur and Emma Raducanu confirm for Mubadala World Tennis Championship

Ons Jabeur and Emma Raducanu confirm for Mubadala World Tennis Championship
Updated 11 sec ago

Ons Jabeur and Emma Raducanu confirm for Mubadala World Tennis Championship

Ons Jabeur and Emma Raducanu confirm for Mubadala World Tennis Championship
  • Fresh from reaching the Wimbledon and US Open finals, the Tunisian world No. 2 will take on the British No. 1 this December in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: World No. 2 Ons Jabeur, the first Arab to reach a Grand Slam final, will return to Abu Dhabi this December to defend her Mubadala World Tennis Championship crown.

The tournament organizers have confirmed the Tunisian, who reached the Wimbledon and US Open finals this year, will take on British No. 1 Emma Raducanu on the first day of the championships on Dec. 16.

Last year, Jabeur became the first Arab to contest and win the annual Mubadala World Tennis Championship at Zayed Sports City. The 28-year-old faced Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic in the headline women’s match and came from a set down to claim a memorable 4-6, 6-3, (10-8) victory, to the delight of a raucous crowd inside the International Tennis Centre.

“Playing in Abu Dhabi is always exciting,” Jabeur said ahead of her appearance at the three-day championship, which runs from Dec. 16 to 18.

“I had a fantastic experience there in 2021 and I don’t want to lose the opportunity to defend my championship title this year. Aside from the match itself, I am most excited to see my fans there. I find them extremely special as they have supported me throughout every competition I have participated in this year.”

On the opposite side of the net will be Raducanu, who triumphed at the US Open last year to become the first British female to win a Grand Slam singles title since 1977. She was also the first player to win the US Open women’s singles title without dropping a set since Serena Williams in 2014.

“I am thrilled to finally be making my debut in Abu Dhabi,” said Raducanu. “I’ve heard great things about the fans and how supportive they are, and I can’t wait to play in front of them all.”

John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment, added: “We promised we would bring the top players to compete in Abu Dhabi once again, and in Ons and Emma we have secured two of the sport’s biggest names.

“Ons is a crowd favorite and has enjoyed a tremendously successful year since winning the Mubadala World Tennis Championship last December. Likewise, I know Emma is also extremely popular and tremendously excited about making her debut here in the UAE. I’m sure there will be huge interest from the tennis community both in the UAE and the wider region.”


Verstappen on verge of second world title as F1 returns to Singapore

Verstappen on verge of second world title as F1 returns to Singapore
Updated 28 September 2022

Verstappen on verge of second world title as F1 returns to Singapore

Verstappen on verge of second world title as F1 returns to Singapore
  • To take the title this weekend, Verstappen must win the race with Leclerc finishing no higher than eighth or ninth

SINGAPORE: Red Bull’s dominant Max Verstappen can clinch a second world championship when the Singapore Grand Prix returns this weekend after a three-year absence because of COVID.

The flying Dutchman has a mathematical chance to seal back-to-back world titles under lights around the spectacular and demanding Marina Bay street circuit.

To do so, the 24-year-old must win the race — something he has never done in Singapore — and needs his closest rivals to falter badly.

If that does not happen, the championship fight will move on to the Japanese Grand Prix a week later. It looks a case of when, not if.

“You need a bit of luck for that as well,” Verstappen told Sky Sports of retaining his crown in Singapore.

“I don’t think about it.”

Verstappen opened up a 116-point lead in the drivers’ standings over Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc following his victory at the Italian Grand Prix. He is 125 clear of third-placed Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez.

He needs to extend his lead to 138 points by Sunday’s chequered flag to be crowned with five races to spare — the earliest championship win since Michael Schumacher’s in 2002 with six GPs remaining.

Monza was Verstappen’s 11th victory in 16 races of a potentially record-breaking season.

He needs two more wins to equal the single-season mark of 13 jointly held by Schumacher (2004) and Sebastian Vettel (2013).

“I want to go to Singapore and try to win that race as well,” Verstappen said.

“We are having a great season, so we should really try and appreciate it and enjoy the moment.”

To take the title this weekend, he must win the race with Leclerc finishing no higher than eighth or ninth — depending on who claims the extra point for the fastest lap — and Perez outside the podium places.

Much will depend on Saturday night’s qualifying for a grand prix that has been won from pole position seven times in its last 11 runnings.

The night race around the tight street track affords precious few overtaking opportunities and the stifling heat and humidity provide a test of stamina and reliability as much as driving ability.

Singapore’s climate always carries a threat of rain-induced chaos, as happened in 2017, when Vettel and Verstappen started on the front row only to crash out before the first bend.

Red Bull also look sure to wrap up the constructors’ championship — although they won’t do so in Singapore — but the race for second is still alive with Mercedes banking on a late-season revival to overtake early front-runners Ferrari.

The consistent George Russell is still in mathematical contention for the drivers’ crown in his first Mercedes season, though a Verstappen victory would end his hopes.

But the Silver Arrows are pushing hard and are 35 points behind Ferrari, who have suffered from a combination of reliability issues and strategic blunders.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has won four times in Singapore, but Russell was cautious about the pair’s chances of ending the team’s 2022 win drought.

“Singapore could be interesting,” said Russell.

“But historically it’s a circuit where Mercedes have struggled a little bit.”

Ferrari were buoyed by Leclerc’s second place at their home race at Monza two weeks ago and can attack Singapore with more confidence.

“I think we made a step ahead,” said team principal Mattia Binotto.

Carlos Sainz cut through the field to finish fourth for Ferrari in Italy, with his charge for a podium place scuppered only by a late safety car.

“It’s clear as well if you look at the other cars behind us, we made a step ahead,” said Binotto.

This will be Singapore’s first grand prix since the pandemic and signs are that the city-state is relishing having racing back.

Authorities have not released exact numbers, but ticket sales have already exceeded 2019, they say.


Messi joins 100 club as Argentina streak continues after beating Jamaica

Messi joins 100 club as Argentina streak continues after beating Jamaica
Updated 28 September 2022

Messi joins 100 club as Argentina streak continues after beating Jamaica

Messi joins 100 club as Argentina streak continues after beating Jamaica
  • Messi’s goals capped an emphatic win for the South Americans, who have now gone 35 games unbeaten in a streak stretching back to 2019

HARRISON, NEW JERSEY: Lionel Messi marked his 100th international victory with two goals as Argentina edged closer to Italy’s world record unbeaten streak with a 3-0 defeat of Jamaica in a World Cup warmup friendly in New Jersey on Tuesday.

Paris Saint-Germain superstar Messi took his international goals tally to 90 in 164 appearances after coming on as a second-half substitute at the Red Bull Arena.

Messi’s goals capped an emphatic win for the South Americans, who have now gone 35 games unbeaten in a streak stretching back to 2019 — just two shy of Italy’s world record unbeaten run of 37 set between 2018 and 2012.

Messi, who also scored twice during a friendly win over Honduras in Miami on Friday, delighted the crowd with an electrifying cameo after coming on in the 56th minute for Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez.

He bagged his first of the night in the 86th minute, darting forward before caressing a shot into the bottom corner past Jamaica goalkeeper Andre Blake.

The 35-year-old seven-time Ballon D’Or winner then produced an impish second goal, craftily curling a low shot underneath the Jamaican wall into the bottom corner from a free-kick.

Messi’s presence left the crowd in a frenzy. On three different occasions spectators sprinted onto the pitch in an effort to get close to the Argentinian icon.

One shirtless fan attempted to get Messi to autograph his back before he was bundled to the floor by security staff.

Messi’s late double crowned another assured performance from Lionel Scaloni’s Argentina, who are rapidly emerging as one of the favorites for the World Cup in Qatar in November.

The Argentinians had dominated throughout a one-sided first half, and took the lead on 13 minutes when Martinez jinked past Jamaica’s Damion Lowe and cut back for Manchester City’s Julian Alvarez, who tucked away a low finish from close range.

Alvarez almost had a second soon afterwards but curled his shot just wide.

Midfielder Guido Rodriguez also went close, but was unable to direct his volley at the back post on target, instead shooting over the bar.

Giovani Lo Celso also threatened with a long-range effort that flew just wide of the top corner in the 33rd minute.


Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly

Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly
Updated 28 September 2022

Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly

Racial slur, laser pens at players mar Brazil’s 5-1 win over Tunisia in friendly
  • The Selecao produced a dominant first-half display in their final outing before traveling to Qatar, with Raphinha netting twice and Neymar moving to within two of Pele’s record
  • The scene for a bad-tempered match was set when the vast numbers of Tunisia fans jeered the Brazilian national anthem before kickoff

PARIS: Richarlison was the target of a banana thrown from the crowd as Brazil thrashed Tunisia 5-1 in a friendly in Paris on Tuesday, while Neymar edged closer to Pele’s all-time scoring record for the five-time world champions.

The game at the Parc des Princes was also briefly paused in the first half as the crowd were twice implored not to point laser pens at Brazil players.

“Unfortunately... a banana was thrown on the pitch toward Richarlison, scorer of the second Brazilian goal,” the Brazilian football confederation (CBF) said on Twitter.

“The CBF reinforces its position to combat racism and repudiates any prejudiced act.”

The Selecao produced a dominant first-half display in their final outing before traveling to Qatar for the World Cup, with Raphinha netting twice and Neymar moving to within two of Pele’s record.

Richarlison also found the net, while Pedro scored as a second-half substitute before responding to more boos and missiles from the crowd by bowing in front of them in celebration.

“It’s a shame, it’s difficult to see images like that,” said Brazil captain Thiago Silva, whose team posed for a team photo before the match with a banner bearing an anti-racism message.

“Unfortunately it seems that we can’t change people’s mentality.

“I hope they will realize that this doesn’t work, it’s the past, we have to change. Unfortunately, people continue with this mentality.”

Tite’s Brazil will head into their World Cup Group G opener against Serbia on Nov. 24 on a 15-match unbeaten run, dating back to their Copa America final loss to Argentina last year.

The scene for a bad-tempered match was set when the vast numbers of Tunisia fans jeered the Brazilian national anthem before kickoff.

“I was puzzled, I was saying ‘No, it’s a lack of respect’. Football is a sport that promotes inclusion,” said Tite.

Brazil took the lead in the 12th minute, though, as Casemiro clipped the ball over the top and Barcelona winger Raphinha directed a wonderful looping header over Tunisia goalkeeper Aymen Dahmen and into the net.

Jalel Kadri’s men hit back six minutes later.

Defender Montassar Talbi met Anis Slimane’s outswinging free-kick to send a powerful header into the bottom corner past ‘keeper Alisson.

Incredibly, Brazil were back ahead just seconds after that setback, as Raphinha sent Richarlison in behind to drill a strike through the legs of Dahmen to score his third goal in two games after a double against Ghana.

The Tottenham forward celebrated in front of the Tunisian supporters, who responded by throwing a banana and plastic cups in his direction.

Fred kicked the banana off the pitch, before extra security guards took up residence on the side of the field.

Brazil almost extended their advantage as Paqueta followed a fine turn with a low shot which Dahmen tipped wide.

But from the resulting corner, Casemiro was hauled down in the box and Neymar stepped up to roll home his 75th international goal from the penalty spot, despite having lasers pointed at his face.

Brazil continued to cut through the visitors’ defense with ease and Raphinha scored again in the 40th minute by firing in off the post from the edge of the box.

Things went from bad to worse for Tunisia before halftime as Dylan Bronn brought down Neymar and was harshly sent off after a brief melee between the two teams.

Tunisia were much improved after the break but Brazil still scored again with 16 minutes remaining through Flamengo forward Pedro’s maiden goal for his country.

Earlier on Tuesday, World Cup hosts Qatar survived a late penalty miss by Alexis Sanchez to hold Chile to a 2-2 draw in Vienna.

Canada, who are preparing for their first World Cup since 1986, lost 2-0 to Uruguay in Bratislava as Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez scored his third international goal.

Sardar Azmoun scored as a substitute to earn Iran a 1-1 draw with African champions Senegal. Morocco drew 0-0 with Paraguay in Seville.


Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal
Updated 28 September 2022

Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal

Spain snare Nations League semifinal spot from Portugal
  • Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup

BRAGA, PORTUGAL: Alvaro Morata’s late strike snatched Spain a 1-0 Nations League victory over Portugal in Braga on Tuesday and sent them into the semifinals.

La Roja needed to win to finish top of League A Group 2, but struggled on another difficult night for the Euro 2020 semifinalists, until Morata’s 88th-minute breakthrough.

Spain have not been able to hit top form in the internationals leading up to the Qatar 2022 World Cup, but this hard-fought victory provides a welcome morale boost.

Portugal had the better of the game but Spain brightened in the final stages, with the introduction of several substitutes, including Nico Williams, who headed across goal for Morata to gleefully turn in at the back post.

“When we had to stand up, we did,” Morata told TVE. “If we had lost, it had to be giving everything we had on the pitch, and that’s what we did.

“I’ll remember the attitude of the team, we fought until the end. And Nico Williams, in his second game for the national team, was key and I put it over the line.”

Spain will join Italy, Croatia and the Netherlands in the semis in June 2023, although attention now switches to the fast-approaching World Cup.

Luis Enrique made wholesale changes to the side that suffered Spain’s first home defeat since 2018 against Switzerland on Saturday, retaining only four starters.

Morata was brought in to lead the line, while the Asturian coach rotated his entire midfield trio.

Spain still dominated possession, as their gameplan demands, but to little effect as Portugal created the more dangerous openings.

Athletic Bilbao goalkeeper Unai Simon made a solid save to deny Ruben Neves and then a brilliant one to keep Liverpool striker Diogo Jota at bay.

With Portuguese confidence increasing, Bruno Fernandes lashed an effort narrowly off-target, celebrated prematurely by swathes of the stadium as the ball appeared to settle in the net.

Just as they did against Switzerland, Spain failed to get a single shot on target in the first half, and after Simon made another good save from Cristiano Ronaldo early in the second half, Luis Enrique took action.

The coach sent on Pedri, Gavi and Yeremy Pino to try and give La Roja more inspiration going forward, although it was the hosts who almost broke the deadlock when Dani Carvajal deflected a strike narrowly over his own crossbar.

The changes livened Luis Enrique’s team up and they began to turn the tide, building momentum as the game reached its denouement.

Carvajal launched a crossfield ball into the area, with Williams’ header leaving Morata with the simple task of firing into the empty net to put the runners-up of the last edition of the Nations League back into the final four.

An exasperated Ronaldo was denied by Simon at the death and Fernando Santos’s Portugal left ruing their missed chances and wishing they had killed off Spain when they had the chance.

“We had many chances and Spain few, we are sad, we would have liked to have been in the finals,” said Santos.

“Ronaldo had three or four chances that he would usually score, but he could not. That’s football.”

It was a disappointing end to a good run for Portugal, while Spain experienced the opposite sensation.

After defeat by Switzerland and frustrating draws with Portugal and the Czech Republic in June, Morata’s late winner provided relief for La Roja.

“This is a wonderful sport in which winning is the best antidote to any depression or sadness,” said Luis Enrique.

“Portugal are a top, top, top team. In the first half I insisted, maybe too much, on having the ball, and we did. It’s evident we’d prefer to play the passes in their half.

“(But) the first half was necessary to show that the ball was ours, and in the second we had the sensation that the goal would come. We’re in the final four again and it’s a great joy.”