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.”