It’s going to be a huge step forward for Sheikh Fahad bin Khalid al-Thani this year.
Qatar’s first and only professional boxer so far has gone 13 and ‘O’, and has decided to move up to six rounds-a-bout starting this year in addition to throwing his hat in the ring for World Boxing Council’s Middle East title.
These exciting times have given a sense of anticipation to Sheikh Fahad. There is a spring in his step.
“I am excited about this, because I have been training as a professional for a while now,” Sheikh Fahad tells Gulf Times at his gym in Umm Salal Mohamed.
“Fighting six rounds will serve that professional style more and will show more of my abilities in the ring. It will give me more time to set up my opponents, instead of rushing in. When you rush in, you tend to make mistakes.”
Sheikh Fahad’s first six-round test is this weekend in Spain, where the 32-year-old has been fighting under a license from the European country since his pro debut in 2016.
“I am going to fight three-to-four bouts this year. Certain opponents I might fight again, and there may be some new opponents. While most bouts are pencilled in, things have not been finalised yet,” Sheikh Fahad says.
But what’s in place for the former Qatar national team boxer is his physical conditioning to last longer in the ring.
“Off season was really great. I worked a lot with (trainer) Franck (Bohec) on great combinations, technical stuff, kept repeating it. We did good strength and conditioning sessions. My body is getting stronger than before. I am pushing,” he says.
“The conditioning has always been there. But it’s the experience is what makes a difference. Sometimes your body is well conditioned and is fit for six rounds, but mentally you have never been to six rounds, in front of crowds, in front of cameras. So when you have never done that, you will always feel tired,” he continues.
“Like many world champions, when they first went to 12 rounds, there were a few questions first. We saw that with Mike Tyson, we saw that with Joe Calzaghe. So I am mentally prepared for anything. It’s all about adjusting as a professional.
“If at this level, I do not learn how to adjust I will struggle later. It is the key now. When I face a guy now, who I don’t know well and don’t have a footage of, it is about going in and just box. This will serve me when I face a world level opponent. My adjustments would be there, and rapid. All the best (boxers) adjust to anything. There are some world champions I know who don’t like seeing an opponent’s film because they are ready to adjust and focus on themselves going into a bout.”
At the gym, Sheikh Fahad goes straight into a sparring session with Carlos de Leon Jr, son of Puerto Rican legend Carlos de Leon, under the watchful eye of long-time trainer Bohec.
His much larger sparring opponent goes from attacking occasionally to putting up a strong defence, sometimes not giving Sheikh Fahad any physical space. And he then breaks into a rhythmic dancing move, perhaps to rile Sheikh Fahad up.
“He wants to show me all different techniques. He used some different tactics that I can’t talk about. But we also have fun. You don’t really be grumpy all the time. Boxing anyway is pressure, but I also want to have fun. They say a happy fighter is a dangerous fighter. So it’s about fun as well,” the welterweight boxer says.
“Carlos has come just two weeks ago this time round. Last year he worked with me for a couple of my fights. He is great. (His physicality) helps my legs, helps my physical strength. He comes from a boxing family; has sparred with the likes of (Floyd) Mayweather, and other world champions. So working with him really teaches me a lot about being a professional boxer. There are not many professionals around here, so I have to get professionals from around the world.”
Talking about the Middle East title, one that he recently spoke about, he says, “Many people were asking me about what’s my next step forward. So this is the next goal of mine. It could be after three fights, four fights, a year, a year-and-a-half. It’s not finalised yet though. After that my ranking will be much higher, and I would continue to develop to the next level. Left to me it would be my next fight but there are many other factors and decision makers.”
Bohec has been with Sheikh Fahad for years together, even through the time when Cuban coach Ismael Salas worked with the Qatari. “We have gone through stages, and Fahad is now moving to a high standard. We moved into amateur levels, and now we are in pro, you know after the pro we have to get to semi-elite. And that’s where I believe we are almost reaching, and then we have to get to elite. That’s the plan,” Bohec says.
But as a trainer focussed on getting his ward in top shape for the next challenge, he continues, “I know today he is feeling great, and his brain was sharp. But there are days when he is not that sharp. What I would like to see is him show me his worth when he is not sharp. That’s when you have really progressed. Today is beauty, but I like to see him on his bad days.”
Sheikh Fahad quips, “Translation of all that he said: basically he is never happy.”
And they both laugh.
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