At the start of 2020, Sheikh Fahad bin Khalid al-Thani was high on anticipation, excited for the year ahead. He was moving up to six-round bouts, had planned on a number of bouts to extend his 13-0 streak and also a long training camp in the second half of the year.
And then a certain virus kicked off a pandemic that brought the whole world to a standstill.
Almost eight months into the year, some of the best-laid plans have been reduced to shreds for everyone.
For athletes, including Sheikh Fahad, the pandemic has forced a re-think of plans, schedules and techniques.
“From 2018 onwards, my main focus was pushing my technical abilities,” Qatar’s first professional boxer told Gulf Times at his gym.
“I was fighting consistently without much breaks in between. I was utilising that to technically boost myself. Earlier this year, I was in peak form technically, I was ready to fight. I wanted to finish my committed bouts earlier in the year. So this part of the year, I wanted to go into a long training camp and build up physical fitness and strength. However, the change happened, and it was out of our control. It was difficult.”
Schedules with long-time trainer Franck Bohec moved to video calls, training regimens focussed on maintaining agility and fitness.
“It was a very difficult type of training. It was challenging. Needed to just refocus, stay on form mentally. I had to maintain by physical shape, if not improve,” the welterweight boxer said. “Franck motivated me a lot, that was really helpful.”
The 32-year-old prides on being a student of the sport and also utilised this time to studying old fights on tapes and YouTube.
“The pandemic gave me time to study fights, something that I used to do many years ago. I looked at old tapes, YouTube videos of boxers like Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Durran… my mind was occupied. I really believe I saw a lot of different ideas, and then I would send it to Franck, and discuss, and he would do the same,” he said.
When the gyms were allowed to open as part of the easing measures by the State of Qatar, Sheikh Fahad and Bohec were quick to get back in to the boxing ring at the gym.
“We are at a stage where we know we can use this time to rebuild my fitness to the max possible. My strength, my endurance, my cardio-vascular, and be ready for the next training camp and the next fight,” Sheikh Fahad said.
There are unconfirmed plans of a competitive return to the ring for Sheikh Fahad in November in Spain. “Not in mainland Spain, but on one of the Spanish islands where there are minimum cases of Covid-19. In the new protocol for boxing bouts, there are no fans, boxers and trainers have to go in a bubble, stay there, get tested, and if everything is fine, then the bouts go ahead. It is a difficult year, and life has begun coming back to normal, but we have a responsibility towards others, and safety is the most important thing. It’s good that I have a target. It pushes me with high motivation,” he said.
“It will be scheduled for six rounds. However, the way the pandemic is, we are negotiating a kind of back-to-back bouts. Generally, there is a two-week break between two professional bouts. But we are pushing for a one-week break, because I will have anyway travelled from Qatar, and it might be a good idea to have only a one-week break. Both six rounds, and it will test my fitness too.”
Away from the competition, the time away from the ring helped him spend time with his family, and he also welcomed his son into the world.
“The last few years have been really difficult in terms of family time. I would be travelling, even if I am not boxing, I am in the UK and other places, discussing boxing, plans for Qatari boxing, always something on those lines. Sometimes my family would join me, but I was never fully free. And I believe that an active sportsperson is never fully free, because you have so many things to do. But (during the pandemic), I spent time with my family. I had a son during the pandemic, and even that gave me motivation in my life,” he said.
He also joined forces with the Qatar Olympic Committee for their social media activities.
“As the first Qatari pro boxer, I have to lead the way, and sometimes my mind might want to take a break, but I really can’t. There are so many aspirants from within Qatar and the region who are looking at my path, and my journey as an inspiration. And they may achieve more in the future. So I cannot take that break whenever I want. I don’t think that’s a choice I have,” he said.
“Every athlete who is representing Qatar has a responsibility. It is an obligation, not a choice, according to me. The country, the sports administration, is doing so much, that now the athletes have to live up to this, and raise their levels of engagement to help raise the next generation of champions.”
Sheikh Fahad himself is working with a young Qatari boy, sharing his knowledge and experiences. “He came with his father and the boy was excited when he came to the gym, we did a session and it was heartening to see the interest and the drive in him. It was great that I could share some of my knowledge with him,” he said, adding that two more teenagers have requested to work with him.
“They are about to start their journey. They are eager. And I know how it is, it is a really great journey. If you reach the level of representing your country, it is an honour you can’t compare.” He has also done Instagram Live sessions with WBC president Mauricio Sulaimán, Brazilian MMA legend Victor Belfor, Jessie Vargas and Israil Madrimov from Uzbekistan. “It was great for me to speak to world champions, hear their experiences, and also for the audience in Qatar, getting them insights and a different view into the sport.”
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