INTERVIEW: Sheikh Fahad primed for royal rumble in London

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Sheikh Fahad Bin Khalid Al Thani.

The phrase ‘boxing royalty’ is usually reserved for the sport’s greats, the likes of Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano and Sugar Ray Leonard. But this Saturday at London’s O2, a debutant will turn the ring regal. Forget ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed and Amir ‘King Khan’, Qatar’s Sheikh Fahad is set for his professional boxing bow.

Making history for his country, Sheikh Fahad Bin Khalid Al Thani will become Qatar’s first ever pro boxer when he takes on Elemir Rafael of Slovakia on the undercard of David Haye vs Arnold Gjergjaj.

Training out of the Franck Bohec gym in Doha, the super lightweight – a member of the Gulf state’s royal family – boasts an impressive amateur record that includes more than 40 fights for Qatar in international competition.

In a sport dominated by rags-to-riches stories, the Qatari is certainly an anomaly. Born into a level wealth that few can comprehend, Sheikh Fahad’s boxing aspirations are driven by the allure of sporting esteem rather than the prospect of financial gain.

“My daily motivation is to make history,” he tells Sport360. “It’s greater than financial motivation – making history is why I’m in the sport. I only took amateur fights for the experience. The goal has always been to be the first professional to come out of Qatar.

“It’s a great honour and motivation to represent Qatar and I look forward to being the face of boxing for the country.”

With few role models for young boxers to look up to in the Middle East, the sport is crying out for someone like Sheikh Fahad, who has the potential to inspire a fresh generation of stars in the region.

Sheikh Fahad will face Elemir Rafael (C).

Sheikh Fahad will face Elemir Rafael (C) on his professional debut.

The 28-year-old feels that as well as his own performances in the ring, a greater presence of boxing in the local media will be key to bolstering interest in the sport among young people.

“My overall goal is to open up boxing in the Middle East and make Qatar the hub for professional boxing in the region,” he explains.

“If you look at all the local newspapers here, they don’t really mention boxing much but people love it. They remember Muhammad Ali, Prince Naseem Hamed, Mike Tyson and so on. With more publicity, professional boxing will have a better presence in the Middle East.”

Being a member of the Qatari royal family inevitably brings with it a greater burden of expectation than most fighters have to deal with.

So have his family been behind his decision to put the Al Thani name so conspicuously in the public eye?

“Some are supportive of my sporting ambitions, and some have tried to push me away from boxing, and want me just to take it as a hobby.

“With my amateur trips and experiences, it’s quite short but they realise that I’m really serious about this and now I get support from the local people. My cousins, my uncles and nephews, everybody really always supports me for what I’ve done.”

The adjustment from amateur to professional boxing has been an intense one and it’s taken him and his trainer Ismael Antonio Salas from Doha to Las Vegas and Croatia in recent weeks as they put the finishing touches to his preparations.

“I’m learning every day and it’s been great. The key differences are the longer rounds, so I’m learning to pace myself, sting down on punches rather than score points in the amateurs,” Sheikh Fahad says. “It’s totally different, learning to punch with quality and with accuracy.”

“I’m enjoying the different approaches to training. I’m focusing on myself and being the best I can be and I believe that’s all I need to be victorious. I like to take everything one step at a time. That’s very important to me because boxing is a very short career, and I don’t want to overlook my opponent.”

While no royal has yet plotted a path to the pinnacle of pugilism, the likes of British Olympic silver medalist Zara Phillips and UAE gold medalist shooter Ahmad Al Maktoum have demonstrated that regency and sporting success are not mutually exclusive.

They provide an excellent blueprint for Sheikh Fahad, a man with his sights firmly set on ruling the realm of professional boxing.

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