A BET THAT IS PAYING OFF
Hajjar is building a community of boxing gyms to lift the sport.
“WE ARE NOW CONSIDERING HOSTING OUR BOXING EVENTS AT BIGGER VENUES”
Founder, The Ring Boxing Community
Provides training in traditional boxing, Muay Thai, cardio, strength and conditioning classes, and personal training.
58 Kim Yam Road #01-01, Mon-Fri, 7am-10pm; Sat, 8am3pm; Sun, 8am-12pm. www.thering.sg
When Banca della Svizzera Italiana posted Ruchdi Hajjar to Singapore from Monaco in 2009, it was only meant to be a year-long stint. Instead, he stayed on and later met and married Mary Rose Tansey, a forensic accounting consultant with KPMG. They now have two boys, Ryan George, 3, and Jay Roger, 1.
With family and roots ﬁrmly planted here, the 38-year-old decided to strike out on his own four years ago, setting up an equity advisory consultancy. In 2017, he and a business partner got their licence from the Monetary Authority of Singapore to start SGMC Capital, a wealth and asset management company.
Formerly the president of the Monaco Boxing Association at age 27, Hajjar stayed ﬁt by training at gyms such as Vanda after arriving in Singapore. Noting that most gyms focused on the popularity of mixed martial arts, he sniffed an opportunity. Three years ago, he founded Red Glove Management to promote boxing.
“Shortly after my ﬁrst kid was born, I was walking down Kim Yam Road and saw this place, which used to sell sporting goods,” recalls Hajjar. “I opened the door, and then closed it. Immediately, I knew what my life was going to be like from then on.”
Hajjar turned the premises into a gym with a boxing ring in the middle, and aptly called it The Ring Boxing Community (The Ring, for short) in 2016. That October, he held the ﬁrst boxing tournament at The Ring, which can hold up to 500 standing fans.
“Our ﬁrst event may have had only 50 spectators, but it grew very fast from then on,” adds Hajjar, who has so far invested $1 million of his own savings in the venture. “We are now considering hosting boxing events at bigger venues.”
The Ring stages nine competitions a year, including two professional ﬁghting championships. Of course, it has been helping to rejuvenate the zeal for boxing in Singapore, but Hajjar is keenly aware that to be successful, the fraternity has got to come together.
“From the moment we started operations, we began building a community of boxing gyms, and have hosted eight Friendly Fight Fridays so far. We now have about 15 operators staging up to 35 ﬁghts per night at The Ring.”
The Ring has also been busy grooming Singapore boxer Hamzah Farouk, who lifted the World Boxing Championship Asia Continental Super Featherweight title at The Ring Fighting Championship (TRFC) last December at Kim Yam Road.
While still very much a banker, Hajjar says he spends 60 per cent of his time on his boxing enterprise. “We are expanding and have bought stakes in two gyms in Bangkok and Hua Hin, Thailand, respectively. We are also looking to open one in the Philippines soon. Yes, we are in this for the long haul.”
• I do cardio training and run by the river from Robertson Quay to Marina Bay Sands and back two to three times a week. For strength conditioning, I use the facilities at my boxing gym. Sometimes I even step into the ring with my fighters.
• I am quite careful with my diet and regularly maintain a balanced nutrient intake. However, I do allow myself treat days. I am French, after all, so when there is a good meal in front of me, I’ll enjoy it. But while I don’t avoid any food, I do try to eat everything in moderation.
TEXT IAN DE COTTA PHOTOGRAPHY FRENCHESCAR LIM ART DIRECTION FAZLIE HASHIM
Ding earned her chops to open a boxing studio by training in an old-school fighters’ gym in Los Angeles.
“WE WERE TWO LITTLE ASIAN GIRLS TRAINING AMONG PRO MALE FIGHTERS”
CEO and co-founder, CruBox
Combines authentic boxing techniques with high-intensity cardio and strength training for a full-body workout. Classes are conducted in a dimmed studio to the beat of a curated playlist, which changes with every session.
Level 4, 68 Duxton Road. Mon-Fri, 6.30am-9pm; Sat-Sun, 8am-6pm. www.cruboxing.com.sg
When Valerie Ding decided to start her own boxing studio, little did she imagine that she would end up throwing jabs and hooks in what has since bcome arguably one of the most prestigious boxing gyms in the world.
In 2016, fresh off the success of CruCycle, now a cult spin studio on Duxton Street she launched with siblings Beatrice (Bebe, for short) and Calvin, she went looking for another ﬁtness concept to expand their brand.
Although a Los Angeles girl at heart – all three Dings attended high school and college there – she returned to Singapore to scope out its burgeoning boxing scene.
On ﬁnding out that there wasn’t a programme that combined traditional boxing techniques with studio-based high intensity training exercises done to a “beat dance” she had envisioned, she created her own.
To do that, she and Bebe trained at Wild Card West, a gym affiliated with Freddie Roach, a renowned boxing coach who’s worked with Manny Pacquiao, Mike Tyson and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.
“When I ﬁrst walked in, it was like ‘What the hell are we doing there?’ We were two little Asian girls training among pro male ﬁghters. It was very intimidating,” she recalls.
Still, they stuck with it, sweating it out for three hours every day over more than two months. “We were there to learn the foundation of what we wanted to do on our own. At the time, many studios didn’t have that kind of foundation, so we really immersed ourselves in the real boxing world,” she says.
Their grit won them the respect of the ﬁghters there, and they teamed up with Julian Chua, a professional American boxing coach schooled by Roach, to create a ﬁtness programme they would go on to launch as CruBox.
When they opened the inaugural CruBox studio on trendy Melrose Avenue early last year, it was the ﬁrst of its kind, says Ding. It soon became a celebrity magnet, attracting devotees such as Hailey Bieber, Usher and Nicole Scherzinger, and was even featured in an episode of TV’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians.
“It was as if we had hit the jackpot,” says Ding. “There was so much competition and anxiety over whether we would succeed. As two women from Singapore trying to open this thing in Hollywood, we didn’t want to fall ﬂat on our faces.”
CruBox Singapore, housed above its sister spin studio CruCycle in a Duxton Road shophouse, opened in late January. Like the one in LA, it features a studio with dimmed lighting and sand-ﬁlled punching bags. Classes are conducted to a thumping musical beat.
Women, in particular, have gravitated to CruBox’s classes. “They are fun and it feels less intimidating, less exposed to judgement, in the dark, but you will quickly realise we are teaching authentic techniques,” says Ding.
“Boxing may be predominantly male dominated, but women do feel stronger after doing it. Our goal is to help them feel tougher, more empowered and outspoken after our classes.”
• I avoid a lot of sugary foods and I don’t eat junk food.
• I use the Headspace app for meditation. We’re so on-the-go and connected to our phones that it’s increasingly important for me to find time for myself and my mental health. That five or 12 minutes of meditation helps.
• I train for an hour at CruBox four times a week here. Sometimes, I have one-on-one ring sessions in LA.
TEXT KAREN TEE PHOTOGRAPHY VERNON WONG
THE GOOD FIGHT
Lam wants to reduce the entry barrier to practising martial arts.
“THERE’S A MISCONCEPTION THAT MARTIAL ARTS ARE JUST ABOUT COMBAT”
Co-founder, Neue Fit
To encourage experimentation, Neue Fit uses a system that allows clients to buy credit to spend on any class at any time. Unlimited packages are also available. The studio even offers classes for children and families.
#02-07 Kallang Wave Mall. Open daily, 10.30am-10pm. Tel: 8866-8748
After spending years setting up a chicken farm in Rwanda as part of her father’s vision to give back to the societies that contributed to the success of their family business, Shumei Lam ﬁ nally had the chance to pursue her own dream: Muay Thai. More speciﬁcally, to make martial arts less intimidating for beginners.
Her father Larry, who founded global port operator Portek International in 1988, passed away ﬁve years ago, leaving her with the task of setting up Poultry East Africa Ltd (PEAL) for Azul World, the family’s social impact-driven investment company.
With PEAL managing to break even in the last few years and become the largest supplier of poultry produce in Rwanda, Lam found herself with enough time to pursue her passion for martial arts.
In fact, it was during her Muay Thai training sessions at Trifecta Martial Arts here that Lam came up with the concept for her own studio — Neue Fit, where martial arts are presented as a lifestyle choice.
“In Singapore we get a lot of pure martial arts gyms like Evolve MMA, and single-discipline ones for yoga and pilates,” notes Lam. “The general public only has access to chain gyms like Virgin Active and Fitness First. However, their body combat classes are more like cardio workouts because you’re just punching air.”
Of course, Lam understands that ordinary non-practitioners don’t necessarily want to punch each other either, so she and co-founder Grace Huang, whom she met at Trifecta Martial Arts, created a hybrid class they call Muay HIIT, which combines non-combat, high intensity interval training workout with real Muay Thai techniques.
“There’s a misconception that martial arts are just about combat — but they’re about ﬁtness and fun, too. I wanted to reduce the barriers of entry for people wanting to try new things,” she says.
The year-old studio also offers Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, yoga and HIIT classes for beginners to ﬁ-level trainees. “Martial arts enthusiasts actually do a combination of different things, from yoga to strength training and conditioning. So instead of having various memberships to specialised gyms, I want them to be able to do all that in one space.” This is a far cry from keeping a farm, which she still manages daily, operational on another continent, but it’s the love for her family’s legacy, the Rwandans whose lives she helped changed, and martial arts that keep her going.
“It’s important to understand one’s strengths, and my standards are rather high. For me, it’s about my entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to identifying opportunities and setting them up through careful due diligence.”
• I’ve always been active. I was in the swim and hockey teams in school, and I also learnt tennis.
• I started Muay Thai three years ago. These days, I try to train five times a week for an hour or two. Every other day, I run 3.5km to 4km. Sunday is my rest day.
TEXT CHARMIAN LEONG PHOTOGRAPHY VERNON WONG
A WOMEN FRIENDLY PLACE
9Round Singapore gives equal attention to women who just want to work out.
“MANY GYMS TEND TO BE SO INTIMIDATING FOR WOMEN”
Co-owner, 9Round master franchise for Singapore
Offers a kickboxing-themed fitness programme that integrates cardio and circuit training regimens in a proprietary system of nine workout stations.
131 East Coast Road, #02-01. Mon-Fri, 6am-10am and 5pm-9pm; Sat, 8am-12pm; Sun, 8am-12pm. www.9round.sg
Marrying into a successful business family can be daunting, especially when you’re invited to take up a dominant position in the company. Did he get this on merit or because he was the son-in-law? Roy Fong wasn’t too concerned either way at the time.
He was himself an established architect with DP Architects, an international ﬁrm, when he tied the knot with long-time sweetheart, Cheryl Wee – actress, socialite and scion of the Jean Yip Group – in 2017.
“At the end of that year, there was a property boom and I was asked to join the group to help manage and grow the property portfolio with more developments,” says the 31year-old. “Along the way, I also started looking into the company’s corporate development as it was generally a lifestyle business.”
Jean Yip, which started in 1982 as a hairdressing salon in Katong, is today a dominant player in the slimming and beauty industry, and has outlets in South-east Asia and China. Wee herself has Cheryl W, her own wellness and weight management brand for young independent women.
Once on board, Fong identiﬁed a niche in the ﬁtness industry, which he felt would attract Jean Yip’s regular clientele – a female-dominated gym. “Most gyms are androcentric. Cheryl and I have been to many and they tend to be so intimidating for women. The environments also often don’t meet their grooming needs.”
After discussing his plans to ﬁll this vacuum in the industry with the rest of the Jean Yip Group, Fong closed in on the perfect brand to capture a good slice of the market – 9Round Fitness. Its concept revolves around a user-friendly system of nine gruelling workout stations developed by kickboxing world champion Shannon Hudson and his wife Heather in 2008 in the US.
It also gives members the convenience of turning up at any time they want at the gyms. There are no scheduled classes, but trainers are always on hand to help them in their workouts.
“There are now over 700 9Round gyms around the world,” says Fong. “We hold the master franchise in Singapore and opened our ﬁrst gym in January at the junction of Joo Chiat and East Coast Road in a building we own. 9Round is for both genders, but just like the rest of its gyms, it tends to be most popular with women.”
While it is too early to measure its success, Fong says, “We’ve already sold two franchises for 9Round gyms that should open some time in the middle of the year,” he adds. “Our target is to have about 30 in Singapore within the next ﬁve to seven years.”
• I grew up playing competitive tennis. I also did track and field, and played football. These days, I’m only into tennis and golf. Cheryl has been very active since young and does a lot of dancing. She is into ballet and has learnt Broadway dancing in New York. We go to the gym to supplement our main activities, and to build up core strength and endurance.
• We basically eat everything, but try to eat a lot more vegetables and fruits, and avoid deep fried food in general. We eat most things for breakfast as well as lunch, and then eat less carbs and red meat for dinner.
TEXT IAN DE COTTA PHOTOGRAPHY VERNON WONG