Banker plots strategy for sport’s reformation and rise in Singapore.
FOUNDER, THE RING BOXING COMMUNITY
It inspired me to come up with a big gym for boxing, to reconnect it with its past grandeur.
ON THE RISE OF MMA UNDER ONE CHAMPIONSHIP
Despite having a family background immersed in the sports of speed, Ruchdi Hajjar did not emulate his father, even before he arrived in Singapore in 2009. Hajjar senior was the managing director of Automobile Club de Monaco, promoter of the Monaco Grand Prix. Boxing, instead, is the 38-year-old’s passion, and he wants to revive the sport’s glory days from the 1930s to 1960s, when Singapore was the centre of professional and amateur boxing in Asia.
Hajjar believes he can lift the sport from the obscurity into which it has lapsed since the 1990s, after seeing how Singapore’s One Championship popularised mixed martial arts (MMA) throughout Asia and is now one of the continent’s hottest sports properties.
“The grandeur of MMA under One Championship inspired me,” says the banker, who is also a partner at wealth and asset management company SGMC Capital, which he started four years ago. “It challenged me to come up with a big gym for boxing, to reconnect it with its past grandeur.
“I have been interested in boxing since my teens and I was one of the few teenage boxers in Monaco at the time. I enjoy the discipline the sport instils.” In 2016, he set up The Ring Boxing Community gym in Kim Yam Road, where instructors train competitive boxers from 16 to 40 years old and guide others who just want to keep ﬁt. That same year, he also founded Golden Glove Asia Promotions to run tournaments at the gym that can host up to 500 fans.
To spike boxing’s popularity here after opening The Ring, he invites MMA gyms with boxers in their ranks to come together as a community for competitions. Since its inception, the gym has staged an average of nine competitions a year, including two professional ﬁghting championships. Among those was the World Boxing Council Championship Asia Continental super featherweight last November, when its ﬁghter Hamzah Farouk beat Indonesia’s Isack Junior to the title. It then hosted Hamzah’s successful title defence against Thailand’s Paiboon Lorkham ﬁve months later.
This won’t be Hajjar’s ﬁrst stab at popularising the sport, albeit in different countries. He was head coach of the Monaco Boxing Association before being elected president in 2006. He moved to Singapore three years later. “My mission as president was to promote the sport and ensure a safe and professional environment for boxers,” he says. “Building on the legacy of my predecessors, I went on to develop local, regional and national champions for Monaco. I also introduced the ﬁrst female boxing class as I wanted open up the sport to all social classes.”
His business strategy in Singapore is gaining traction. Hajjar, who has, together with his partners, invested over $1 million into his venture here, explains: “Look at the non-MMA commercial gyms, especially the big ones like Virgin Active and Pure Fitness chains. They are now embracing boxing in their schedules and, for us, this is a good sign because it means the sport is growing.”
Young people, he says, are the key to the future of the sport. This, he adds, is about helping them excel and win medals for Singapore at regional games and, in the long term, box their way to the Olympics. On top of its 250 adult membership of mostly business executives, his gym trains about 200 who are between 16 and 21 years old.
“We have a Big Brother programme in which we work with Sports Singapore to develop talented youths at our gym,” Hajjar says. “We mentor them, some of whom are youths at risk, and they train with us every Friday. There have been some good results; one of the boys just won the national championships.”
His vision of success hinges on the boxing community coming together on the platform he has created. “If we are isolated and conduct business on our own, we cannot contribute to the growth of the industry. What we are doing is to set trends because a trendsetter has followers and what we do will have an effect on boxing.”
Photography VEE CHIN