RIYADH: RIYADH: Dec. 23 marks a milestone for American coach Lee Starks and his Saudi-founded TKO Fighters gym as one of his prize pupils Sara Al-Shahrani will step into the ring in Yaounde, Cameroon to compete in a WBF international championship event. Al-Shahrani was scheduled to face Mokam Jeanne in a professional event amateur fight in the 52kg weight class. Jeanne was was replaced by Essi Chimene due to a last-minute injury.
At a previous training session Al-Shahrani told Arab News that she had been preparing since her last fight for a tournament she competed in during December last year.
“I’ve been doing training camps. I’ve been training back to back. I’ve been going to fights back to back,” Al-Shahrani said, adding that she had not taken any time off since then.
“I’m going back to the sense that I feel proud that I have my country behind my back. I have women empowerment behind my back, but it got me like, I need to win this. Like I feel confident, I feel strong, like Alhamdulillah (thank God), Inshallah (God willing), so I’m going to win this,” she said, adding that her job was to implement the plan her coach had set for her.
Starks, meanwhile, said that he was proud of the dedication shown by all his fighters. “It’s been an amazing, amazing experience,” he said. “The girls they really, really work hard.”
In 2021, the renowned trainer from Plainfield, New Jersey, launched TKO Fighters, a club that enables local fighters to enter competitions within the region and across the world. Starks has been impressed by the response. “Especially for a society where they don’t fully understand boxing and they do everything I ask of them,” he said. “They work hard, some of them work five times a week, some of them work two times a day.”
The trainer has such faith in his boxing students that he has personally funded their training, and is supporting Al-Shahrani for this fight.
“Unfortunately, we’re not getting much support,” he said. “We have gotten support from Princess Nouf in the past and that’s been awesome. But you know, unfortunately, I’ve been funding everything myself, being that the boxing federation is still working on things and still new. I think maybe though, you know, reach out to us and in the future,” he said.
Starks has been a boxing coach for the past 21 years, having started training young fighters in his home state of New Jersey. He has received numerous honors from the city of Plainfield and the state for his achievements in amateur boxing, which include producing 29 champions at his Plainfield Boxing Academy.
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