Interview: Tam Khan
Tam Khan started off like all of us, a child watching TV. The likes of Mohammed Ali and Mike Tyson instilled within him a passion for boxing, which later evolved into Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). His humble beginnings lay the foundation of his career as a champion. Now, he’s set up his own gym in the UAE, TK MMA Fitness, and has worked with the biggest names in fighting such as Royce Gracie, Floyd Mayweather and even WWE superstars such as Ryback. Read on to find out how he got to where he is now, and what he plans on doing next.
What peaked your initial interest in MMA? How did you get started?
As a kid, I was always into boxing. I remember as a kid I enjoyed watching Mike Tyson, he was the man when I was younger. My parents would enjoy watching his fights as well. They loved boxing from Mohammed Ali, and being Muslims he was an inspiration for us kids. I enjoyed combat and boxing, like wrestling, WWF (back when it was called that) Hulk Hogan and everything.
I remember when I used to box, I watched a tape called the UFC (The Ultimate Fighting Championship), the very first one and I saw this guy called Royce Gracie. He’s actually the guy in this picture (points to poster hanging on the wall). I was like wow! Who is this guy? He was skinny, he didn’t look strong, and he’d beat all these bigger guys so quickly with just these submission moves. I thought, this is amazing and fell in love with it. So after I saw Royce Gracie, that was when I really fell in love with the sport.
However, because I was in London, there was no UFC or MMA . So I had to order tapes through magazines and catalogues (no internet back then!) and it just went from there. I just fell in love with the sport and became a fan the first time I saw it, which was 1995 I think.
How did you take your training forward so as to progress into professional MMA fighting?
So I began an investigation of sorts. I would try to find places where I could train in MMA, and I did find two. One was Liverpool, which was very far because I lived in Essex, and the other was a three-hour drive away and I was a kid so I couldn’t exactly go that far.
I was walking down my high street and saw an advert in the window of a restaurant saying “We teach MMA Gracie Jiu Jitsu, and I couldn’t believe it! I walked into the restaurant and introduced myself to the guy. He had just come from America and had trained with Gracie himself. It was just amazing, it was like fate. That man was my coach Daniel Bazota, and from that day forward, the rest is history.
I trained with him all day, every day, learning, learning, and learning. My first competition was three months later I think in an international Jiu Jitsu competition and I took a bronze medal. So already I was becoming a natural because I was so obsessed with it. I would watch it, study and I fought loads of amateur fights.
My professional debut was in 2004, and I won the first round in like three minutes. In those days there wasn’t really a huge amateur scene. You just had to get in, fight and learn for yourself. All of this was because of one guy I met in Essex Daniel Bazato, and he taught me everything.
How did your MMA journey in the UAE begin?
Well the first time I came to Dubai it was 2006, and I had a fight coming up a few months down the line. So when I’m on holiday, I usually just google local gyms and go have a workout, just to keep consistent. So I went online here in Dubai and I honestly couldn’t find anything MMA. I saw the odd boxing gym or karate centre, but there was no MMA.
I was so surprised honestly, because back in London I would always hear about how Dubai booming and this and that. So I went to a regular gym, but fell in love with the city! The thing about the UAE is that it’s a Muslim country, but modern, and for me that was the dream. Halal food, good food!
So I went back to England, back to a full time job along with training and thought, I’d love to live in Dubai. I figured it was a good time to introduce MMA to the city, as when I would train at gyms in Dubai I would talk to people, show them a few moves and they seemed very interested. So I gathered there was a following, but no facilities for enthusiasts.
It was just an idea but in late 2007, I just gave it a go and moved. I thought, I’m single, I’m not married I can take this risk, and that was that, I haven’t left since.
What would you consider your greatest achievement in the field of MMA here in the UAE?
I don’t have just one particular one. Mine is to just see students and members of my gym improve to the point where they become individuals. I’ve had so many students fight professionally. I’ve had bullied kids come in and get confidence. I’ve had women come in and feel better, get in shape.
I’ve brought many fighters to the UAE like Gracie and Anderson Silva to the UAE for seminars. There’s so many things it’s hard to pick out one. My biggest achievement is just to have my own gym under my name and I can proudly say that this is the hub. It shows my journey, coming from renting space, hustling and printing out flyers and distributing them on the streets, to this. So it’s huge Alhamdulillah, it’s all a result of hard work.
What advice would you have for amateur fighters, or fitness junkies looking to get into MMA?
Well if you want to fight professionally you have to give 110%. It has to be a full-time thing. You do need a level of talent obviously but in all honesty, hard work beats talent. You just have to give it your all, you can’t watch YouTube and say oh this is easy. It takes a lot of sacrifice.
It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or your social status. If you come to me to train and give me the effort, even if you have no talent it shows to me that you’ve got heart. If you have the desire, you can get anything.
What is your typical day like?
Well it changes every day but I barely sleep. I go to sleep maybe every day after Fajr prayers so around 5 in the morning, and wake up around nine or 10. I’ll have breakfast, then go out and have a few meetings, after which I’ll make my way to TK MMA. I’ll sit with the staff, see how sales are doing and make sure everyone’s doing well. I usually pump up and get a workout in myself before it gets busy. Then I’ll see customers and teach.
What do you eat in a day?
Junk food at the moment, mostly!
How do you relax after work?
Sometimes I’ll be working 13 hours a day, so after, I’ll eat late, see some friends. I’ll go home at maybe 2am, shower and play with my little dog, give him some attention as well!
What about on weekends?
Fridays, I’ll tend to rest. I’ll go for prayers then come home and relax for a few hours. The gym is so new, however, that I always tend to find myself turning up to see how things are going.
What are you like as a boss?
Oh I cannot do anything where I’m not in control! Everyone knows this, my cleaners, my staff. I have OCD. Everything has to be a certain way, everything has to be organised. If I come into my office and my phone’s moved to the side I hate it. Even at home, if my bed is creased or if I have guests over and they don’t use coasters, I can’t stand it. I have a certain system for everything I’ve incorporated, and it works fine.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve always got my hands in different projects so I’m constantly working on one thing or another. We’re launching a new gym and we’ve got many events coming up. I can’t reveal details at the moment but I’m also working on a few franchising opportunities at the moment, one in the UAE and two abroad, which is very exciting.
I’ve got another project regarding a reality TV series a big company has pitched to me. I’m also going to be getting into entertainment management, so managing personalities in the Middle East. Not just fighters or sports athletes, I’m looking to work with bloggers, I’ve good connections in the media and internationally I have very good connections and networks from my sport.
I feel like there’s so much talent here but it’s not really seen and it’s kind of stuck in Dubai, so I want to help and promote these people internationally, from models to footballers to aspiring actors and dancers. I’m looking to get into this as well and calling it TK Promotions.
We’ve heard that WWE Superstar Ryback will be at your studio on Friday, what do you have planned?
I’ve got a very good relationship with the WWE, especially the Middle East office. I work closely with them and they want to incorporate and build awareness for WWE, so they want to bring some of their top wrestlers here to work out with certain kids and things like that.
So Ryback is coming in on Friday to work out with 30 exclusive people who pay. It’s a private work out, he’ll train with them, give them advice, questions, answers, pictures and all that. It’s great for the fans and the kids, and also for Dubai! So for me it’s a win-win situation.
Are you exactly where you want to be in terms of your career?
I want to have branches of TK MMA in different cities, be able to travel between them and just live comfortably. I’m very relaxed and laid back, I don’t work 24/7 chasing money, I don’t care for this. I’ve had many, many opportunities to make a lot more money but honestly, you can give me the biggest salary, but if I don’t enjoy it, I won’t do it.
It’s all about passion for me. My aim is just to do what I love because then I’ll always be happy. I’m not a materialistic kind of guy. You’ll always see me in shorts and trainers, I couldn’t care less about this stuff. Alhamdulillah I’m very happy.
How has TK MMA grown since you started?
We haven’t even formally opened yet! Our soft opening was on January 15, 2016 and since then, it’s been insane. We’ve got almost 800 active members and it’s the talk of the town. We’ve done so much in just these few months, I’m more than happy. It was a faster move than I expected and I really believe the only way is up Inshallah and we’ll see. Whatever happens is destiny, I really believe that whatever you do, you can do but whatever is meant to be will be.
What made you decide on the disciplines at TK MMA?
I’ve had this formula for years in all my gyms, it’s every part or aspect of MMA, which means Mixed Martial Arts, so you’ll have Muay Thai with kickboxing, boxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and strength conditioning. When I came to Dubai, I couldn’t find one facility which caters to everything but here, at TK MMA, we’re giving you everything. From a swimming pool to boxing, we’re giving you everything under one roof so it’s a sports facility for everyone. I cater to every demographic, from kids to women to yoga to Zumba. We have something for everyone.
What can you tell us about the trainers at MMA? Where are they from? How did you find them?
My motto is real fighters, real training, meaning every combat trainer I have is either a professional or world champion. Everyone has a high quality background. We have Muay Thai coach Benji Zimmerman, he’s the current coach of Alistair Cees Overeem, one of the top fighters in the UFC. Frankie, who does strength conditioning was a commander in the English Army for 20 years. He’s the most experienced fitness trainer I’ve met in Dubai. We’ve got another guy Omar who is also a famous MMA fighter along with myself, MMA champion. Boxing, we have a guy who was on the 2004 and 2008 Greek Olympic Team, so everyone is a highly trained expert in his field. I feel that this is one of the unique things TK MMA offers that nobody else does.
Do you plan on adding any more disciplines in the time to come?
I’m moving into yoga and dance classes now due to demand. Women want to do this twerk or whatever it’s called. I’m open to anything as long as people are happy and want to do it. We’ve also got parkour and calisthenics starting in a few weeks so that’s going to be pretty cool. Against Gravity has merged with us on this and it’s something I’m really looking forward to. We’re also starting wrestling classes, so look out for that!
What is your favourite activity at MMA?
For me, MMA is my bread and butter. It incorporates everything. You can be a good boxer or a good wrestler but if you can’t mix it well, it doesn’t matter, so MMA is the most realistic discipline to learn if you want to fight on the street, or if someone attacks you. It gives you both defence and confidence. It’s helped me go from nothing to where I am now.