For Rasha Al-Khamis, one word sums up last weekend’s “Rage on the Red Sea” boxing bout in Jeddah: Legendary.
This is not merely hyperbole for the vice president of the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation.
“It tells you that the future hub for boxing is in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Khamis said. “The impact of ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ is massive and tangible, as it will inspire many generations to pick up boxing as one of the most preferred sports to practice.”
While the main event, which saw Oleksandr Usyk retain his heavyweight title belt against Anthony Joshua, drew most of the world’s attention on the night, another bout was arguably as important for Al-Khamis.
“It was indeed delightful to watch the first-ever women’s pro boxing fight taking place in Saudi Arabia,” she said of British Somali fighter Ramla Ali’s win over Crystal Garcia Nova of the Dominican Republic.
“I’m sure that this legendary fight will create a tangible impact on the boxing ecosystem.”
Sport has long been life’s calling for Al-Khamis.
Born and raised in Riyadh, she was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued sports and healthy lifestyles.
“I was never treated differently from my brother,” said Al-Khamis.
Childhood activities included playing football with her cousins on the family farm and shooting hoops in her backyard.
After graduating from King Saud University, Al-Khamis moved to the US to continue her graduate studies, and expand her educational and cultural horizons. It was while she was at the University of Southern California that she took up boxing to get active and meet new people.
From the moment she laced her first pair of gloves, Al-Khamis fell in love with the sport.
She competed locally in California many times, each time diving deeper into the world of boxing.
In 2017, she returned home, a move that would have a major impact on her and many other aspiring athletes across the Kingdom.
After attending an intensive training course by the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation, in 2018, she became the first Saudi certified female boxing coach and started teaching the sport at King Saud University. Hundreds of young women lined up to learn from her.
“Each one felt the benefits of boxing in their daily lives. It was making a huge difference and I can still remember each student’s story about how boxing changed their life for the better,” said Al-Khamis.
In 2021, she was appointed as the vice president of the Saudi Arabian Boxing Federation, working closely with President Abdullah Al-Harbi to implement a long-term strategy for the sport in the Kingdom, focusing on growing it to send a strong team to the Olympics.
In February 2022, Al-Khamis became the first Saudi to be appointed as a board member of the Asian Boxing Committee (ASBC).
“I am very grateful and benefiting massively from being surrounded by years of experience and knowledge at ASBC. It is such a great opportunity to grow and learn from those who have been in this industry for years,” she said. “I am using this chance to help further our initiatives at home and ensure we bring that high-quality knowledge to the local landscape.”
Developing the nascent boxing scene in Saudi Arabia comes with many challenges, but unearthing and cultivating world-class athletes is what drives her daily. Above all, she hopes providing equal opportunities will be her enduring legacy.
With Al-Khamis at the helm, progress is happening at a rapid rate.
“Only in female programs we have seen a 100 percent increase from last year,” she said.
“We are implementing boxing fitness courses in eight schools this year and are looking to accumulate more. Right now, our focus is on the education of the sport within the schools, slowly introducing it to them so that they can understand that it teaches discipline and respect for others, and instills self-confidence.
“The more schools we can integrate, the more opportunities we create for organic growth of the sport in the country. This helps us build good competition and gives us a chance to send strong participants to the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Olympics.”
Earlier this year, a team of Saudi female boxers traveled to Northern Ireland for a training camp, where for the first time they were able to train and spar with amateur fighters from all around the world.
“What an opportunity it was for these young women to see and live the life of an athlete,” Al-Khamis said. “These are the opportunities we want to facilitate more and more for our national boxing team, and are some of the main things the federation wants to provide to develop boxing in Saudi Arabia.”
Raising boxing’s profile in the Kingdom remains the priority, and she is grateful for the support she has received from the country’s leaders.
“I want to thank my country, and extend my sincere appreciation to His Majesty King Salman and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said Al-Khamis.
“With Vision 2030 and the direction of the Ministry of Sports and Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee under the leadership of HRH Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal and vice president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Fahad bin Jalawi, I am so grateful.”
She became the first woman to join the Arab Boxing Union as president of the Arab Women’s Boxing Committee in August 2022. Following this ground-breaking move, Al-Khamis hopes to build up women’s boxing in the region.
“Right now, as it is a completely new committee, I am focused on picking the right board members. My ideal candidates are those who are actively championing female boxing in their countries,” she said. “Although a majority will be women, I am not looking at only females as candidates. They should be well educated and have a background in combat,” Al-Khamis added.
“I hope that athletes in Saudi Arabia have the right opportunities and facilities to compete in boxing at the highest level around the world,” she said. “I will work every day, alongside my country’s leaders, to bring that vision to life.”