All posts by Umar Choudhry

Isaac Chamberlain – from Brixton to the big time?

“Growing up in Brixton was hard. You had to be tough or you would get walked over.”

When boxer Isaac Chamberlain talks about his upbringing, there is menace in his words. After all, Chamberlain is a born fighter.

The 22-year-old cruiserweight is emerging as one of Britain’s brightest young talents in the ring, with his unpredictability, burning desire to succeed and raw emotion making him a growing favourite amongst fans.

But these characteristics were developed on the troubled streets of south London.

“I never had any big brothers, so I had to fight nearly every day so that people would leave me alone,” he recalls. “From a young age, I grew up fighting in school and on the streets. Boxing gave me a way out of all that.”

Not calling it quits 

His most recent fight, at the end of September at Bethnal Green’s York Hall, provides a good snapshot of the man known to his fans as ‘Chambo’.

Chamberlain celebrates beating Camacho

His sixth professional bout was against Wadi Camacho, a 31-year-old from Canning Town, who in the pre-fight trash talk had promised to bury his opponent.

Chamberlain was already on the backfoot even before his right shoulder went, and from that point he struggled and could barely raise his arm as Camacho took advantage.

But somehow he overcame the injury and fought back to win his biggest title so far, the Southern Area Championship. He hopes this is just the start of things to come.

“The victory felt good, but I want more than this,” admits Chamberlain.

“I knew I could do it because I’d thought of it a million times in my head. It made me hungry for more success and glory.”

Sparring with Wilder 

In his short career so far, the cruiserweight has trained and sparred with some of the biggest names around.

But Chamberlain says it was a month in Alabama with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay ‘The Bronze Bomber’ Wilder ahead of his 2015 pro debut that was most instructive.

Chamberlain training with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in 2015

“I learnt how a champion prepares and trains,” he says.

“The team he has around him is incredible. To have a champion and win fights is a team effort as they are all working hard to help the contender win the title. It was like a tight-knit family.”

‘Straight Outta Brixton’ 

Chamberlain, also nicknamed ‘The King’, starred in Sky Sports’ documentary ‘Straight Outta Brixton’ which focused on his troubled childhood and how boxing transformed his life.

He said he was keen to show how his upbringing had changed his attitude.

“Going back to my roots showed how far I have come,” he adds.

“I’ve always been the type to look forward, never back. My upbringing and journey showed the perseverance I had when I was growing up and how tough I must have been.”

Support 

Under the guidance of his uncle and trainer Ted Bambi, Chamberlain has flourished.

Training alongside heavyweights such as Dillian Whyte at Miguel’s Gym in Brixton, he has received expert advice to keep him on the right track. Despite his tough training regime, Chamberlain says Bambi has been crucial to his development.

“I learnt the meaning of hard work with Ted,” he says.

Chamberlain with his uncle and trainer Ted Bambi

“He pushes me to the limit nearly every training session but also teaches me a lot about the business and life itself.

He’s so hard on me because he doesn’t want me to make the same mistakes he did.”

Chamberlain also says that being around a character like Whyte every day means there is never a dull moment.

“Dillian is a crazy guy but also fun to be around. We used to take the bus home from training together and he would always say he was going to fight Anthony Joshua again after their amateur bout early on in their careers. And he did.”

‘No easy fights’

Signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable, so far Chamberlain has a record of six wins and no defeats.

He says his manager has been an important figure in his professional development.

“Eddie has influenced my career a lot,” he says. “My career’s been different from other boxers because I’ve never had any easy fights and my record shows that.

“When I’m a champion, I’ll know what it’s like to go deep in a fight and take someone’s heart in the ring. I’ve been through the hard fights before, so I know what it takes to dig in.”

Ambitions 

An admirer of former three-weight world champion James Toney, Chamberlain has set his sights high, and the likeable character is not only hoping to reach the top in his profession but also inspire youngsters to follow in his footsteps.

“I want to make my mark in boxing like the old school fighters such as James Toney. I hope to show my the sheer guts and grit to match my skills”

“My advice to anyone facing hardship in life is never give up, no matter how hard it gets,” he insists.

“There will be low times, but it will all pay off. I hope to continue to provide support and the right advice whenever I speak at my local youth club.

“I’d love to fight for the WBC world title at some point in my career. Hopefully, I can become a future Hall of Famer but that’s only once I have defeated some of the top names and unified the division and ensured that I am the best UK cruiserweight to have ever stepped in a ring.

“I want to make my mark in boxing like the old school fighters such as James Toney. I hope to show my the sheer guts and grit to match my skills.”

Review – Box to Box by Curtis Woodhouse

Many youngsters grow up dreaming of becoming professional footballers, but for every one that makes the grade, there are so many that fail to fulfil their potential and drift into obscurity. We’ve all heard that story before. 

Similarly, the tale of the ageing boxer who somehow manages to pull off one last shot at the big time is something of a cliche.

Combine both stories, however, and you have something a bit different – people don’t just go from being nearly men in football to really men in boxing. But somehow Curtis Woodhouse managed to do just that, and his autobiography ‘Box to Box’ tells his remarkable story.

The start and the end

When he stepped up from Sheffield United’s academy to the first team at the age of 17, the outlook was bright for Woodhouse as he moved from earning £42.50 a week as an apprentice to taking home more money than he had ever seen before.

Once he broke into England under-21s team alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, his future looked even better. But something was missing. Desire.

“Ever been trapped in a loveless relationship?” he says in his book. “One day you’re head over heels and all set to take on the world together, a few years later it’s all gone to shit.

“You’ve fallen out of love and you don’t know how it happened. The dream has gone and it’s impossible to get it back. Love and hate are similar emotions. And I really hated football.”

Whilst to an outsider, a Premier League footballer may be living the life of a king, for Woodhouse, the reality was very different.

For sure, he enjoyed the parties and the drinking culture, but for the young child who grew up on Northfield Crescent in Beverley, outside Hull, with dreams of being the next John Barnes, the lustre had faded.

‘Living in my own little Beirut’

Despite a close relationship with family members, particularly his father, Woodhouse’s childhood was permeated with violence and anguish. Fighting and arguing were all around him.

“Between the ages of 10 and 14, I lived in a war zone,” he writes. “Northfield Crescent was my own little Beirut. I wouldn’t wish those years on my worst enemy. Please, Dad, don’t kill her. Please, Mum, don’t die.”

“He brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed”

The challenges Woodhouse experienced as a youngster left mental scars, and when his mother fled the family home with his siblings, fed up with rows and heartache, for years Woodhouse despised her.

As he got older, though, he realised the challenges she had faced – and also that his father, whilst being his hero, was by no means a saint.

The bitter youngster descended deeper into chaos, taking solace in drinking and fighting with anyone who got in his way. Although he says he was not by nature confrontational as a youngster, he changed his ways after a piece of advice from his father.

“Listen, do you want to be running for the rest of your life?,” said Woodhouse Snr. “It’s embarrassing, son. Get out there and fight. From now on, if anyone ever calls you nigger, smack em as hard as you can, straight in the face.”

Problem after problem

Throughout his footballing career, Woodhouse’s combative personality was a problem, and the book lists his series of run-ins at every club he played for.

Off the pitch, he brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed.

“Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, aged 33 and in his 28th fight, Woodhouse became the British light-welterweight champion”

Inevitably, his Premier League career came to an end when he was sacked by Birmingham after a 44-day bender. Not that he has much memory of his actual dismissal, however.

“I thought [manager] Steve Bruce was a wanker. I thought [club director] Karren Brady was a bitch,” he writes. “When I was smashing up Indian restaurants and playing for the first team, they pretended it didn’t happen.

“But now I was in a mess, they wanted me off the wage bill. I couldn’t tell you what was said or even the official reason I got sacked. I haven’t got a clue, because I wasn’t really there.”

Dreams can come true

With Woodhouse filled with rage, Barry Fry – manager of his next professional club, Peterborough United – suggested he take up boxing as an outlet for his anger.

This proved to be the turning point, as Woodhouse began his journey from the laughing stock who was pummelled by kids in sparring into a seriously talented and dedicated fighter, motivated by those early humiliations.

In September 2006, Woodhouse made his debut as a professional boxer. Just a few months later, in May 2007, his already ill father suffered a stroke, and shortly before he died, Woodhouse made a promise to his ‘superhero’.

“Dad, I promise that I’ll win the British title. I promise… I promise.”

And this he duly did. Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, on February 22 2014, aged 33 in his 28th fight, Woodhouse beat Darren Hamilton to become the British light-welterweight champion.

‘Box to Box’ is compelling, honest and very amusing, telling an amazing story of a remarkable sporting life.

It is a bruising ride through adversity and a lesson in shattered dreams, wasted opportunities, and the power of not giving up.

Despite the demons he faced, Woodhouse has conquered all.

“The demons are still inside but now I’m their master, rather than the other way round,” he writes. “I’ve succeeded in two sports and also overcome all the bad shit that happened when I was a kid.”

Box to Box is published by Simon & Schuster (Amazon £12.91). 

Getting hooked on table tennis

Glued to my sofa on a drab Tuesday night, having earlier consumed a kebab, I wasn’t necessarily in the market to try out a new sport.

However, my table tennis fanatic friend Junaid worked hard to convince me to come and give his game a try at a local sports club in Slough, Berkshire.

Despite my initial lack of eagerness, once we arrived I had a funny feeling in my stomach. At first I thought it might be something to do with that kebab, but it wasn’t.

It was more an adrenaline rush and a feeling of nervousness mixed with enthusiasm.

Being competitive by nature, I was filled with tension because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of experienced players, but in hindsight that tension ensured I was motivated to have fun and try something new.

Popularity 

Having become an Olympic sport since 1988, table tennis has been in the limelight for many years.

Its origins go back to the 1880s as game-makers tried to emulate the popularity of lawn tennis by developing indoor versions.

“As I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…”

The sport is simple. It is played by two players (singles) or four players (doubles) on a 2.7m x 1.5m table.

They repeatedly hit a 40mm-diameter ball made of celluloid and plastic over and around the net by using rackets (also known as bats) made out of wood that are covered by pimpled rubber.

The object is to score 11 points before your opponent.

In a game where each player has two serves, they hit the ball back and forth and must only allow a ball played towards them to bounce once on their side of table, and the opponent must return it so it bounces on the opposite side.

If the score becomes tied at 10 points each, the first player or pair to gain a two point lead will be victorious. In addition, a match will consist of winning the best of any odd number of games such as: 3, 5 or 7.

Serve it up 

As I prepared myself in the changing rooms, the noise inside the hall was pretty deafening. You could hear balls being rhythmically knocked back and forth and the anguished cries of those  struggling with the pace.

There was certainly a competitive feel to the atmosphere, even though – like me – not all the people present were seasoned table tennis hitters.

Finding a spot and table wasn’t hard due to the impressive facilities at the club.

My friend eased me in at first but as I got to grips with the sport, I wanted a doubles match with another pairing. My competitive nature was taking over…

Junaid found an experienced partnership who were no doubt feeling smug about their prospects of victory, but I warmed up thoroughly, determined to not to be embarrassed in my first competitive table tennis game.

Surprising myself 

It was time for the showdown. At the back of my mind, I was thinking of when Mike Tyson the huge favourite, lost to Buster Douglas and it just gave me the confidence to surprise the other pair.

“After believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat”

I served first but my nerves got the better of me and it went straight into the net, but Junaid was quick to push me on and said ‘Continue doing that, it will pay off, trust me.’

As I got into the flow, I started to put my stamp on the game and alongside Junaid, we caused our opponents plenty of problems.

They were on the backfoot for most of the contest as our youthful energy paid dividends. My confidence grew and I unleashed a destructive hit that startled the opposition. I was here to play.

However, experienced eventually told and they rallied to earn a 3-2 victory.

But afterwards they came over and said ‘We didn’t think you had it in you, that was a good workout. You better be here next week – we will certainly have a rematch.’

Those words gave me so much encouragement. At first, I thought I would be a disaster and there was no hope, but after believing in my own abilities, I managed to give them a scare so next time hopefully I can hand them a defeat.

Try it! 

Football is my main sporting passion, but table tennis was tremendous fun. Despite it being a challenging sport to master at first, it’s one people of all ages and abilities can enjoy and it also gives you a really good workout.

There will almost certainly be a club in your area that welcomes newcomers, and if you are feeling spontaneous you could even try it at home!

Just watch out for your mum’s best dinner service if you do decide to give it a go on your dining table.

By deciding to give up my sofa for a strenuous cardiovascular work out, I not only improved my endurance levels but I enjoyed doing something different and I would recommend everyone to give the sport a try.

To find out where you can give table tennis a go, visit the Table Tennis England website.

Millar contemplates life after the final whistle

Chris Millar was the golden boy once but, as he enters the latter stages of his professional career, he is becoming more like the olden boy.

At the age of 33, the St Johnstone midfielder is no longer a man in a hurry, content to play a waiting game and win back his place in the Saints’ first team.

The man nicknamed ‘Midge’, is undoubtedly one of the most colourful and passionate figures in Scottish football.

In a career spanning 13 years, which began training alongside the likes of Henrik Larsson at Celtic and is now approaching its end, Millar has never been too far away from the headlines.

Whether it was winning St Johnstone their first-ever Scottish Cup in 2014, experiencing European football in the Europa League or contemplating a move to Australia, his career has been eventful.

However off the pitch, the Glasgow-born player is forging as impressive career for himself as a sports journalist.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that”

After working for broadcasters including BT Sport, Millar is optimistic about the future and once he decides to hang up his boots.

The former Greenock Morton player is setting his sights high in a career in broadcasting.

“I think there is definitely a realisation that life after football has to be planned for,” admits Millar.

“Not every player earns the money that will keep them ticking for the rest of their days, especially in Scotland.

“Many players are aware of it and are making plans once their career is over, and the PFA are doing a great job in highlighting this issue.”

Chris Millar on duty as a journalist

Despite the criticism that former players get once they land a role in the media, Millar insists that he wants to try and change the views of professional footballers.

“I think at times some players think there is an agenda within the media to sell units,” he says.

“As a former player, I do not have an agenda to push. I just want to report the events as honestly as I can and try to open up the game more to the public.

“My main aim is to show the public about what goes on at football clubs with players, managers, etc.

“I enjoy most aspects of journalism like writing, broadcasting both radio and TV. I have done work in all three and I have held down a slot as a pundit on radio and I work for a national paper.

“Ultimately, my hope is to host something, a bit like Gary Lineker. Whether that happens or not time will tell, but like anything it’s about opportunity and working hard to create that.”

University life

For many players, their first port after retirement is to become a coach or manager. After initially contemplating this, Millar chose to broaden his horizons – and he says completing a degree at Staffordshire University was one of the best decisions he ever made.

“I have always wanted to stay involved in the game,” he says. “It’s all I have known since I was a 17-year-old at Celtic so it is important for me to stay involved.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have”

“When I saw that I could do a sports broadcasting degree whilst still playing, it got me thinking, so it really came from there.

“Many players want to go into coaching so there is only going to be so many jobs going around. I enjoy using my brain and learning new skills so for me it is interesting to use a different skills-set.

“As a pro, I think you can relate more to players as you’ve been through many of the things they go through so it gives you an insight that not many journalists have.”

Most individuals would struggle to manage their professional and academic lives, but Millar has balanced both and he says even though it was difficult, it was worth it in the end.

“It was tough, don’t get me wrong,” admits the Scot.

“Juggling footy, two kids and a degree takes time and effort. However, in the end it paid off as I gained a first class degree. By using my brain again, I enjoyed learning a whole new skill set.

“The funny thing is that I played some of my best football whilst studying. It gave my mind something else to focus on – it’s good to have a release from that.”

The return of the Old Firm 

With the return of Rangers to Scotland’s top division, the competition in the league has gained an intensity that it had been missing in recent years.

Despite the likes of Celtic, Aberdeen and Rangers being touted as the ‘big boys’, Millar’s St Johnstone have continued to progress under manager Tommy Wright, a journey Millar says will continue.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and as a club we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress as a team.”

“The return of Rangers has been huge for Scottish football,” he says.

“They bring a bigger spotlight to the league and obviously you have the Old Firm derby back which is a huge game. As a player, you want to play in front of big crowds and I have honestly missed playing at Ibrox.

“We [St Johnstone] have started well but ultimately I do not think we can win the league. However, I do not see any reason to why we cannot challenge for the other top four spots.

“We’ve been up there the last few seasons and we now see ourselves as a top four side, so we will continue to improve and progress.”

Scotland’s World Cup adventure 

Scotland and RB Leipzig’s Oliver Burke

Looking at the national team, Scotland’s qualification campaign for the Russia 2018 World Cup has not been going well, and in November manager Gordon Strachan faces a huge test – against England, at Wembley.

“Results have not been good enough ultimately,” says Millar.”I compare ourselves to teams of the other home nations and when I look at them, man for man we have as much if not more talent than them yet they have just been to the Euros and we have not. That is not good enough,” he says.

“The last two results in the qualifiers were poor and it means we must now go onto beat England. If we lose that then for me, Strachan must go.”

As Millar points out, Scotland have a number of star players and one of the most highly-regarded is former Nottingham Forest and current RB Leipzig player Oliver Burke.

His goal for Leipzig against FC Koln made the 19-year-old Scotland international the first Scot to score in the Bundesliga since Brian O’Neil for VFL Wolfsburg in November 1999.

“He has all the physical attributes needed in modern football,” insists Millar. “He is athletic, quick and he can score.

“He is still very young and he has a long way to go but I think going to Germany will enhance his learning. More players should try to play abroad as I think it can only enhance your development as a player.”

Not calling it quits yet

Despite his age and planning for the longer term, Millar insists he is not yet done with playing football.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone”

“I have an ambition to play as long as I can as I love the game and feel I still have plenty to offer,” says the midfielder.

“I had issues with injuries last season but that is behind me. There is still life in my legs yet and I do not feel that I am off the pace. When I do feel that, then that is the time to stop.

“I am fit now and have been for most of the season so far, so I am ready to play when called upon. I know when I get back in the team, I will play well and then get my chance again.

“I have been at the club for nine years and had some amazing memories and success with St Johnstone. I have achieved things that I wanted in my career like playing in Europe, winning trophies and playing at the highest level in Scotland.

“It is a fantastic community-based club with loyal fans who have made me feel like one of them. It will always have a place in my heart.”

Chris Millar is on Twitter @MidgeyMiller

Mamadaliyev eyes MMA greatness

It has been a while since Ilyaz Mamadaliyev set foot in the derelict warehouse in Dayton, Ohio, where he trained for many years.

Back then, he was a boy dreaming of MMA stardom. Now he is a promising young fighter determined to turn his big ambitions into reality.

In the intervening period, things have changed considerably for Russian-born Mamadaliyev, who has grown from a timid, bullied youngster with depression to become a fledgling talent with the potential to become a UFC powerhouse.

The 18 year old is happy to bide his time. He has gained plenty of attention since his MMA debut in July, but that does not mean he wants to take shortcuts to get to the top.

Putting Ahiskans on the map

Mamadaliyev grew up in the Russian village of Kolos in a family of Ahiskan Turkish heritage. He emigrated to the United States with his parents and siblings aged eight.

It pains him that so few people have any awareness of his culture, but hopes to put it on the map by making history in the UFC.

“As a group of people, we are not well known,” says Mamadaliyev. “I get a little perplexed and surprised when people are not aware of what and who Ahiskan people are.

“I want to be the first Ahiskan in the UFC to win a fight and stay in the UFC.

“I believe I can show something new as a fighter. My personality will ensure that a lot of people support me, and fingers crossed that I provide special moments for my people in the future.”

Racial abuse

Yet the first steps on the road to stardom have not been plain sailing.

As the presidential race in America between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton hots up, Mamadaliyev has experienced instances of Islamophobic behaviour, fuelled at least in part he believes by Trump’s views.

“I love America because it is the land where everyone has opportunities”

However, he insists he has become stronger for it.

“Back in September, I was discriminated against for my religion. It was the first time I had experienced such abuse in the US.

“I was at a Chinese restaurant with my cousin (Eldar, 26) and my two younger brothers aged 10 & 16. As we sat down at a table and started to eat, I noticed that a man and his wife were sitting a table away from us. The individual started eyeing us up and started shouting things like ‘Look at those Muslim goat fuckers’.

“The man went up to get his food and I felt this vibe from him as if he had so much hatred in his eyes and was eager to start a fight. I felt very bad in this moment.”

A less mature head on a young fighter’s  shoulders might have lost his cool, but the 18-year-old insists it was crucial he kept calm.

“I knew the guy wanted to fight me,” says Mamadaliyev, “but I was not going to hit him because I know that if I touched him it would hamper my career prospects.

“He continued to shout things like ‘They should go back to their own fucking country’, but I remained calm. After I left the restaurant, I thought about the incident the whole night but then I remembered that one man’s actions does not mean everyone is the same.

“I love America because it is the land where everyone has opportunities. If I lived in Russia, I would never have become a fighter so I will continue to grow and become a better person.”

Family

In a fledgling career including just a handful of fights so far, he insists he has gained a new level of maturity and responsibility, and offers gratitude to his loved ones.

“Without my family I would be nothing – they complete my life”

“Family is so important to me,” says Mamadaliyev. “I love having a family of eight people, living in one house.

“My grandma, parents, aunt, cousin and two brothers complete my life. I have promised them a new house in a good neighborhood once I have turned professional.

“My cousin Eldar did not have the opportunity to fight in the cage and since I do, I am dedicating it to him.

“Without my family I would be nothing. My dad Zakir, helps me sell my tickets but my mother and aunt avoid the fights because they are scared to see me get hurt.

“They pray for me to come out healthy but that’s part and parcel of the fighting game. What does not kill you, makes you stronger.”

Mamadaliyev alongside his mother and aunt

Debut win 

Mamadaliyev, speaks eloquently as he discusses his scintillating debut win in a performance that was highly praised within the amateur ranks.

That bout in Dayton saw him earn victory in a brutal manner as the youngster bloodied his more experienced opponent to seal a unanimous decision.

“It was the best moment in my career so far,” he says, laughing happily at the recollection.

“I had a great training camp and my fight was literally a day after my birthday, so I was excited to give myself a present. I showed up to the weigh-in and saw my opponent for the first time.

“From what I remember, he was a lot taller and much older. I believe he must have been about 28 years old. We had a stare down and I looked him in the face and I smiled.

“Although, I am just becoming an adult, I have big plans. I do not fear anyone and there was no way I was going to lose that fight.

“I got hit a couple of times but I knew that was needed in order to win, and by the end of it I had my hand raised.”

Depression

Nicknamed the ‘Turkish Assassin’, Mamadaliyev struggled with his confidence at school and negative experiences left him suffering from depression.

“There was bullying happening all over the place,” he recalls. “I was always quiet and I hated violence, so people would take advantage of me.

“I hated bullies but I never confronted them and this meant I did not train enough and at one point back in

Mamadaliyev alongside his training team

2015, I was out of shape and weighed 195lbs. I gained 50lbs because I was stressing about life and my anxiety and depression got the better of me.

“I believe leaving everything behind in Russia including my family was what caused this stress, but in theory it is what has made me stronger today.

“God puts you through life situations and when you get past them it means you were capable and strong enough, and for that I will forever be thankful.”

Support

With hopes of emulating UFC megstars such as Conor Mcgregor, Mamadaliyev says he is delighted with the support and confidence he has gained from well wishers within the sport.

“The fans are the ones that drive me on. I’ve got 50,000 or so followers on Twitter and 30,000 followers on Instagram, and every one of those fans motivate me with their comments and messages.

“It makes me happy that so many people know me.

“Many fans and coaches in have compared me to the ‘Notorious One’ (Mcgregor) because of my movement and kicks, but that man is a legend and I would never compare myself to him.

“It just makes me happy to know that I am doing something right and people are cheering me on.”

Achieving history 

A product of Dayton’s Heated Combat MMA training centre, Mamadaliyev has grown in the fight game, and you could be forgiven for wondering if he has experienced too much too soon.

However, his maturity is steering him on the right path as he aims to climb up MMA ladder and eventually make his mark amongst the sport’s elite.

“I hope to become a big name and a world champion”

“I am focused on my goals, and the only thing in my head right now is that I want to turn professional before the end of 2017,” insists Mamadaliyev.

“This is my life. I want to start making this my living, and once I have graduated from high school next year, I will take a month or two to fly out to a top MMA gym.

“I hope to become a big name and a world champion. I have one shot in this industry and I am going to do everything to ensure that I end up being a success. Failing is not an option for me so the only way is up.”

Follow Mamadaliyev on Twitter @Official_ilyaz

 

 

 

 

 

 

Middleweight stardom beckons for Kayani

A day with Amar Kayani is a day like no other. A morning of ‘light’ training, with pad and bag work supplemented by skipping and hundreds of press-ups, is a distinct reminder of how boxing is steeped in hard work and dedication. 

Sweat flies from the rising star in the middleweight division as he prepares for his upcoming bout in the national quarter-finals.IMG_2684

After three hours, Kayani peels off his drenched shirt and squeezes a pool of perspiration into a grubby bucket at his gym in High Wycombe.

Born in Slough, Berkshire, and having had to work hard to become one of the most feared amateurs in the sport, Kayani says he has educated himself.

“Life wasn’t plain sailing when I was a youngster,” he admits while watching a dozen prospects being put through their paces in a sparring session.

“I was always getting in trouble at school and as a youngster I was fighting all the time. I was never scared of confrontation and I just loved fighting.

“It was obviously wrong, but punching someone or something was the easy way out during that time. It gave me an adrenaline rush so boxing seemed perfect for me to get into.”

Family

Kayani grew up in a family passionate about boxing. In his understated way, the 21-year-old describes his journey to becoming one of the most destructive boxers in the amateur ranks, and says he is delighted to have a family that has a massive attachment to the sport.

“Boxing teaches discipline and you have to be disciplined in many more ways than just the boxing aspect in life in order to be a success”

“As a youngster, I looked up to my oldest brother,” says Kayani with a huge smile.

“He did taekwondo and used to show me clips of him competing, and I would get such a buzz watching him.

‘My dad [pictured, top, with Kayani] was a massive Muhammad Ali fan and all he ever spoke about was how good the heavyweight division was with the likes of Henry Cooper, Joe Bugner, and George Foreman.

“As as I got older, I started to Google these fighters and got drawn into the world of boxing – let’s just say the rest is history. I owe my family so much because without their love for boxing, I wouldn’t be doing this today.”

Life lessons

Kayani, 21, admits he learnt some of his biggest life lessons after experiencing confrontations triggered by a violent temper.

“The fight against Adewale was a good test but I was in complete control”

“I’ve learnt a lot since I started boxing. Before, I was arguing with individuals on the street, but now I know I’m a trained professional.

“Now if arguments ever occur, I will always walk away rather than fight.

“Boxing teaches discipline and you have to be disciplined in many more ways than just the boxing aspect in life in order to be a success.”

Laying down a marker 

Kayani leans forward intently as he discusses his huge victory over Josh Adewale – the man who is supposedly one of the brightest middleweight’s in the country.

That bout at Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, earlier this month for a place in the quarter-finals of the Nationals, was one Kayani was expected to lose.

Kayani lands a punch on Adewale

However, a dominant performance saw him earn victory by a split decision.

“It was a special evening,” says Kayani, beaming at the recollection.

“I always knew I would overcome him. I was training so hard for this moment and most of the media doubted me, but that gave me more motivation to prove them wrong.

“The fight was a good test but I was in complete control.

“I did what I had to do but now that’s in the past and I look forward to the next fight and the next after that. This business does not stop for anyone.”

Maturity 

Reaching a new level of maturity in his life, the man nicknamed the ‘AK’ says his dedication to the sport is, in part, down to the support of his coaches.

“Stuart, John, Russ and Shane are the definition of a team,” says the 21-year-old fighter. “They all contribute so much and I learn different things from each of them.

Kayani alongside his coaching team

“They all have their own way of doing things and I mix up everything to make myself the best that I can possibly be.

“They have helped me grow as a boxer, but most importantly as a person so I will forever be grateful for that.”

Teaching 

Kayani is also passing down lessons to aspiring young fighters by running twice-weekly sessions at a boxing gym in Slough.

The flamboyant star, who likens himself to pro fighters Vasyl Lomachenko and Guillermo Rigondeaux, admits that the aim of these sessions is helping young kids steer clear of trouble.

“A considerable amount of youngsters were getting into trouble in Slough, and I thought why not use my knowledge of the sport to teach them something productive and keep them off the streets.

“The sessions are tough so usually they will go home and shower and then rest instead of being out all night causing mischief like most of them normally would!”

Hobbies

Despite the tough training regimes implemented by his coaches, the amateur star, who has a record of 14 wins and two close losses, enjoys the lighter side of life through hobbies including PlayStation and watching his beloved Manchester United.

“I get pretty engulfed in most things but watching United play gets me pumped,” admits Kayani.

“Boxing takes up most of my schedule but when I have time to relax, it’s all about my friends and family and just enjoying the finer things in life, and that includes thrashing someone on FIFA 17!”

Ambitions 

The youngster’s instinct is steering him in the right direction as he aims to become British boxing’s most exciting amateur.

“I will bring a flamboyancy to the middleweight division – for many years it’s lacked the cutting-edge excitement that professional boxing needs”

However, the calm and calculated character smiles and insists he has many aspirations to accomplish by the end of this season.

“Right now I’m focused on the here and now and by the end of this season, I want to achieve a lot,” insists Kayani.

“I have a solid goal in my head, and that is to turn professional within a year or two. I think I will bring a flamboyancy to the middleweight division – for many years it’s lacked the cutting-edge excitement that professional boxing needs.

“I think I will keep improving until I can win a world title, but at the moment I want to be national champion and then the ABA champion and anything else in between that.

“I have no doubt in my mind that it can be done and it is possible.”

 

 

How ‘Silky’ Jones took the rough with the smooth

As Paul ‘Silky’ Jones, discusses his life, there are times when the former WBO light-middleweight champion cannot help but shake his head and smile as he reflects on its many highs and lows.

A British boxer who had to cross the Atlantic to kickstart his career in the ring, Jones has recently been doing ambassadorial work for the Heart Foundation and, at 49, seems determined to ride a new wave of success back home with his media and campaign work.

The Sheffield-born fighter has a serene and sincere air about him. A pleasant character with a warm demeanour, he speaks engagingly about the bVJzP5BSR (1)rutal challenges he faced and the scars left by his sport, both physical and emotional.

“Boxing gave me so much over the years,” he told me when asked about his career highlights. “I have many memories, but the Damien Denny fight for me was one of my greatest nights in boxing.”

That bout at Belfast’s Royal Ulster Hall in April 1995 for the WBO inter-continental super-welterweight title was one that Jones was expected to lose to the hometown fighter.

“I was not favoured to win or last the distance by the experts, and throughout the fight no-one was supporting me,” he recalled.

“When I was in my dressing room, the door opened and a fighter that I recognised as a journeyman on the boxing circuit walked in, and another then another then another. I then realised I was in the losers’ changing room and that motivated me so much.

“My only support was my trainer’s son and manager’s 12-year-old son, and funnily enough one of those kids was Eddie Hearn, right now the biggest promoter in the British boxing.

“Achieving KO of the year over Denny was one of the highs in my career without a doubt.”

Uprooting across the Atlantic

Jones’s route to boxing fame and fortune began at the age of 15 when he witnessed Canadian fighter Shawn O’Sullivan in action.

“I came up with the idea that I could take myself to Canada and train alongside him and maybe some of the power would rub off on me”

“I watched the best amateur boxing fight ever between O’Sullivan and Armando Martinez,” Jones said.

“I could not understand how O’Sullivan could generate so much power, so I started following him and saw him win a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics.

“I came up with the idea that I could take myself to Canada and train alongside him and maybe some of the power would rub off on me. At 20 years old, I was living the dream.

“I soon became Shawn’s chief sparring partner and had nine fights while living in Toronto for two years. It was honestly the best decision in my career.”

Underdog 

With a career spanning 16 years and featuring 31 wins, 12 defeats and one draw, Jones has plenty to talk about but, of course, the conversation eventually turns to his win over Verno Phillips for the WBO light-middleweight belt in Sheffield in November 1995 – another unexpected, underdog victory.

“I convinced myself I would win against Phillips, and I was right”

“I’d retired from boxing at the age of 26,” Jones reminisces. “But I was still in love with it so I watched every fight I could.

One night, I watched a fighter and I thought he was a great combination puncher, so I taped him and would often watch the tape to learn his traits.

“Sure enough, I made a comeback at 28 then 10 months later I was fighting him – and that man was Verno Phillips. I convinced myself I would win, and I was right.”

Heartbreak

Despite the many highs in his career, Jones hit a desperate low after a riot following a 1999 promotion in which he topped the bill in Oldham.

IMG_2689
Jones with Bradford boxer Tasif Khan

Aged 32 at the time, Jones lost his Commonwealth middleweight title to Londoner Jason Matthews, but his defeat was overshadowed when Dean Fisher, from East London, was crushed to death by a coach while being beaten by a rival gang after the bout.

Soon afterwards, ‘Silky’ announced his retirement and stated: “If this is what comes with boxing, I’m out. I’ll never fight again.”

Even though many years have passed, Jones admits he continues to feel sorrow after what he witnessed that night.

“That night was very sad for me as a person,” said Jones. “I’ve often thought about him [Dean Fisher] and his family and the pain they must feel every time they hear the word boxing.”

Violence among boxing fans has decreased since the 90s, but Jones believes it’s always a threat. “It can flare up anytime. I think the powers-that-be have to ensure that security companies are not understaffed.”

#GetSilkyHisBelt

In 2014, it came to light that Jones did not receive his actual belt from the WBO and a campaign #GetSilkyHisBelt, gained widespread praise across social media. The former world champion admits he was stunned by the support.

“Honestly, the amount of support I received shocked me,” he said. “I was proud and I owe thanks especially to my son who started the trend and all the supporters who demanded I got my belt.

“After years of fighting against the governing bodies, I was delighted because that campaign came to a standstill and was heading down the legal route until one-time trainer Ian Alcock and friend John Sheperd stepped in and presented me the belt in a mock meeting.”

Giving something back 

Jones insists he’s enjoing retirement and his work with the Heart Foundation and nationwide awareness campaign titled ‘Knocking Out Obesity’, has earned him much respect throughout the UK.

Jones holding up his WBO belt. ‘Silky’ believes the campaign will help the youth of today greatly. “If kids just for 10-15 minutes of the day do some skipping, it will help increase the heart rate and it’s a good warm up for more varied types of exercises.

“It’s important for everyone to take part in physical activity and it doesn’t have to be costly or demanding.”

After long careers in the ring, some boxers can’t help but hold onto their regrets along the way, but Jones is satisfied with the way his has worked out.

He is more focused on helping the future stars of the sport and admits future prospects wanting to breakthrough need to think carefully about what they want.

“My advice to amateur fighters, who want to breakthrough [as professionals] would be that if you don’t have a big fan base go to the Olympics and get yourself a medal.”