“Everyone took it for granted, general life, not being able to go out or go to your mum or dad’s house or family and just enjoying the little things in life. When they get taken away, you realise how much they actually mean.”
A sharp reminder from a young boxer of the landscape we find ourselves. Divisive political opinions, racial inequality, tension across social platforms, physical and mental health issues, financial implications. The list goes on as far as the year 2020 is concerned.
The role that sport has to play had perhaps been underappreciated before, but Friday 10th July sees the return of boxing in the UK and a chance for fans to escape temporarily, an opportunity for common ground and unity, although it must be conceded, ‘normal’ resumption won’t reconvene for quite some time.
Hamzah Sheeraz (10-0) is one of the fighters who will be part of a card orchestrated by Frank Warren and will be one of a number of shows to be aired on BT Sport over the summer. Warren has worked surreptitiously behind the scenes without fanfare or bluster to provide events ahead of his UK rivals who have been caught procrastinating.
It means Ilford’s fistic prodigy Sheeraz has an opportunity to make the first defence of his newly acquired WBO European super welterweight title against Paul Kean (12-1-0).
The all too familiar government campaign of ‘Stay Safe’ has been supplemented with a personal mantra of ‘Stay Ready’ and Sheeraz explained just how he has maintained that commitment throughout the lockdown period. “After the cancellation of the last fight on the undercard of Joyce Dubois, we had a few weeks and my manager told me ‘look, just be ready to fight mid-July.’
“He told me that from the start, he said, ‘I don’t have a specific date for you, but get ready for then.’
The current situation means his preparation has been very much a throwback to how fighters were expected to train before the introduction of modern era gym equipment. That has not perturbed the European champion who hopes that he can showcase an exciting style as a result of some hard work that has been built on the foundations of his early success. “It’s literally been like old school, like the Rocky movies, that’s how it’s been.
“Pull-ups off trees in the parks, lots and lots of road work, because obviously the tracks haven’t been open. So it’s been very old school, but listen, the old school fighters, if you look at how they performed, it was always entertaining, so come July 10th, after all of this training I’ve put in, hopefully, I can bring something new and maybe a flashback of the old boxing, man.”
The flashback reference is an interesting point to make, as there is more than a hint of similarity between Hamzah and some of the fighters of yesteryear. In particular-and I’m sure his modesty will prevent him from agreeing with such a notable comparison-there are shades of Tommy Hearns. Not just the glaringly obvious physical parallels between them, (although it is hard to ignore the menacing presence of a man standing at 6ft 2) but it is the assured, yet quiet and respectful manner, the humility with which he deals with the media. There is no raging ego detected during our discussion as he carefully enunciates the finer details of his point, but inside those four ropes, there is a metaphorical switch that releases a tempestuous desire to throw leather with abandon. The tall lean frame lulls fighters into thinking they can get inside that reach and cause problems, but like Hearns, Sheeraz can clout at close quarters, just as he did when he picked up his title against Ryan Kelly.
With a division already brimming with established domestic talent, in the shape of Fitzgerald, Fowler, Cheeseman, Eggington etc, it is maybe not surprising that Sheeraz didn’t immediately take the British title route and admits that he was a little surprised that the WBO European title chance came so soon.
“If you look at it title wise, Fitzgerald has got the British title, but in my opinion, it’s a level playing field, you could mix them up and you’d get all different results, I don’t think you would get one person beating the whole lot.
He added, “When I found out I was fighting for it (European title), I was (surprised), because I was meant to fight for an English title before that actually, but then it didn’t happen and I got the European title shot and I’m very grateful for that, I captured it and now it is all about defending it, getting my ranking up there and capturing more titles, but I don’t want to jump ahead of myself, at the moment it’s all about July 10th.”
In spite of the fact that he has only had 10 fights, his performances (6 knockouts) and his standing mean that he is unlikely to be given any easy fights from this point onwards.
He said of his opponent Paul Kean, “I’ve seen him fight a few times actually and he’s a good southpaw, slick, brings something new, inshallah it’s a win and another box ticked off as well.
“He’s not a joke, any fight now going forward is always going to be a step up, because at the end of the day I want to get myself into a position to fight for a world title, whether it be WBC or WBO or whatever it is, but you’ve got to fight these people and get rid of them in good fashion as well, so I’m looking forward to doing the job hopefully.”
A subject that I am sure is visited regularly during interviews with the 21-year-old is weight. When those who are not yet familiar with the super welterweight, see him step through into the ring of the BT facility at The Olympic Park, they will understand why I unapologetically enquire as to the length of time he intends to stay at his current weight category. Hamzah kindly responded as though it is the first time the question had been posed,
“This is the perfect opportunity to give my nutritionist, Pro Nutrition Clinic a shout out. Everything he tells me to do and eat, I eat and I make weight comfortably, obviously the last kilo is a bit of a pain to get off, but in most cases, that’s the same with any boxer.
“I was chatting to him today actually, he said ‘you’ll probably be able to hold it for the next 2 years or so.’ Whether I fight for a world title at light-middleweight or middleweight, who knows?”
There is a definite sense that behind the courteous manner, is a fighter that is eager to start punching people again. The pandemic has sadly had very personal ramifications for Hamzah as he lost his beloved Aunt, one of his biggest fans to Covid-19. It is remarkable that he has continued to work hard and prepare without complaint. His maturity has enabled him to focus and work towards July 10th, an occasion he is very grateful for.
"A massive shout out to Frank Warren and my manager Andy Ayling for putting on shows like this and giving fighters like myself the opportunity to show our skills on platforms like this and especially during the lockdown, it must have been double hard to put on the shows, I don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve.”
It seems fitting to allow the fighter himself to summarise the moment and he set the scene perfectly saying, “I’ll literally get into a zone where nothing can phase me, I’ve put the hard work in during camp, at the end of the day, it’s just me and him, me and Paul Kean in the ring. I’m going to punching him in the face, he will be punching mine and hopefully, we’ll entertain a few people, man.”