Updated: Mar 4, 2020
The usual criterion required for a boxer to be considered ‘one to watch’ is the promise of noticeable career advancement, some tangible transformation. Within boxing, such progress is easily measured and often linear: increases in the talent and the profile of a fighter’s opponents, through whom victory eventually results in titles being won and/or elevations in the rankings of the various sanctioning bodies being accomplished.
My selection has the potential to satisfy both requirements, along with a lofty additional aspiration, which is as commendable as it is complex to determine and difficult to measure: ‘To inspire the younger people. To give back to the people who have supported me, the people of my community. Not just people of my race, but any race of religion.’
To 'older heads', this goal may seem incongruous or prematurely avuncular, given that my selection currently remains a prospect and is still only age 25 himself, but such uncommonality shouldn’t be confused for youthful naivety. My 2020 one to watch is to be considered against the holistic triumvirate of these three ambitions and is no other than 8-1 Derbyshire welterweight, Sajid Abid.
2019 saw Abid fight three times. It saw him reach the current peak of his professional career and, concurrently upon the same night, the lowest trough. Victory in March over Lee Hallett (1-28), and again in May against Michael Williams (2-17), saw Abid move to an undefeated, perfect 8-0 record. These wins earned him unexpected recognition and the subsequent chance to fight Rodrigo Caraballo on the undercard of the sold-out, PPV, WBC International welterweight title fight between Amir Khan and Billy Dib, which took taking place only two months later in June, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Caraballo also came into the contest with an unblemished record, his being 5-0 with 4 stoppages; yet with 80 amateur contests in comparison to Abid’s one, the chasm in relative, expected experience was both undeniable and cause for eyebrow-raising concern.
‘I knew I was going into a fight that they expected me to lose. The matchmaker was Rodrigo’s manager, so of course, they have looked at things. But it became the only 50/50 fight on the whole card.’
Despite preceding opinion bringing a narrowing of bookmaker's odds, and the fact that Abid edged the first round with a svelte display of technical boxing, a concussive and undefended straight right 18 seconds into round two had him lying dazed and prostrate upon the canvas. Beating the initial 10 count, he bravely spoiled and parried and evaded and held, before two successive clubbing rights – one landing on his left temple, the other on the left side of his jaw – had the referee between them, Abid backed up and buckled on the ropes, and the contest waved to a resolute, merciful close.
As Abid himself reflects: ‘The guy was a heavy hitter. I like to move around and be methodical. So, one of two things was going to happen, either we were going to last the entire fight and I would win on points, or he’s just going to catch me and drop me basically. And unfortunately, that’s what happened.’
Indeed. And whilst this may seem an odd inclusion of focus, given the aim of the piece is to recommend one to watch; it is because of this low that I select Abid. Rather than professionally terminal, this comparative nadir, both he and I contest, will eventually become retrospectively recontextualised to be the defeat from which the propulsive energy required to inspire and achieve the intended outcomes of above will be fully excited and wholly borne.
Turning professional at 20, Abid acknowledges that he was initially ‘too naïve’ and that he ‘could have trained a lot harder.’ After tasting defeat at 24, understandably the obstacles of confusion and inner doubt thus arose.
‘That was the first time I’ve lost, so I’ll do anything not to feel like that again. After the fight, I was so emotional. I must have stayed in my changing room for an hour or so with a towel over my head. I didn’t know what I was going to do after. To me, it was like the end of the world.’
Though this rumination would be short-lasting. Crediting familial support – the same collective support that had also financed and sponsored an earlier six month period into his then staccato, wayward, and fledgling career – as well as the characteristic positivity and sanguine approach with which he endeavours to meet all life’s tribulations, Sajid had soon inverted the dejection of that night, instead reframing it into one that he now reconsiders as a ‘blessing in disguise.’
‘I can take a lot from it…There are many things I can take away, like how bad my defence was and how he just went straight through it…It just woke me up to what more I needed to do…If anything, it’s made me a stronger fighter. I’ve got more confidence in myself. I don’t care who they put in front of me, I know I’m going to give it everything I can. I’ll fight anyone.’
Still working full time at the GP practice, currently Abid has desired continuity in the form of sponsorship from a local gym. He trains twice a day, either side of his conventional 9-5 working hours, and sometimes even trains local fighters and ‘keep fitters’ alongside the completion of his own workouts. He is dedicated and focused, sacrifices the inconvenient incongruity of a social and romantic life, and has improved his understanding of and application to both diet and weight management.
Fighting again on March 7th, the tempered goals for this year are to move from four to ten round contests and potentially, given the aforementioned improved understanding of correct weight management and ‘cutting’ practices, also the discussed likelihood of moving between and contesting within both the light and welterweight divisions. Yes, he ‘wants to win as many titles as [he] can,’ but what he really wants to do is to use boxing as a platform ‘to inspire the younger people.’
'That’s what I really want to do. I see a lot of people pissing about at their age and I think “you’re talented, do something with that talent.” Being a role model helps guide the youth into utilising and fulfilling their potential. It’s a way to direct people to a better path.’
In 2020, under promoter Steve Goodwin, he’ll certainly be kept busy enough to be afforded the opportunity to progress in accomplishing these goals. As my one to watch, let’s just wait and see how he gets on.