Quaise Khademi: a Hollywood story blistering into its middle act

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

Boxing is a sport which encourages fascination, perhaps surpassing all others in its seduction to narrative. And if all forms of narrative, as psychoanalysis suggests, can be grouped within seven basic plot structures – (1) overcoming the monster, (2) rags to riches, (3) the quest, (4) voyage and return, (5) rebirth, (6) comedy and (7) tragedy – then boxing, in its intimation of primitive, bestial savagery; in its raw exhibition of our often suppressed and deconditioned capacity to physically harm others, its association with yesterday’s noble and honourable worlds of gladiatorial combat, its flawed protagonists, its devotion to jingoistic pride and its regional/national loyalties, as well as its capability to bestow wealth, legacy, power and status on all those connected to it, tangentially or otherwise, can find – and has indeed often found – exposition or interpretation across each of these templates.

However, as vignettes, the majority of fighters, fights or interview captures tend to be singular in their fidelity to one of these archetypes. It is not often, outside of the realms of Hollywood or promotional fantasy, that a boxer arrives already materialised in metaplot, or journeying upon several of these different plot structures in synchronicity; yet in 8-0 super flyweight Quaise Khademi, boxing may be witnessing the burgeoning of its next narrative superstar, a fighter who if people are unfamiliar, they should soon become familiar; who, if he has been operating in the quiet beneath mainstream press awareness, will not remain undisclosed for much longer; a fighter who recently spoke with ESBR senior staff writer Elliott Grigg, and who fights to defend his WBO European super flyweight on Friday night, with the reward, in victory, of also becoming the IBF European flyweight champion.

Let us journey chronologically, exploring the salient occasions in this already event-filled life.

For those uninured to Quaise’s story, the opening act sees him returning home from nursery in his native Afghanistan to the confrontation of armed Taliban members equipped with AK47s. As part of the Hazara community, his was an association with the Shia denomination of Islam, long in enduring historical conflict with the Sunni element, and so a life with the potential to be lived before the constant spectral backdrop of paroxysmal persecution and threat. To put things in context, 5,000 Hazara were executed in 2008 as the Taliban went door-to-door shooting military aged males directly in front of their own families.

But Quaise was not in Afghanistan in 2008. For a decade earlier, following the death of his older brother, who died having been shot, he (aged just four) and his family fled by minibus to neighbouring Pakistan. From there, their migration would accommodate Russia, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, France, and then, finally, the UK. For Quaise, arrival in the UK came after four years, when he, his sister-in-law, nephew and aunt successfully concealed themselves beneath tarpaulin in the rear of a fruit lorry bound from Calais to Dover. ‘We waited for a couple of hours for the lorry to drive off, then we started knocking and the driver stopped and phoned the police. […] My brother [who along with Khademi’s uncle had established himself in Hackney] picked us up and brought us to London.’ It would take his parents another eight years to favourably make the same channel crossing.

Whilst you may not deem this line of questioning befitting to an ostensible boxing interview, I momentarily focus the line of questioning onto you, dear reader, and ask how could it ever be that such a peripatetic experience does not becomes elemental in the formation and holistic shaping of the man, of the eventual fighter? With this in mind, I therefore ask Quaise to elaborate somewhat on his experiences in passing through each country, and of his first impressions of England:

‘I was very young, so my experience was somewhat limited. I did not have freedom to explore each country. I only remember being allowed to explore Russia and Germany. […] In Russia, people were quite hostile towards us; they were quite racist. They didn’t make us feel very welcome and made it quite obvious that they actually did not want us there [the family stayed for 3 months, squeezing into a single room and eating tinned food straight from the can].

‘In Germany, they were more accommodating. They gave us food, shelter and accommodation. I went to nursery there and they were quite welcoming. Very different from before [they stayed for six months but moved onto France as Khademi’s father was unable to find work].

‘The UK was the most welcoming. They moved us around a bit initially, but I was able to meet up with my brother and uncle. We were able to get food and shelter. After a short while, it really felt like we had a home, finally.’

Arriving a year following the September 11th Al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and the commencement (in October 2001) of the allied (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand) response – first the invasion and then subsequent occupation of Afghanistan – I ask Quaise whether these international geopolitical events had any bearing on his reception and integration into UK life:

‘Following the September 11 attacks, I was still young, I was still in primary school. I did sense a bit of a distance from my fellow pupils and even some of the teachers, but after a short while things were ok. Things got actually much worse around the time of the London bombings [2005]. I was a bit older then and I noticed it much more. It made being an Afghan in the UK very hard. People couldn’t understand. They’d say, “Your country is at war with us.” Like I was as well. It was very hard.’

Quaise was educated, and learned to speak English, at a Catholic school in Islington. He attended church, whilst also being a practicing Muslim. Such a religious grounding, however, was unable to keep him from erring towards the trouble that adolescence often involves. Only boxing could do that.

‘I needed something, something that was going to keep me out of trouble. I was hanging around with the wrong people and picking up bad habits. Some of my friends from around that time, they were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Had I of stayed hanging around with them, I would have probably ended up in a lot of trouble. […] Instead, I was drawn to the discipline of boxing. I saw it as fun, but at 15, when I took it up, I needed the discipline. I never thought that I would get to where I am now.’