London-based Bangladeshi Al Safwan Uddin created a lot of headlines last month when he clinched gold medal in the 60kg category of the National Senior Men’s Boxing Championship in Dhaka following some eye-catching performances. The London-born boxer, who plays and trains at Edmonton Eagle Boxing Club under coaches Costakis Evangelou and Julian Tobierre, gave an exclusive interview to Dhaka Tribune where he spoke in details about his journey so far, his dreams and hopes, and his future goals, among other topics. Here are the excerpts:
What was growing up in the UK like for you?
Growing up for me in the UK was a different type of struggle. There is always struggle growing up in any country for a child. At that time, I was the only Bangladeshi in my batch. I faced racism, I faced other things. It was hard. I would fight on the street because of the racism. I would get angry and I would fight. Fighting was always in me.
Is there anything in particular that drove you towards boxing?
When I was a kid, there was a Muhammad Ali book. At the back page, there were different types of exercises. I used to look at it and I would solve it, be adventurous, do pushups and stuff. I watched a lot of Bruce Lee and fighting in general. Boxing wasn’t in my mind at that time. As I grew up, I was naturally fit. I had the strength so I thought, maybe I should try boxing. That wasn’t the only reason, there are other reasons but I just wanted to fight. But then slowly, as I started boxing, the actual sport started to change me into a better person. My behaviour started to improve. Everything started to improve because in boxing, you need to learn how to control. I learned how to keep composure. I wouldn’t suddenly get angry when someone said something to me. I would be able to control my anger. As the years went on, I realised, I am good at the sport. I trained with men when I was still a kid. There are things that I can do in the ring that no one else can do. It was natural to me. Even if you spent three-four years trying to learn it, you wouldn’t be able to do it. It was like intuition. One day, after training, I came back home and I was taking a shower. And when you take a shower you start having deep thoughts. Boxing to me was a thing. With enough nurturing, I can become something big. Spark into something amazing.
Is there any boxer that you admire?
I look up to all boxers when it comes to skills. In terms of character I look up to Muhammed Ali. I listen to other philosophers, Confucius. I like wisdom.
How did you train yourself for this tournament, in a foreign place?
In an amateur bout, there are three rounds for three minutes. And usually they are highly intense. They are not like professional bouts, 12 rounds low intensity. I knew that the weather here would be much more humid and hot. So I wore a mask and trained in a steam room. It was very harsh, much more so than the weather here. I trained to a point where I got dizzy, I got dehydrated and I pushed my body to the limit. When I came here, it was better. When they saw my stamina in the actual fight, they said I had the most stamina here. The reason was because I worked hard for it. I trained, I prepared for. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t know if I could win.
What went on in your head before the first bout?
Every fight I come into, I keep composure. There is no way you can plan ahead because you don’t know how your opponent fights. I never saw them box. The first fight, I observed my opponent, I saw his range and how he reacts. And from that, I realised, I can knock him out in the first round. And I did.
Now that you have won the tournament, what do you think your competitors here could have done better?
To be honest, among the world ranking, I am not at that level yet. And if I am beating them, they are definitely not in that level either. There is a reason why we are not getting success in international competitions. Maybe it’s because of the technique the training or the facilities that we have here. Winning a fight is a lot more about metered aggression. You don’t fight to knock people out. You fight to win. The fights I had, the boxers were trying to knock me out. They are not considering the points. You get points deduced for missing hits. It isn’t about how many punches you throw, or the amount that you move. It’s about how many you land and the efficiency in your movement. That is how you win. It’s not just about the boxers though. It’s about the coaches as well. My coaches encouraged me to study the sport, the philosophies. They taught me how the point system works, what the judges like to see. I coach kids back in London. In here, I don’t know if the boxers are being taught enough about the sport except the physical part. They need more knowledge about it. Hopefully, if I win more tournaments internationally, I can tell them that look, I am winning and this is how I train. You can do it too.
What are you taking away from this competition?
This is the first time I have fought without any protection, so that is a big step for me. I am supposed to enter youth tournaments and fighting in a senior tournament was a huge step for me as well. I took these steps with bravery. But with my victory, I am taking back experience and confidence. Most importantly, I will be taking back the spirit of the people with me that I wouldn’t get anywhere else. I never had a crowd cheer for me back there.
What would you say to any up and coming boxer in Bangladesh?
Don’t be deluded by your competitors. Think about yourself. It’s you against the world. Don’t over-think about your next fight. Dream big and aim bigger. Set high standards for yourself. Learn the sport, the philosophy, and the techniques. Train your body, your mind. Both the knowledge and training will help you achieve an awareness that I can’t describe.
Also, I realise I didn’t express my appreciation to the people here for giving me the opportunity. I wanna thank MA Kuddus Khan for guiding me throughout this tournament. I also want to thank the sponsors for arranging the tournament and the media for their interest in me. I want to make history for my people. I hope to participate in international tournaments for my country and win medals. As long as I have the prayer of my people and their spirit, it will guide me to my goal.
Al Safwan Uddin
May 27, 1999
Edmonton Eagle Amateur Boxing Club
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