Ajisafe on the move
Patience, maturity and air miles have developed Bob Ajisafe into a stylist that many a light-heavyweight rival has chosen to avoid rather than face. “I know I’m number one at 175lbs in the UK and I think I’ve already proven that,” the British and Commonwealth champion told Boxing Monthly. “I’ve paid my dues. I’ve fought better opponents and I’ve fought at championship level for a long time. I want my career to move up a level because it’s took me so long to get the momentum to bring my career back to where it is now. I want to make up for lost ground.
“I want to move forward I don’t want to dwell on the past,” said Ajisafe, 16-2 (7 KOs). “I’m not wanting to move backwards towards domestic level. I’m at the age where I’m mature enough, developed enough and I think I’ve got the skillset to compete at world level.”
Getting into boxing was seen as another sporting hobby for Ajisafe. At the age of 14, excelling at many school sports, he decided to follow his elder brother’s lead by donning the gloves and adding to his athleticism. It wasn’t long before the younger Ajisafe and his brother would realise that it should become more than just a hobby.
“My brother actually had a boxing gym in his garage which he converted. He had bags up in there and everything,” he recalled. “It was better training there with him and it were him that got me into boxing. He had the magazines Boxing Monthly and Boxing News. I’d watch fights with him and that’s when I’d start getting more knowledge about it and listening to guys that had knowledge about the past. I started getting into it and that’s when I started becoming a fan myself. Looking back I used to watch all the big fights from America. I became a big fan of it as well and obviously I got more knowledge about boxing, the boxers and how they train and everything like that.”
To this day, Ajisafe remains thankful to his brother for passing on the many good things that he had learned and realising the potential in his sibling. Describing his ability as “decent” at the time, Ajisafe would train at Paul Hamilton’s Boxing and Martial Arts Academy in Darlington which led to him having his first few amateur fights. Even as a pugilistic puppy Ajisafe found himself sparring professional fighters and was soon surrounded by men like Francis Jones, Oscar Hall and Michael Hall in his life. A trio of boxers who soon developed a bond and a friendship with Ajisafe.
Had a different decision been made however, we might have been watching the footwork of Ajisafe on a football pitch rather than in the squared circle. Representing Richmond and District Area for three years, he would then go on to play for Middlesbrough Boys FC. It was a period of his footballing career where he turned defence into attack.
“I was a forward, but I started off in defence. I was a solid centre-back, no-one could get past me,” remembered Ajisafe. “In my teen years, I developed and started playing up front. I was putting all the goals away and terrorising people when I was up front. I was fast, athletic and had good skill. I scored a lot. I was skilful and I was able to take players on. I had a good shot, a good dig on me so I used to bang away a lot of goals.”
But, as so often is the case, boxing has this unique knack of grabbing someone and seducing them into abandoning all other interests to dedicate themselves to a life of discipline and fighting. Having not had the three figure amount of fights that many amateurs tend to have, Ajisafe decided to change codes after thirty-something fights that saw him win a national senior ABA title in 2006. He admits he had to be persuaded to turn pro and would have been happy to remain with the vest and head guard.
“It was a sport to me at the time,” said Ajisafe. “I was a young lad living at home, I was at the gym training three times a week; Monday, Wednesday, Friday doing my sparring and all that. It’s a sport as an amateur, it’s just a hobby. The amateur fights are still big nights, people come to these shows because it’s a big occasion. It was a big buzz to me winning the fights but it wasn’t until my old trainer, who I initially started with, told me I should turn pro.”
Before moving into the professional ranks, the life of Bob Ajisafe would lead him back to education via the door of pubs and nightclubs in Darlington and into the iconic Ingle’s Gym in Sheffield where he would learn more and more about footwork from the legendary methods of Brendan Ingle and, to this day, be trained by Dominic Ingle.
Sport was Ajisafe’s passion at school, all-round academia was not. He admits he didn’t use his classroom potential the way he should have. “That was done when I came out of school,” he said. “I realised I wanted to go to University and get my education. I didn’t do it at school, I chose a different path because I was interested in sport. I didn’t pay attention too much at my academic stuff. I went to college to do Sport Coaching and Development. That was in 2006/7. It was a two-year course. I knew I wanted to go to University so I got a course and the requirements to get in.”
To make ends meet with his boxing and his education, Ajisafe found himself in the world of bouncing. An avenue that many a featured BM fighter (Tony Bellew, Lucas Browne, Stephen Simmons, Adam Etches to name but four) have found themselves working in to make a bit of extra money. Ajisafe didn’t recall any sticky situations thanks to angry or alcohol filled individuals with too much to say. He used diplomacy and his personality to sort out any combustible situations.
“Obviously, I wasn’t going to go in there and start throwing my fists,” he laughed. “I was a likeable guy. I wasn’t on there to start fighting with anyone I was just there to do a job. I had many friends and met many people. I was just doing my job. People took a liking to me. It was more about personality than anything else. I wasn’t out there being one of these doormen with a chip on my shoulder. I was a young lad just working.
“Sometimes I was working with my mate and he was well clued up. I had been well trained. It was decent money for me at the time. It was like £10 or £11 an hour and got tips as well. It was easy work. All I had to do was stand there, I didn’t have to do that much. That coincided with my boxing and what I was studying as well. I didn’t have to work during the week. I could work weekends or Thursday, Friday nights and get decent money from that.”
BM then asked Ajisafe that all critical question: Did you meet any women? “Yeah it definitely was,” he laughed. “Met quite a few birds doing that, got a few numbers doing that, trust me.”
In an age where looking after mind and body in sport is paramount, Ajisafe is glad to have an education in the field of sports development to fall back on. After hanging up the gloves many a fighter is unsure where to go, which career to choose next. Ajisafe might not have the post-boxing chapter of his mapped out but what he has learned is definitely standing him in good stead.
“I’m smart enough to use it simultaneously or when I have left boxing,” he remarked. “The main reason I did it was to help me on my chosen career path which is being a professional athlete, that’s what it’s all based on. I knew it was going to help me and that’s one of the reasons why I did it. It’s given me more knowledge about my body and all the physical, physiological and psychological aspects. I knew it would come into play. And if you know all that and know how to train yourself, all these methods are going to be a great benefit for you. You can’t beat it really.”
Education, education, education. Regardless whether it has come from pen and paper or from the hard knocks school of boxing, Ajisafe is ready to utilise all of it to take on all-comers this year and next. Sparring in Ukraine (with Stanislav Kashtanov), Canada (with Artur Beterbiev) and back home in England with Carl Froch won’t have done him any harm either.
“I had a lot of good spars with Carl Froch in the build-up to when he fought Lucien Bute. I was his main sparring partner for that,” said Ajisafe. “That develops you as well. You learn things from these top fighters. It’s like learning on the job. You get in with these guys and you get experience. There’s certain things you take, certain things you tweak and add to your style.”
A conversation with Mark Ramsey, trainer to both Beterbiev and Jean Pascal, brought Ajisafe weeks of memorable sparring in a red-hot fighting environment with the feared Russian. A light-heavyweight who many believe is the future of the division.
“I was holding my own with Beterbiev which gave me a measuring stick,” he said. “I had a fight lined up at the time for the Commonwealth and I thought it would be ideal sparring for me. He [Ramsey] was looking for some top guys that were skilled southpaws. Beterbiev doesn’t look the best because of his style but he does have a good boxing brain. He’s just thinking one thing: to seek and destroy and because he carries that power he can do it and that’s what’s been getting him through. That can only take you so far. He needs someone who can take a shot, who is skilful and can come back with his own shots. Not necessarily standing there with him because you’re not going to win that but someone who can make him think a bit and that’s what I was doing in sparring.”
Ajisafe’s trip to Donetsk, Ukraine to spar Kashtanov was memorable for very different reasons. “Kashtanov was a good fighter at the time. He had a very good record, I think he was fighting for a version of the world title at the time,” he said. “It was good sparring. I flew home early because I broke his rib in sparring. It was good sparring for me in a weird country. I found it a bit strange because you don’t see many people like me over there… mixed colour or different race so I thought to myself: ‘I’m just going to stay in my hotel.’ It was a bit funny out there. The people were fine, the hospitality was fine but it’s a different kind of place. Donetsk, it’s a different kind of city. It’s hard to explain. It’s not like Britain.”
Moving into 2016, Ajisafe is looking for that all-important breakthrough into the top 10 rankings of the four major sanctioning bodies and placing himself in a position to fight in a world title eliminator or for an interim title at the very least. Ajisafe craves that step up in class and he is more than ready.