Lionheart Ajisafe ready to roar
James Oddy speaks to light heavyweight Bob Ajisafe and finds him frustrated but looking to the future ...
Bob ’Lionheart’ Ajisafe (16-3, 7 KOs) is in a reflective mood. “I’ve not been given my due, I don’t think,” he tells Boxing Monthly.
And it’s hard to disagree.
The Leeds light heavyweight was a double champion until recently, yet he didn’t seem to get the publicity or fights his talent warranted.
“I was the British and Commonwealth champion; I had my reign for two years. A mandatory came up, Miles Shinkwin, and around about that time I got offered a [IBO] world title fight. So it was either stay at domestic [level] and defend the British [title] or it was fight for the world title.
"I was looking to progress onto the next stage. I didn’t want to vacate the British title, [but] the purse bid which was accepted was low, it was shocking. I’ve got to make a living for myself. I was offered a big purse to go fight in Russia, what was I to do? This is a business. That’s the real reason why I had to vacate the British title. It was a really hard thing for me to see my title go, for a situation out of my hands. Now a similar thing [has happened] with my Commonwealth title.”
Hosea Burton went on to beat Shinkwin for the vacant British title whilst Callum Johnson beat Namibia’s Willbeforce Shihepo for the Commonwealth strap that had previously been in Ajisafe's possession.
The world title fight Ajisafe decided to take was against undefeated Chechnyan Umar Salamov for the IBO belt. Unfortunately for Ajisafe, he came up short in a unanimous decision loss. Yet he can see the positives from the fight and the performance he gave.
“I was focussed on the job, so it wasn’t really that daunting [travelling to Russia]. I was locked in. They treated us well, the crowd wasn’t that hostile but they were rooting for him. But during the fight, I just got into my groove and my flow. I felt from the fifth round onwards I was controlling the fight, I felt like I won most of the rounds from then on.
"But I knew I was never going to get a decision, it’s a little bit biased. The Russians are known for that. I knew that going in, but I didn’t let it consume me. I just concentrated on boxing the kid. That’s what I’ve done. They probably didn’t think I was as good as I am. It ended up being a good fight.”
Ajisafe is complimentary about his opponent’s abilities, despite feeling he did enough on the night to bring the title home. “He’s a good fighter. They’ve manoeuvred [him] into big fights already; he was an amateur stand-out like a lot of the Russians are. He was a solid fighter, but I think I out-boxed him. It’s one of those things.”
Now back training in Leeds, Ajisafe is looking forward. His career has seen him take on the likes of Tony Bellew (a points loss), Ovill McKenzie (a points win) and Travis Dickinson (points win). Yet his career has not always progressed smoothly, and he has a few suggestions as to why.
“I’ve definitely been avoided in my career up to date," he claimed. "That’s why there have been periods of inactivity to date. Even when I was British champion, I had the belt for two years and nobody wanted to fight me, it shows how avoided I am. Even going back, to the beginning of my career. That speaks for itself, my talent. I don’t now what it is, if it’s my southpaw style. People say it’s awkward.”
Unfortunately, as Ajisafe himself pointed out, professional boxing is sometimes a business first and a sport second, something he knows only too well himself.
“The other thing is not having a big promotional push. [If you're] with Matchroom now they can bring in big international titles, they can keep you moving and keep you busy. I have the same talent [as some other fighters], I might have more. People like Tony Bellew, they are getting regular dates and know when they are fighting, and they have a plan. If you don’t have a plan, you are waiting around for something to fall in your lap. You need a plan, it’s imperative in this boxing game to build and nurture a champion.”
Ajisafe, now trained by the highly regarded Oliver Harrison having moved on from the Ingle camp, does, however, have his next few fights mapped out mentally.
"[I’m] looking to have a fight by the end of the year. Just come back with a win, so I am in title contention, and can be considered for those fights…I just need someone to provide me with the opportunity to fight for the European title. That’ll put me in the top ten of all the major governing bodies.”
Ajisafe has sparred a who’s who of elite light heavyweights around the world, such as Artur Beterbiev (10-0) and Eleider Alvarez (20-0). With that type of pedigree, and a rangy 6'2" frame, he has no desire to make a move up in weight for the time being.
“I think, for the foreseeable future, I’ll be at light heavyweight. I think that’s my natural weight. Because it’s such a big jump to cruiserweight, I’d lose a lot of my attributes and advantages. Those guys will be a lot bigger.”
Ajisafe mentioned a few names he would like to meet down the line, such as Chicago based Polish contender Andrzej Fonfara (28-4). Yet from a British standpoint, one name jumps out.
“I’d love to fight Nathan Cleverly (30-3), he’s number one, I’m number two [in the UK]. It’s supply and demand. If the fans demand it, I’d love to supply it. I thought he was lucky against [Jurgen] Brahmer.”
The Brahmer fight saw Cleverly pick up the WBA ‘regular' world title, after the tough German was pulled out after the end of round six with an injured elbow. Ajisafe is confident, however, that he knows how the Welshman ticks.
“I’ve sparred Cleverly before, the first time he was meant to fight Brahmer. No disrespect to him but I'd love to get my opportunity as well.”
Whatever happens, Ajisafe is keen to box again in front of his home town crowd for the first time since April 2015. “I’d love to box in Leeds again next year, when they go back to the [First Direct] arena," he said. "I’d love to get on that show. Big fights are happening in Leeds and I want to be a part of them, I’d love to fight in my home town.”
For the sake of boxing fans, both in the city of Leeds and further afield, let's hope the Lionheart will be back roaring in the ring sooner rather than later.