'It is written!': Kid Galahad interview
John Angus MacDonald
Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Ahead of Kid Galahad's IBF featherweight title shot against Josh Warrington, the Sheffield based pugilist tells John Angus MacDonald it is his destiny to win...
On 15 June, Kid Galahad has the opportunity to fulfil what he believes to be his destiny.
From the moment he set foot in St Thomas’ Boys and Girls club – better known as the Ingle Gym – as a pre-teen dabbling on the wrong side of the law, with no aspirations except to be “the baddest man on the planet, or a big-time gangster,” his life changed.
He suddenly had focus, dedication and drive. There was only one thing he wanted to be from that point onwards: a world champion.
In the 16 years that have followed, he has devoted himself to his quest. There is no contingency plan. With few formal qualifications and no trade to fall back on, failure isn’t an option.
It never has been.
The man hoping to quash Galahad’s dream is reigning IBF featherweight champion Josh Warrington. Boxing Monthly’s British Fighter of the Year for 2018, enters the contest on the crest of a wave, having overcome the odds to first capture the title against Lee Selby and then defend it against Carl Frampton, last year.
The champion will have every advantage when the pair do battle, at the First Direct Arena, in Warrington’s home city of Leeds this Saturday. Galahad is acutely aware that if he were to be unsuccessful in his title tilt that a second opportunity would be hard to come by.
His measured, calculated style and lack of ticket selling ability places him firmly in the category of high risk/low reward.
With so much at stake, you might expect the challenger to be apprehensive, but when he spoke to Boxing Monthly, he was brimming with confidence.
“To me, it's a do or die situation,” he said over the phone from his home, a one-minute walk from the famous Sheffield gym where he spends most of his time. “You’ve got to remember, this is an opportunity for me, that I cannot afford to make mistakes [in]. I’ve got to go in there and rip the title away from him. I can’t go in there and think: ‘Oh yeah, I’m just going to nick the fight,’ no, I’ve got to go in there and rip away the title.
“Listen, the judges are against me, the promoter is against me, the fans will be very hostile, but you know what, I love it. That’s how it is. If you want to be a true champion, you’ve got to do things like this. Great fighters have gone and done the same thing. Whatever I’ve got to do to win, I’m gonna do.”
While Galahad (26-0, 15 KOs) undoubtedly has the utmost faith in his own ability, he also possesses respect for Warrington. While this reverence hasn’t been evident during press conferences and public head-to-heads, Galahad knows that Warrington will provide a stern test.
“It’s only since his last two fights people have actually rated him. I’ve always rated him, I thought he was better than he looks,” he said of his rival. “They don’t just hand out world title belts. No one becomes world champion by accident. You’ve got to look at what he does good: he’s fit, he’s very tough, he’s got a good work rate. He’s a lot better boxer than he looks. Warrington can have a fight and he can box. He doesn’t come in straight lines, but people think he just comes forward with a tight guard.”
Galahad believes that both Selby and Frampton underestimated Warrington and ultimately paid the price. Yet, Galahad doesn’t attribute the success of the ‘Leeds Warrior’ solely on the complacency of his opponents. He was quick to offer his critique of Warrington’s two biggest victories.
“They were both good performances,” he said. “When Selby boxed Warrington, it was a closer fight than people thought it was. I think why people thought it was more one-sided for Warrington was because they didn’t expect Warrington to do as well as he did. It was a lot closer than people thought it was. A lot of the close rounds people gave to Warrington because they didn’t expect him to do that. I said it would be a tougher fight than people expected, people were like: ‘Na, Selby is going to outbox him.’ I said: ‘It’s going to be a very, very close, tough fight.’
“I told people he was going to beat Frampton. They said: ‘Warrington doesn’t punch hard enough to keep Frampton off him,’ and all this kind of stuff. There was an Irish guy at the press conference and he asked my prediction and I said: ‘Frampton will get beat, badly.’ The Irish reporter must have looked at me and thought: ‘This guy has no clue.’ After the fight, he didn’t look at me, he looked away.”
While Galahad holds Warrington in high regard, he does not believe the feeling is mutual. Warrington has made it clear that he believes he is a level above Galahad and that he would rather be facing another of the marquee names at 126lbs, rather than his mandatory challenger.
“I know he’s got no respect for me,” he said. “He thinks: ‘I’ve beaten Selby and Frampton, they are better than him.’ Him and his camp will have no respect for me. Them having no respect for me is going to carry over into the fight. I’ve got to go in there and put him in his place.
“At this moment in time, he’s flying high and his confidence is through the roof. He might say he isn’t, but I know he’s underestimating me. His camp don’t have respect for me. Personally, I don’t care if they have or if they haven’t. When we get in the ring, I’ll have his respect.”
Galahad hopes that not only will he have Warrington’s respect at the final bell, but also his IBF title. If the 29-year-old is successful, it will be the culmination of a journey that seemed unfathomable to him as a child.
Born in Doha to parents of Yemeni descent, Galahad (then known as Abdul-Bari Awad) was raised by his grandparents in the Qatari capital, while his parents moved to Liverpool after his father had completed 10 years in the Special Forces.
At the age of four, Galahad joined his parents and his eight siblings, in a flat above a convenience shop in Toxteth. Money certainly wasn’t plentiful, but Galahad remembers his childhood fondly.
“It was a three bedroom,” he said with a laugh as he recalled his first home in England. “I used to share with: me, my brother, my two sisters and one of my older brothers. There was five of us in one room and the other four had the other room and my mum and dad had a room.
"We used to share one bed, we had the bottom bunk bed, me and one of my brothers, my two sisters had the top bunk bed and one slept on the floor. It was just the way it was, back then. It wasn’t unusual. When I was with my grandparents, I was the only [child in the house.] You get treated kinda like a king, don’t you, because you are the only one. When I came over here, I was one of nine children, one of nine! I was bang on the middle child.
“We got fed, didn’t we? We had a roof over our heads and food on the table. Trust me, in Liverpool, there was a lot of people worse off, who didn’t have nothing. We had parents who provided for us. I remember when I was a kid, I had one pair of jeans, one pair of tracksuit bottoms, my school shoes, one pair of trainers. Now, some of these kids have 10 pairs of jeans! In them days, you were happy with what you got. When you’ve got parents with nine kids, it’s different, they are feeding 11 mouths. At that age, it’s not essential to have expensive things, it don’t mean nothing.”
At 11, Galahad moved to Sheffield. With little to do, the youngster soon found himself in trouble. To be able to defend himself, he attended a gym with a schoolfriend with the intention of adding muscle to their slight frames. With a boxing ring in the premises, it wasn’t long before the pair were donning gloves and flailing at each other with little technique.
The sweet science had recently piqued Galahad’s interest, having watched ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed adding the IBF featherweight title to his WBO strap, against Tom Johnson. Galahad would run into the ‘Prince’ at the mosque a few weeks after starting boxing. Even though Hamed’s relationship with his former trainer had deteriorated by that point, he informed the starstruck wannabe that if he wanted to be a world champion, he had to find one man: Brendan Ingle.
The following day, Galahad went to the Wincobank gym with his mother, in search of the softly spoken Irishman. As they entered the building, Galahad looked up to the raised ring at the back of the room and saw Johnny Nelson sparring Amer Khan. They were precisely what he wanted to be: big and strong. Brendan agreed to train the boy, and that he would meet him at 6am the following morning, but Ingle was keen to test Galahad’s dedication.
“I came to the gym at six o’clock,” he said. “I lived on the other side of town and it took me 45 minutes to get to the gym, so I had to get up at 5am, leave at 5:15, get the tram, get to the gym at six and wait in the freezing cold. 6 o’clock, Brendan wasn’t here, 6:15, he wasn’t here, 6:30 he wasn’t here, and I was thinking: ‘Fucking hell, where is this guy? He must have forgot.’
“At 6:45, he comes out of the house, opens up the gym and shows me the footwork on the lines. He goes: ‘Do that, I’ll be back in half an hour, keep doing them lines.’ 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock, I’m doing the lines and he hasn’t come back. 9:30, he turns back up, peeping his head through the door of the gym. He goes: ‘That’s enough, c’mon, we’ll get some breakfast.’ We went down the road, got a salad sandwich. We went back and started cutting the grass at the church and picking up litter. We had lunch and went back, and he showed me more footwork. For the week or two, I never did nothing except footwork.”
Galahad was instantaneously transfixed. He had found his calling and in Brendan and his son, Dom, he had discovered the people to lead him on his journey. Within six months, Galahad (then simply know as Barry the Arab in the gym) had his first amateur fight.
Unexpected success would lead to two meetings with Josh Warrington.
“When I boxed Warrington as an amateur, I think he might have been 13 or 14, it was my fifth or sixth fight and then maybe in my 10th fight,” he said. “When I got beat by him, it wasn’t like a close fight or anything like that. I got beat because I didn’t know what I was doing. I had been boxing six, seven months the first time I fought him and the second time about a year.
“Basically, what happened was that I beat a couple of kids I shouldn’t have beat in the amateurs. I beat a kid who won the ABAs the year before and I was only a novice, I was only four or five fights in. I boxed him in Sheffield, in the championships and I beat him. No one could believe it because at the time he had like 40, 50 fights.
"After that, for four or five months, I couldn’t get fights. Then I boxed Warrington and he beat me, twice. At about 16, 17 he always asked me to go spar [him] because he used to say: ‘The best kid I ever boxed was you, because I could never hit ya.’ I sparred him once or twice and after that, he never sparred with me again. In the back of his mind, he knows.”
Having seen two of his brothers become incarcerated, Galahad knows unequivocally that boxing and Brendan Ingle were his salvation.
“Until I met Brendan, when people went to me: ‘What do you want to be when you are older?’ I didn’t want to be a dentist or a doctor, I wanted to be the baddest man or I wanted to be a big-time gangster, that was it,” he said. “Where I was from, that was the only thing you saw. My mum and dad didn’t have [any] friends who were doctors! When you don’t see them people, you don’t know that’s an option. When I stepped into that gym, I knew this was my calling. From 11, 12 years old, I knew. I’ve never ever missed a week in the gym.”
The lessons Brendan instilled in his charge still resonate with him to this day. Words that meant nothing to Galahad a decade ago, will often pop into his head at the precise moment they are necessary.
“Everything that Brendan ever told me has always been right,” he said. “Anything he said would happen in life, in boxing terms, has happened. This is how mad it is, even now, sometimes I’ll be in the ring and someone will do something and all of a sudden, I’ll have Deja vu, thinking: ‘I’ve been in this situation before,’ and it’s not! What it is, Brendan has told me things and installed things in me.
“With Brendan, I’d think: ‘Bloody hell, why is he always repeating himself. He’s told me this and he’s told me that. He just repeats himself,’ but what he was doing was brainwashing you. I’ve been in fights and things have happened and bam, I know what to do. Afterwards, I’d think: ‘He told me this ages ago.’ He installed it in the back of my head. It’s brainwashing, but in a good way. Brendan used to tell me things and whatever he told me, I just did. Brendan could have told me: ‘If you jump off that cliff there, you are going to be a world champion,’ I would have jumped off the cliff. That’s how much I believe in him.”
Brendan passed away in May of last year. Galahad’s other biggest supporter, his grandfather, who raised him for the first four years of his life, died in March, this. Galahad believes defeating Warrington would be a fitting tribute to the men who had such an influence on his life.
Prior to his death, Brendan gave Galahad one last gift. At the time, the fighter didn’t realise the significance of the present, now he believes it’s a sign: it’s his destiny to win the world title.
“Brendan always used to give me stuff,” he said. “He gave me this t-shirt and I never thought nothing of the t-shirt before he died. It was a t-shirt from when Naz [Hamed] boxed [Tom] ‘Boom Boom’ Johnson for the IBF featherweight title, and that’s the title I’m fighting for. In Arabic, we have a thing called “Maktub” that basically means: ‘It is written.’ Imagine that, the last thing he gave me was a t-shirt from Naz’s fight with ‘Boom Boom’ Johnson. I’ve still got it.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know nothing else. I’ve been boxing from 11, 12 years old. I’ve got no education, no degrees, no qualifications or anything else. All I know is how to fight. I’ve got to make it, there’s no other option. I don’t have another occupation, I don’t have nothing else. I ain’t got no family, no kids so I’ve got to make it in this game. I’ve dedicated my life to this game, I’ve got to make it. Failure isn’t an option.
“It means everything. I’ve been training for 16 years of my life for this. I just can’t wait for a fight to come. It’s been a very, very long time coming, and I just can’t wait. It is written.”