Raza Hamza: 'The Promise'
John A. McDonald
Every man who laces up the gloves and steps in to a boxing ring has a reason for doing so. For some, the sport is seen as the route to a better life, an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families through the only thing they’ve ever known - fighting. For others, the boxing gym is a sanctuary from a life rapidly spiralling in to an abyss and provides an outlet for controlled aggression, instilling self-discipline in the process.
For Raza Hamza, 1-0 (1 KO), his motivation is – simultaneously - more simplistic and heartfelt. He fights to fulfil a promise to his late mother. Having witnessed the rise of Amir Khan on terrestrial television she encouraged her son try his hand at the sweet science.
Sadly, she never got to see her son in a competitive bout as on 11th May 2006, she finally lost her seven-year-long battle with cancer. Despite the mental anguish caused by his mother’s passing, Hamza displayed great fortitude, at the age of 12, to not only make his amateur debut on the same day but to win the fight.
“My mother died in the morning then I fought in the evening. It was really, really hard,” Hamza told Boxing Monthly over the phone from his home in Birmingham. “When I spoke to her in the morning before I left for school she told me; ‘Make sure you win today'. To make sure I went on to do what she wanted me to do. While I was in school, that’s when she died. It was a very hard decision for me to make but I did it for her, it was just my mum’s dream for me to box and to do well in my life through boxing.”
Despite enduring such tragedy at an early age, Hamza has remained dedicated and diligently sought to make his mother’s dream a reality. Whereas many novice professionals have to delicately balance the rigours of training with working a full-time job, he has found himself in the fortuitous position to be able to focus his time and energy on boxing, due to the generosity of a wealthy benefactor.
Hamza spent three years studying at the illustrious Hopwood Hall College in Greater Manchester, whose alumni include: former British champion Anthony Crolla and British title contender Scotty Cardle. A chance meeting on the train whilst travelling home from college saw him become the recipient of a rare act of human kindness, to which he is eternally grateful.
“I was coming back on the train from Manchester and I met him on the train. His name is Henry Rawson he’s the owner of Small World, China,” recalled Hamza. “He had lost his wallet and I only offered to buy him a drink and some food. He really liked that I offered that to him and we started talking and he gave me his card. After that I was really surprised at who he was and he just looked after me after that. I never looked back.
“Every month I get paid from my sponsor to train, I don’t have to work, I can travel the world. Any kit I need, I get straight away because my sponsor has always believed in me and he’s stood by me for the last five years.
“He’s supported me," continued Hamza. "Everything I’ve wanted, he’s given me. He’s the reason – maybe – I’m still boxing today. He’s like my father. It’s fantastic, isn’t it? Successful people want other people to succeed, don’t they? He’s a fantastic human being and a really nice person.”
The support of Mr. Rawson helped Hamza forge out a successful amateur career which saw him amass 54 wins in 64 fights; picking up three Junior ABA titles – amongst other honours – in the process. Despite his highly successful record in the unpaid ranks, he found himself disillusioned with the politics of amateur sport having found himself overlooked to represent his country for major tournaments.
Those snubs from national selectors had left him bereft of confidence by the time he had decided to turn pro. However, since enlisting John Costello as his coach and Lee Beard as his manager, his self-belief has returned. Successful sparring sessions against world-level fighters and a strong sense of community from training alongside Jamie Cox and Joe Costello have rejuvenated him.
“Great Britain should have picked me on numerous occasions. It broke my heart. Was I as good as people thought I was? It made me doubt myself,” confessed Hamza. “Then when I started to turn professional I tried a few trainers. Once I went to John, everything just clicked for me. That’s where I wanted to be. The guy is an amazing trainer. He made me feel very confident.
“Your trainer needs to be like a father. You should be scared of your trainer, you can’t say: “No” to your trainer. That’s how my trainer is. I can’t say: 'No. It ain’t going to do nothing because he won’t take: 'No'. That’s what pushes you on. Your trainer needs to be as motivated as you and my trainer isn’t as motivated as me – he wants it more than me sometimes.
“He made me spar [James] Jazza Dickens, I was Stuart Hall’s main sparring partner during his camp ahead of his [IBF bantamweight world title] fight with Randy Caballero. I’ve sparred Khalid Yafai numerous times, Gamal Yafai, Adrien Gonzalez. I’ve had really high calibre sparring," continued Hamza.
“The likes of Joe Costello, Jamie, Jack [Catterall] all they do is push me. When I see these guys go on and win in great fashion, it just makes me work harder. I copy them and just keep winning. That’s all that matters. Success breeds success. If they keep winning, I keep winning, we all win together.”
As a 5’ 10” super bantamweight with a wealth of amateur experience, you’d be forgiven for assuming that Hamza would be a classical boxer or counter-puncher. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. As those in attendance at the Civic Hall, Wolverhampton on 14th February can attest. It may have been Valentine’s Day, but he showed no love to his opponent, Jack Heath.
He made his professional debut after an anticlimactic ending in the WBO lightweight title eliminator between Terry Flanagan and Stephen Ormond. Desperate to impress his new promoter – Frank Warren - and his vast army of fans who had stayed to watch, he despatched of the helpless Heath within a round dropping him twice before obliging referee Shaun Messer to stop the contest.
Hamza’s burning desire to fulfil his mother’s dream means that he will be bringing this raw aggression with him each time he steps between the ropes.
“All that matters to me is becoming a champion now or giving it my best go at becoming a champion. I don’t care about anything else. All I think about is becoming a champion," said Hamza.
“Believe me, you will see me walk people down and destroy them. In this game, it’s the hurt business. If I don’t finish you off, you will finish me off. I’m in the ring to destroy you. You’ve come to take away something my mum wanted and I’m not letting you take it. I will destroy you.”