'I will be world champion soon': Robson Conceicao interview
Craig Scott speaks to Brazil's rags to riches Olympic Gold medallist Robson Conceicao about his fledgling professional career, his childhood and his world title ambitions...
Brazil will forever be a nation of contradiction, with its indescribable coastline merely decorating its dangerous suburbs. The tourist spots visited each year are as stunning as the struggles of its next generation are profound.
Smoothly gliding through the sand with ice lollies in hand, preparing to approach his potential clients, the young boy from Salvador is a business man. He has to be.
Today, it's frozen refreshments, yet on other days he was carrying heavy bags of shopping home for grateful residents of Bahia, or laying bricks, when other children his age were sitting exams.
I'd spoken with Brazil's only boxing gold medalist before, taking inspiration from his triumph against the odds.
Robson Conceicao (8-0, 5 KOs and due to fight again on 25 August) escaped the streets on which crime escalates at an unthinkable rate.
"As a child, I remember that my house was [only] for rent," he recalls. "There were many simple homes, but my mother is a warrior, raising two children by herself. I woke up early to go to work and [we] managed to buy a very old house. It was there we went to live in this house, without any luxury.
"I would pretty much do anything to help my mother and my grandmother and, as a result, I had a very troubled childhood, between working and studying."
Fortunately, after seeking solace in the sanctuary of a local boxing gym, Conceicao emerged as a symbol of hope.
After an excellent career in the unpaid ranks, which included only narrowly losing to Vasyl Lomachenko (by a point), the Brazilian hope wasn't a favourite for gold at Rio in 2016. He'd originally honed his craft in the back garden of a relative's house, using old shoes and flip-flops as pads as he rehearsed his combinations. The nephew of a renowned Carnival street fighter, he explained that things often got "very violent".
The Olympics in Rio were a celebration of Samba with Brazil hosting a fantastic games.
It was in the sport of boxing, however, that the country made history.
Of his ascension to the status of national icon, Conceicao tells me: "For me, it was a unique emotion to be able to represent my country at home. I felt the affection and the vibration of all [of Brazil] and of my family that were present.
"I felt very happy to be able to conquer a gold medal and to present it with all of this great emotion! It was one of the most rewarding, happiest moments in my career. The crowd would motivate me, sending me messages. It was very powerful."
Since his transition to professional boxing with Bob Arum and Top Rank, Conceicao has barely faltered. His exhilarating speed and precision have dazzled on shows across the United States as he has competed at varying distances. He has fought a decent level of competition thus far, but knows it is now time to step it up.
He explains confidently: "I feel ready and confident to fight with any world champion of my [weight] category, but my team wants to wait a little more. I am confident in them, I already had fights of six and eight rounds, so I cannot wait to jump to ten and twelve! I can not wait for that time to happen."
At super-featherweight, world champions aren't hard to come by. Messrs Farmer, Davis, Machado and Berchelt hold the belts in a division seemingly on the precipice of unification fights.
Whilst the elusive style of Farmer or the slick, concussive counterpunching of Gervonta Davis could cause Conceicao problems, I can't help but imagine a South American battle between our subject and the current WBC champion, 'El Alacron'. One for the future, although not all too distant, we hope.
"You can charge me up front, I will be world champion soon," Conceicao emphasises. "I have been working very hard and intensely for this. I dedicate a lot in the gym and with every fight I learn more and I prepare myself enough for that to happen. I will be world champion!"
Who can doubt him? Overcoming the odds has become normal for Conceicao. He mentions his 'family' in the gym, reciting names such as Dorea, Carlos, Pícoli, Fernando, Costa and the Loturcos. Names that meant little to me, but everything to him.
"I feel very determined and with each fight I am evolving, always adjusting the errors and improving more and more. That is what is necessary and I am very happy with this [progression].
"I won my last fight in a brilliant way and I am watching my own evolution. I was very happy with it and I intend to evolve more and more!"
Boxing has given Conceicao life.
It has bought him a home and provided for his young family. It has helped him put down the ice lollies and focus on carrying his own bags.