'This is just the start': Samuel Antwi interview
Rising Stockwell welterweight Samuel Antwi talks to Garry White about an eventful pro career that has already seen him fight in three continents...
There cannot be many boxers - at least not among those devoid of gold-plated connections - that have boxed in three separate continents in their opening five professional fights. For emerging South London prospect Sam Antwi, this tour of the boxing globe has been driven more by the machinations and miscalculations of others, rather than any personal desire to see the world.
A late convert to pugilism, the 27-year-old readily admits that as a youngster he had little interest in boxing or any other sport. It was only the opportunity to get out of school on a Sports Academy programme, as a 15-year-old, that provided him with that first introduction to his future career. “I was all about music, actually,” he tells BM in polite and articulate tones.
“But a couple of months before I left school for college, I had about two months of training once a week in a gym. Literally, as soon as I started I thought: ‘This is what I really want to do.’ But as soon as I left for college – to study Music Production - I just had no time for it.”
Six years passed, and as is so often the case with boxing, it artfully crept back into Antwi’s life from nowhere. “It was just by chance that I met boxing trainer Paul Dogboe [father and trainer of future WBO champion, Isaac] in a fitness gym,” he recollects. “He came over to me and asked if I could fight. I thought it was a bit weird, so I said: ‘Er, yeah. I can fight!’ So, he invited me to a gym where he was training a few people and it just started from there.”
The new fighter/trainer relationship quickly blossomed and accounted for 25 wins in 26 amateur contests, including national titles at novice and development levels. The last of these successes in 2014 coincided with the legendary James Toney being present at ringside. ‘Lights Out’ appreciated what he saw and threw out the option of working with Antwi in the pro ranks. A trip to Las Angeles followed and a discussion between his trainer and Toney’s team.
“The decision to turn pro was really more down to my coaches at the time,” remembers the welterweight. “I agreed to go out to LA and see what would happen and before I knew it I was turning pro.”
It initially proved to be a very sound decision for the self-styled ‘True Sensation’ as he notched up three wins (including two first-round KO’s) in as many months, whilst sharing cards with future world champions Murat Gassiev and Isaac Dogboe. But despite these strong beginnings Antwi’s stay in the Sunshine State proved to be short-lived.
A change of direction positioned Antwi to another continent in the shape of Africa. Following his trainer Paul Dogboe, who had relocated back to Ghana, he spent three months in the West African country and whilst there recorded a single third-round victory at Accra’s Azumah Nelson Sports Complex, before family commitments precipitated a return to London. “My daughter had not long been born and I just couldn’t be away from her for long spells,” he admits.
Returning to his home city a year after turning pro, Antwi found himself without connections and having to start again from the bottom. “Because I had only fought abroad people didn’t really know me," he recollects. "I had lost all of the support from the amateurs and I hadn’t built up any sort of following in London, which made getting things started again difficult.”
He credits his partnership with new trainer Aaron Mcleish as really having helped him get on the right track to establishing a foothold within the UK domestic scene. “He’s been awesome,” says Antwi. “He’s my manager and trainer. He literally goes out of his way for me every time. He’s like family more than anything.”
Antwi fights again this Saturday at York Hall and now has ten wins from 11 contests – he describes his solitary defeat recorded in Zimbabwe as “the most terrible experience of my life. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong there,” - and a Southern Area title success in his locker Antwi is able to look back on some of these challenges now from a more secure vantage point. “It has been graft, graft, and more graft,” he says, with his voice suggesting only the slightest hint of weariness.
“It’s been lots of hard work inside and outside of the ring. A lot of the fights I have got have been at short notice, often less than three weeks. That doesn’t give me much time [to prepare] and I still have to sell tickets. A lot of the time I am covering the costs of the other fighter from my own money. It definitely hasn’t happened the easy way since I have been back in London.
“I do part-time security work at weekends. I try and hold that money to one side, but a lot of the time I have to put it into the fights as well. I’ve been having to pay just to fight.”
But none of these setbacks can dampen Antwi's dedication to succeed in this physically and financially unforgiving sport. “I train Monday to Saturday,” he says. “I turn down so many jobs offers because I want and need to train. I know this is what I want to do. I don’t want to put boxing on the back-burner just to earn a better wage now.”
That Southern Area success back in February against Jez Smith, in what those present will fondly remember as a blood and guts small hall classic, has provided the Stockwell resident with a perfect foundation to extend his career to the next level. “It’s all about titles now and collecting those world rankings,” he says.
“I think I can definitely be at world level. I’ve been boxing for six years, and I think my progress has been quick. In terms of skill level, my boxing IQ is definitely there. I can’t give a time but I really do think I can reach that level in the next couple of years.”
Antwi’s confidence is such that he is willing to reference the names of potential future opponents. “The guy who has the WBO European belt, Micheal McKinson. I definitely fancy him. That’s a fight I would really like. Conor Benn for the WBA Continental belt as well. But I think everyone’s after him,” he laughs.
BM mentions a potential match-up with English champion Ekow Essuman, but Antwi is cautious in his response. “I would only take it if it was on a big platform,” he says revealingly. “I have headlined the York Hall twice and now if I fight for a title I would like it to be on a bigger platform, with a huge audience, just to showcase my skill-set. That’s the priority more than anything now.”
This statement could be taken for arrogance by some. However, it is worth noting that throughout our conversation Antwi is the model of courtesy and patience. At one point a fire alarm goes off in the office and I leave him hanging on the line for 20 minutes. He greets my return with: “No worries. These things happen.”
His dedication to pushing on to what he describes as “big fights, big titles and big paydays,” is the only logical end goal for a fighter trying to earn a career in the paid ranks. With Antwi, you get the feeling that he thinks he has paid his dues; served his time as the unfancied fighter continually held back by a lack of connections, and is now determined to kick open the door to the next level.
He has always had the vision, fully understood what he is capable of and has suffered the frustrations of others not buying into it. “I’ve had quite a few changes in management over the years because they haven’t seen what I see,” he says.
"I’ve always held my own in sparring. I travel around everywhere to spar and I’ve been in with people like Chris Eubank Jr, Ted Cheeseman, and Conor Benn. I know where I want to get to. I needed someone to help guide me the way I want to go.”
He credits Mo Prior and his British Warriors Promotions in helping him clear the barriers and chart the right course towards that future path. A tie-up that enabled Antwi to achieve that critical breakthrough Southern Area success. He admits that the financial side of the sport is now a little more comfortable. “Selling tickets is a lot easier now,” he reflects.
“People are now asking me when I’m fighting next. I’ve got a solid foundation in place and some good supporters. Sponsors are starting to come on board more now as well. Being in televised fights, so everyone can see what they’ve invested in, should also help them start rolling in a lot easier.
“It’s just about getting people to follow the journey now. It’s gonna be good. This is just the start of it!"