The naked truth: Umar Sadiq interview

Paul Zanon
24/04/2019 7:14pm

Photo: Phil Sharkey

In a revealing interview super middleweight Umar Sadiq talks to Paul Zanon about career ambitions, body doubling for AJ and modelling with David Beckham...

BM: You were born in Nigeria. When and why did you come to the UK?
US: My mum came to the UK after my dad passed away. I stayed behind for a couple of years because she couldn’t afford to have me here, but when she could, I came and joined her. I was 12 by that stage.

BM: How did you get into boxing?
US: I started off by playfighting with a few mates as kids and I got punched and said, ‘Ouch. That hurt!’ and the other guy said, ‘That’s what we learned in boxing.’ I thought, ‘I need to go boxing!’ I went to a gym where Tony Cesay was training people. He took me on the pads and said, ‘You’re brilliant. You’re going to be a world champion,’ and gave me all these compliments and motivation. Then he went to the next person and did the pads, said the same thing, then the person after that and said the same thing. I thought, ‘When you say that to me, you’re going to mean it!’ That ignited a competitiveness in me and made me follow him around to all the clubs he went to, trying to make myself perform better than anyone else. Before I knew it, I was sparring people who were winning championships and I was getting the better of them. I thought, ‘I should give this a go and see where it takes me.’

BM: Well, it took you to becoming a two-time Haringey Boxcup champion, English champion, triple North East London champion. You also became Nigerian champion. How and when did that come about?
US: In 2012 I went out for trials to join the Nigerian national team. They took me on board, but I got injured, so I didn’t get the chance to go to the Olympics with them. Then in 2016 I tried again and this time I had to box an unbeaten champion in what was essentially a makeshift national championship. The winner went to the Olympic team and I beat him twice, and that put me in the team.

BM: Overall amateur record?
US: 45 fights, 36 wins.

BM: You gave up a successful career as an accountant to become a full-time professional boxer. Tell me more.
US: I went travelling for quite a bit and did some charity work. I even started a YouTube channel for travelling. I then realised I should also have a base at home, but in order to get a mortgage I’d need a conventional full time job, so I got one of those. I got a role in an accounting department and learned a lot of things, but more than anything, the company were really nice to me and gave me time off for my training on the Olympic team. At some point, I decided that the job was no longer serving my purpose and I wanted to be a professional boxer.

BM: You are currently 4-1 as a professional, with only one loss to Zak Chelli (20 October 2018). You went down in the sixth round giving Chelli a 77-74 points victory over eight rounds. Minus the knockdown, it was a close fight. Tell me about the contest.
US: The sixth round I was winning and I believe I won the rest of the fight, but the fact that he knocked me down gave him a two-point advantage. Without a knockdown it could have easily been a draw. I respect the ref’s opinion though. I need to mention that I was a shadow of myself I that fight, mainly because the night before the fight I was sick, but also my [then] coach turned up three minutes before the ring walk, which meant I didn’t get to warm up and got someone to wrap my hands last minute and literally went straight into the ring. There wasn’t a game plan. I spent the first few rounds trying to get warm and when I did get warm, I got a bit cocky and that’s when the knockdown happened when I was off-balance. I finished the fight strong and had him [Chelli] holding onto to me for dear life. I took a lot of confidence knowing that I could have such a disastrous day and evening going into that fight against another prospect and people saying, ‘You did really well there.’

BM: Do you want to avenge the loss?
US: One hundred per cent. I definitely want to avenge the loss, but I also understand that I don’t have anything to offer him in terms of a title, so what’s the chance of him taking that fight? Especially when I had him going towards the end of that fight. He knows it was a hard fight. I felt his energy drain, I saw the look in his eyes and I know he knows, he doesn’t want that fight.

BM: Message to send out to Zak Chelli?
US: Keep winning and doing well. I’m going to do my bit and at some point our paths will cross again.

BM: You are taking on Chris Dutton this Saturday (27 April 2019) at the Wembley Arena. How do you see that going?
US: I wouldn’t want to make any predictions, but with my team, there’s been a lot of development and I feel like a kid with a lot of new toys and I’m looking forward to playing with them. I’m looking forward to Saturday with the purpose of finding out exactly how my new skills work.

BM: Ambitions to fight in Nigeria?
US: Hundred per cent. It’s actually something I’ve discussed with Frank Warren and he’s ok with it. It’s just a matter of doing it when it makes sense, from a commercial and media perspective.

BM: You’ve been a vegan for two-and-a-half years. How’s that working out in terms of your training schedule regarding energy intake, weight management etc?
US: Energy intake, I feel I have more energy than when I used to eat meat. In terms of weight, being vegan, as I’m sure many people will tell you who use the vegan diet, it’s easier to make weight. The difficulty has been preparing meals and having variations. I live in Barking and most of the places around here sell things like kebabs, chicken and chips, pizzas, that sort of stuff. That makes it very difficult for me to eat out as a vegan, which means on the whole I’m having to make food at home. But when you’re training full time and managing all the variables which come with being a professional athlete, that can be quite a challenge.

BM: Let’s get to know a bit more about Umar the person outside the boxing ring. Modelling. You’ve had your fair share of limelight on the big screen. Let’s talk about a couple of these opportunities you embraced. Modelling alongside David Beckham for his Haig whiskey advert.
US: My modelling agency put me forward for the casting, but when I found out they were looking for someone who was smart and slick looking, I thought, ‘Why are they asking me for?’ Anyway, I went for the casting and ended up getting the role, which was brilliant and I got to hang out with David Beckham for the day.

BM: What was Becks like?
US: He was cool. He made an effort to be polite and interact with everyone which was nice.

BM: Being a body double for Anthony Joshua in the Lucozade ad?
US: For this one, anybody could apply for it. It didn’t need to be from an agency. What they said was that it was something to do with an athlete and a sports drink. I sent a few pictures and they called me and said it was to do with AJ. I said, ‘If it’s anything to do with sparring him, you do know I’m nowhere near the size of the guy?’ They said, ‘No, no, just come in, we want to have a look at you.’ So I went in and still didn’t know what the role was for, but it turned out they wanted me to play the part of a 19-year-old Anthony Joshua. So, it wasn’t just about being a body double, they needed someone who looked younger and better looking!

BM: You’re part of a salsa dance group?
US: I started in October last year. I’d been meaning to do it for ages and did a class about eight years ago, but that was it. As a boxer, I need to learn technique. You don’t just say, ‘Throw the jab and right hand,’ you need to be taught that technique first. For a long time I was looking for a studio, then in October I was walking through my local town centre and saw this place called Latin Love Dance School and although it didn’t have anything in the window I thought, ‘They probably do salsa. Let me have a look’. I went inside and asked and they did. This was about a week before the Chelli fight, so I told them I’d be back after. I picked it up pretty quickly and they were developing a dance group, so I joined. We put on our first performance in February and we have another two in the summer. I’m a fully-fledged salsa performer now!

BM: Butler in the Buff. Tell me more!
US: Oh my word. Where did this come from? I bet Richard [Maynard] told you! I only mentioned about doing this on TalkSport once and it went from there. When I was in Nicaragua in 2013 doing charity work, I was in the communal area chatting with other people and we shared what we did back home work wise. I mentioned I modelled and one of the girls jumped up and said, ‘You’re a butler in the buff!’ I said, ‘What?’. I had no idea what that was. She explained what it was and I thought it could be a good laugh. I ended up doing a topless Skype interview, got the gig and when I got back home I started entertaining at more hen dos than I can remember.

BM: How much more of Umar are we yet to see (no pun intended to the butler in the buff), in terms of you as a professional boxer?
US: Ha! I came in this to go all the way. To be the best I can be, to be the best in my division and the best globally. I showed how serious I was when I quit a good job in an accountancy firm to be a pro boxer without even having a deal. My path is set to becoming a super middleweight champion and then following that path to see if I want to move down or up a weight after.