'Slow and steady wins the race': Mohammad Bilal Ali interview
Photos: @CapturedByAqib & Alex Davidson/Getty Images
Mohammad Bilal Ali - dubbed 'The Chosen One' speaks to Sonia Randev about his burgeoning pro career, his relationship with trainer Tunde Ajayi and much more...
We hear many a time how boxing has saved lives. That it has given boxers a sense of belonging, a sense of discipline and a sense of responsibility to ensure that they use their platforms to inspire.
Mohammad Bilal Ali - dubbed 'The Chosen One' - is no exception to the cause.
A troubled teen who was kicked out of school and college for fighting sounds a familiar story. Ali was aware that a significant change was needed so, at the tender age of 12, his cousin introduced him to boxing and a man who is no stranger to the sport Tunde Ajayi.
Initially Ali didn’t commit himself fully and even walked away from the sport at one point. After assessing his environment though he realised he needed boxing.
Now managed by Stamina for Sale - the boxing company set up by Tunde which hosts the likes of light heavyweight star Anthony Yarde, the 4-0 lightweight prospect talked to me about his career to date and plans for the future:
BM: What made you decide to pursue a career in boxing?
BA: The reason I started boxing was actually down to my cousin. He kept telling me to get into it as I was getting trouble a lot and he felt that it would be a sport that I would enjoy. He felt that it would put me on the right path and have a positive impact on myself. So at the age of 12, he took me to Tunde Ajayi. At that time was young and didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life so I never really pledged my full commitment. I went away, started getting in trouble in my local area. I ended up getting kicked out of two schools and college for fighting. I was mixing with the wrong crowd and coming from Beckton I felt my area and environment didn’t help. I used to see people that were older than me, doing those things and being young I felt those were the right things to do.
BM: Was your cousin boxing himself?
BA: No, he just used to go down to the Peacock gym and felt that introducing me to the sport would help me channel my aggression. He liked what Tunde was doing and felt that he would be a good fit for me. Even after getting kicked out of college, my cousin would keep lecturing me, saying boxing is something that I could be good at and something that I would enjoy.
I was reluctant as I was a young, confused boy. Eventually something clicked and I decided to give it a shot. I knew that if I stuck to it, I could support my family financially and make a difference to my community but - more importantly - make a difference in my life.
BM: Who influenced you growing up, in terms of athletes?
BA: I used to watch Floyd Mayweather. I liked his style of fighting. He was so good at not getting hit. Roy Jones Jr was another one that I felt influenced me. Others such as Amir Khan and what he achieved in the sport as a British Asian is something that we should all take note off.
BM: Being British Asian how receptive has the Asian community been towards you?
BA: My family and friends have been with me since day one. My father comes to every fight but my mother tends to stay at home. She doesn’t want to watch me get hit! Obviously my cousin has been with me from the start and my siblings are fully behind my career choice. As a British Asian it’s imperative that I use my platform to encourage the next crop of Asian stars. There are a few Asians involved in the sport and that can only be a positive thing for our community.
BM: You recently won your fourth professional fight. How happy are you with at the pace your career is going at?
BA: I believe that slow and steady wins the race. Everyone’s journey is different. Tunde and Ade [Olayinka] have a plan for me and we don’t want to rush. I feel comfortable with the pace that my career is going at. I am still learning everyday and I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
BM: You have a solid team around you. How instrumental has that been on a personal and professional level?
BA: I am so grateful to my team. Having Tunde, Ade and Anthony around me makes me feel that I’m on the right track and I’m being taken care off not just in the ring but outside it too. Anthony Yarde said to me from the beginning to remain humble and keep my feet firmly on the ground.I have known Tunde since I was 12. He has taught me so much and I know my career is in the right hands.
BM: What are your plans for 2020? How important are the next 12 months?
BA: At present we may be looking at a fight in February or April. We are just waiting on an update. I want to continue at the pace I am going and slowly build myself up. My division is brimming with talent. The way I see it my job is to get rid of whoever is in front of me. An opponent is an obstacle blocking your next move. Obviously like all fighters we dream of becoming a world champion. I don’t just want to become a world champ. I want to stay at the top and do things outside of boxing to further my career in any possible way. Obviously there is the domestic route too but I’m happy with what my team has planned. More fights, leads to more experience gained and am looking forward to getting back out in the ring more this year!