Bridging the Gap: Hamzah Sheeraz and the plan to cross over and make a name for himself

By Declan Taylor

HAMZAH SHEERAZ sits in a small round chair in the corner of a private room three floors up the Carlton Tower Jumeirah hotel in Knightsbridge as a variety of media outlets show up, shake hands, ask their questions and leave.

The 24-year-old barely moves for two hours, covering similar subjects, reflecting on his latest victory and discussing the same clutch of potential opponents during each interview.

Boxing News is the final slot of a busy afternoon for the puncher from Ilford, still only five days on from the most significant win of his career, the one-round blow-out of Liam Williams at the Copper Box.

By this point, most people would be struggling for lucidity in their responses, one-wording questions without even noticing but not Sheeraz. He is asked if he wants to have a little break before we speak. “Nah, I’m warmed up now and in the zone,” he says, with a sip from his water bottle, which he places by the leg of his chair. “Let’s roll.”

In the week after such a big win, which came two months later than initially planned due to a training injury, most boxers would be on the beach. But for Sheeraz, the archetypal old head on young shoulders, it has been set aside for strategising.

“These last few days have really made me think about this more deeply,” he starts. “I understand world titles are what I’m in the game for but at the same time I don’t want to win world titles but not really be known.

“I want to be a guy who is fighting for a world title and as soon as tickets go on sale you’re selling out the O2 Arena. That’s when you’ve really got that public interest behind you and that’s what it comes down to. Only then can you start unifying divisions and fighting in big fights.

“From a business perspective, the way I am doing things now and the exposure I’m getting. I don’t see why that can’t be a possibility.”

Hamzah Sheeraz (James Chance/Getty Images)

Despite his vast potential and obvious talent, Sheeraz is still some way off crossing over into mainstream circles. The truth is, outside the heavyweight division, there are very few active boxers in Britain who have even come close.

“There are so many different opportunities and avenues to explore but you start understanding boxing is more of a business than a sport,” he adds.

“Back in the day you just fight but now I think ‘if I fight him, that will capture the public’s interest and then that will make the next fight bigger too’. It’s chess. It opens your mind and there are opportunities I’ve never thought of that now make a lot of sense.”

It explains why Sheeraz has agreed to a number of media obligations in the week after his victory. So intense was the adrenaline flow after the fight that he did not sleep during the 48 hours that followed. When he did finally crash, the first thing he did on waking was head back to the gym.

“It’s more for my mental sanity and clarity,” Sheeraz says. “I didn’t know what to do. I’d had 13 weeks in camp where I’d wake up every morning, run, come back, gym, come back, gym again. Now it’s like – do whatever you want. I’m lost, I don’t know what to do.

“Straight after the fight we went back to the hotel and a few people came to celebrate. I bought Liam and his family some food just to show appreciation. I didn’t sleep for 48 hours, it was crazy. I was trying to sleep but I was just wide awake.

“I’m still surprised at how the fight turned out. The dust has settled and I can reflect on everything. I remember [manager] Taz and Ricky [Funez] saying to me that based on the way I was performing that they couldn’t see the fight going long. I kind of just brushed that off at the time, I thought they were just trying to boost my morale. But they know me better than I know myself and that’s exactly how it played out.”

Sheeraz on his way to stopping Williams (Photo by James Chance/Getty Images)

The nature of the victory prompted his promoter Frank Warren to once again compare Sheeraz to Thomas Hearns, while also suggesting that a fight with Chris Eubank Jnr would be the logical next step for him. And, given Sheeraz’s quest for maximum exposure, a name like Eubank Jnr would fit the bill perfectly.

“That’s exactly it,” Sheeraz nods. “If I’m talking about trying to cross over, Eubank is the bridge to that. Whether he gives me the opportunity is another matter but if he names his price I’m sure Frank can sort it out.

“If I was him I’d ask for a good amount of money. He will back himself to win and will be very confident but I’d still be asking for a lot of money if I was him.

“I think what I need to do is grow the casual fans’ awareness of me a bit more. After a performance like that against Liam Williams, boxing purists know all about it but it’s got to a point now when I’m being linked with Chris Eubank Jnr who has got casual fans so to share the ring with him would be an honour.”

While Eubank would represent a big name and a boost in profile, it would not provide Sheeraz with the world championship belt he craves. Talk, therefore, soon talks to Janibek Alimkhanuly, the putative No.1 at middleweight and current holder of two belts.

“Yes he’s definitely No.1 at the weight,” Sheeraz agrees. “His achievements speak for themselves and he’s the man to beat in the division. Personally I’d fight him tomorrow and back myself 100 per cent but it goes back to what I was saying before about generating public interest.

“He’s one of those champions that not many people know. A win like that, you want everyone to know the calibre of fighter you’ve just beaten because you earn a different kind of respect for that. We will see how it all plays out.

“Whatever happens, the end goal hasn’t changed: three-weight unified world champion. That’s my big, big goal but part one of the story is get the world title. Part two is then the peak of my career and part three is the last bit. From now until the end of my career that’s what I want to achieve.”

His hunt for hardware has taken him to America, where he bases himself for training camp and, after nearly four years of doing so, he no longer feels like a new kid at the Ten Goose Boxing Club where he works with Funez.

For his first few trips to Los Angeles, Sheeraz would book a different Air BnB each time and could scarcely believe the brutality of training that he had to get used to. Now he is far more settled in his digs and has grown accustomed to what is expected of him at the gym.

“It’s coming up to four years now,” he says. “Now when I’m there I feel like more part of the furniture. The camps are very structured. As soon as I’m on that flight to LA, my mind switches into camp mode and I know I’m going to go there to work. Our routine is we land, I have my last cheat meal – normally a big, crazy greasy burger with 1.5 litres of coke.

“Then we get to the apartment and unpack so we are ready for the Monday start. And that’s it. We have eight to 10 weeks there and it’s like clockwork. I know what the routine is now, you never know what to expect in a gym in Los Angeles but I know the framework.

“For the last three camps we’ve had the same Air BnB. It’s a good one too, a nice, cosy little bungalow up in the Hollywood Hills. We’ve got nice neighbours and a safe environment. Hopefully we keep getting the same rate on it because if she puts the rent up, I’d have to put my whole purse towards it. We’ve even got a local shop who know us now – we only ever buy eggs and veg and that’s it.”

Amazingly, Williams was the third opponent in Sheeraz’s last four outings to be put down by a single jab, with the youngster’s long, punishing lead hand proving to be perhaps the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal. How much has that been down to the influence of Funez?

“Oh massively,” Sheeraz says. “In my first couple of fights with Ricky I didn’t really use it that much but then for the Jez Smith fight he said to me if you’re fighting these smaller, aggressive guys, you’ve got a good jab, fucking use it.

“I remember that whole camp he drilled me so hard on it. I would go to the gym knowing that’s all I would do – jab jab jab. But it is paying off. We’ve been continuing that and adding a bit more. Ultimately he comes down to my teacher and that’s Ricky so credit to him.

“He has always said to keep it basic. If you look at Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Floyd Mayweather – all these top athletes, if you ask them for their secret they will say basics. Perfect the basics and keep perfecting it and that’s the mentality that Ricky has adopted and now so have I.

“He feels it on the pads and knows what I’m capable of, but I don’t even know what I’m capable of yet. I know I can beat these guys with a jab but I know that the better it gets, the more my opponents will be aware of it. That’s why every camp it has to be that much better.”

Given the destruction of Williams, it is almost guaranteed that Sheeraz will face far stiffer competition in his next fight, whether that is Eubank or not. Another name linked is Ammo Williams, the Matchroom middleweight, who could hand him the opportunity to represent Queensberry Promotions in their 5 vs 5 showdown in Saudi Arabia on June 1.

If that is the case, Sheeraz will have to burn the midnight oil during training camp, which would overlap with Ramadan.

“It’s religion first, always, so I’d tailor my training hours so I can continue fasting,” says Sheeraz, of Ramadan, which is expected to run from March 10 until April 9 this year. “I’d do the first two weeks and then start my camp halfway through. It would be a bit difficult but we will make it happen. We would train during the evening hours. If they give me the opportunity on June 1 then I’m not going to say no.”

After all, Sheeraz does not need a break: he’s warmed up, in the zone and ready to roll.

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