Umar Sadiq has taken a sharp and sudden turn down a rarely travelled road in his pursuit of stardom.
Sadiq’s journey into the depths of Russia to take on Fedor Chudinov tonight is an unlikely date with destiny.
But it should come as no great surprise given this is a man who has never done things the orthodox way and never been afraid to risk it all.
Sadiq’s road to Khimki, 18km north west of Moscow, started in Nigeria and took him to London after the tragic death of his father when he was just 10.
It took him from inner-city London to a job as an accountant, back to Nigeria in pursuit of his Olympic dream and, eventually, into the professional boxing ring.
All has built up to what is now the biggest night of his life and a night which he believes will end with him catapulted to world level at middleweight across all governing bodies.
“If I wasn’t confident of winning I wouldn’t be out here because let’s face it, I didn’t have to take this fight, did I?” he says from his hotel room in Russia.
“Nobody expected me to take this fight and come out here, but we’re doing it because we believe we’re going to win it.
“As much as I’m the one getting in the ring, it’s still a team effort and I’ve got great people around me which is why I say 'we'. Together, we’re here to do the business.
“It’s all been very rushed, sudden and out of nowhere but when you stay ready then you’re ready to grab opportunities like this by the horns and that’s what I’m doing.
“Chudinov, right now, as we speak is third in line with the WBA and with all the governing bodies he’s ranked in the top five or the top six.
“I know that I will literally be one of the top middleweights in the world after Friday night as long as I get the job done so it’s a massive opportunity.”
The fight only came up three and a half weeks ago after Sadiq discovered his British title fight with Lerrone Richards would not take place in September.
An agreement was only finalised around a week ago, and after Covid-19 testing was finalised on Sunday he flew out to Russia on Monday.
“It was getting as frustrating as can be,” he says of the uncertainty before the Chudinov fight presented itself.
“I’m quite a cool headed person, not many things get to me, but with the Richards situation I just wanted to know when I’d be boxing.
“When I got the call to say that fight wouldn’t happen in September, my reaction was literally just ‘thank you for letting me know so I can manage my training’.
“Now this has come up and it’s a blessing. It’s a bigger fight, isn’t it? It’s a better fight and, stylistically, I think it’s a better fight for me as well.
“It’s not because I think Lerrone is better than Chudinov, I just think the style will be a better fit for mine and I’m looking forward to getting the win out here.
“For me, Fedor will do what he’s always done. His coaches might have taught him some new things that he’ll use for a couple of rounds.
“But once I start posing questions to him that he didn’t anticipate, he’s going to start having to come up with solutions on the spot.
“I don’t think he’s going to have the answers, so I see a fight that I control to be honest.”
Sadiq will go into the deep end in Russia – but dealing with adversity and obstacles is nothing new.
“I was born in Nigeria and living with my Dad there, but he passed away when I was 10,” he recalls. “At the age of 12 I got moved to London, my Mum was living here so I moved to be with her.
“I grew up in a typical, inner London, urban environment with a single parent, not much money in the house.
“But fortunately I managed to find my way out, found my education and went to Uni to get a degree.”
In the process of his education, he discovered his love for boxing and put together a strong amateur career.
Without being in the Great Britain setup, he spotted an opportunity to represent the country of his birth and chase a spot at the Olympics.
He explains: “I got an opportunity at one point to box against the Nigerian team, so what I did was found out who ran the team and found out what it would take to join them.
“Basically it involved having to do trials with them, so I found someone to sponsor me, I went out there and got on the team.
“Unfortunately I got a fractured rib before the Olympic qualifiers, that was that dream over with, I thought.
“Then leading up to the end of 2015 the Nigerian coach reached out to me and said there’s a chance to join the team if you can come here.
“At the time I was working as an accountant, so I took unpaid leave and went there, beat all my opposition and made it on the team.
“I went to two different Olympic qualifiers and unfortunately never made it to the actual Olympics, but I believe I should’ve been there.
“After that I just decided I was going to go professional as a boxer, and the only way to do it as far as I was concerned was to do it properly and go full-time.
“I left my accounting job when I came back to become a full-time boxer, and that’s been my life ever since.”
Understandably, Sadiq’s decision to quit a stable job to become a professional boxer was met with concerns from family and friends.
Yet he insists he never had any doubts he had to follow his gut and take the plunge.
He says: “For me, it was an easy decision because I just felt that I genuinely wasn’t able to do enough to get the best out of myself in the gym.
“Initially, work let me go part-time but I wasn’t committing enough to my career as a boxer. I started doing it because I dream of being the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, and the attention I was giving my craft just wasn’t sufficient.
“It mostly came as a gut instinct. Something just kicked in inside me that told me to make the leap.
“I never really felt I belonged in an office anyway, so it was an easy decision for me to make but I had friends and family worrying about me and asking what I was going to do for money.
“The truth is I didn’t have an exact plan, but it came from the gut and so far I’ve been proven to be right.”
Eventually, Sadiq's decision has been vindicated – but not without a blip.
Just four fights into his career, doubts began to emerge.
A defeat to another unbeaten prospect, Zak Chielli, in just his fourth professional fight, left him in limbo and, by his own admission, “a bit lost”.
He went back to the drawing board and has emerged a stronger man both inside and outside of the ring with an inner determination to prove his doubters wrong.
“Obviously it was tough to deal with that loss, but circumstances weren’t ideal and I knew straight away what went wrong,” he explains.
“Part of the reason why I said circumstances weren’t ideal was that my coach at the time turned up five minutes before my ring walk, so I had no warm up or anything like that because I was waiting for him to wrap my hands.
“I tried to give him a chance to turn over a new leaf after but we just couldn’t see eye to eye so I left him.
“Then I’m not only coming off my first loss but also left without a coach, so there was a time when I felt a bit lost.
“All of a sudden, some of the boxing press aren’t as quick to come and ask you for an interview any more. It’s a bit of an eye opener.
“It was a bit of a limbo phase and I learnt a lot of lessons, but I think what I’ve done since is I’ve shown my character.
“I’ve set up a team I’m happy with, when there were no dates available for me on Frank Warren shows I went out to other shows at my own expense in different parts of the country just to get out there.
“I’ve been out there and boxed as much as I can which proves my commitment and my character.
“Last year in my comeback year I had six fights and stopped five opponents, then I had a fight at the start of 2020 where the bookies had him as 1/12 favourite over me yet I beat him convincingly.
“I’d like to think I’ve shown my resilience and now I’m back where I should be, fighting for big titles and in big fights so I can prove to everyone who doubted me after that first loss why they were mistaken.
“I’m going to show people who I really am, and those who supported me all the way through, I’m going to make them proud and make sure they say ‘I told you so’.”
Whilst boxing is his passion, Sadiq’s journey has several fascinating stories away from the ring.
A part-time model, acted as a body double for Anthony Joshua in an advert for Lucozade Sport and also featured alongside David Beckham in a whisky advert.
“The modelling thing is something I’ve done for a long time now, and I’ve had some cool experiences,” he says.
“It was something I used to do sporadically, just being in the right place at the right time and I never thought it was going to be something major.
“For the AJ one, all I knew was it was something to do with an athlete and a sports drink, so I sent a few pictures and they mentioned it was to do with AJ.
“I told them, I’m nowhere near his size but it turned out to be playing a 19-year-old Anthony Joshua so I was his body double for that which was good fun.
“On the other shoot (with Beckham) I ended up on a table with five other people and David Beckham because we were acting as his friends in a nightclub.
“We were just sat around the table together for extended periods of time and chatting away, casual chats.
“He was a cool guy. You could see he was letting himself loose and just being a normal person. We were just having normal conversation, having a bit of banter so that was really cool to be part of.”
Sadiq is also open and honest about his approach as a plant-based athlete and passionate about using his platform to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“I think it’s the way forward for humanity,” he declares. “I say I’m plant-based because I try to avoid using the word ‘vegan’ because the word has essentially been tarnished to some degree.
“I’m plant based in that I try to avoid eating things from animals because if we were out in the wild needing to eat animals to survive I’d get it, but we don’t need to eat animals.
“It’s hard to justify the cruelty that goes on with animal farming and stuff, and whilst people would argue ‘what if you’re hunting?’ my counter would be why would you take a life anyway?
“It’s something that morally, spiritually I’m passionate about and physically as well I feel a lot better with that lifestyle.
“My mind is clearer, my body is clearer, I keep nice and lean and I’m an advocate for it because I think anyone who eats plant-based and covers aspects of their nutrition that need to be covered would speak highly of it.
“There are a lot of misconceptions, the biggest being that a lot of people go plant-based but forget to replace the things they were getting out of meat.
“It’s about educating yourself and doing it properly, and I think the earth would be a much healthier place without us eating animals.
“There would be less cruelty, less harm, and, with the right education around it, people would be healthier too.”
More recently, he added his voice to Black Lives Matter protests in London in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.
Victory over Chudinov on Friday would see Sadiq’s standing in the sport take a major leap.
But he places plenty of emphasis on “staying present” and looking to use his platform to inspire positive change on whatever level he can
“It’s less that I’m doing this so I can tell people what to do, it’s more that these are things I would’ve shared anyway,” he says.
“Anyone who is in my life knows I have a lot of opinions and I’m passionate about a number of causes.
“Ultimately, I’m focused on being the best boxer I can be and achieving all my goals in the ring but I know that with that comes a platform as well.
“As I go through the different stages and build my profile I just try to stay present, stay in tune with what’s happening around me and use that platform for good as much as I can.
“I just let my personality flow naturally, and if that can bring attention to causes that are important to me and help educate people then that’s a massive bonus.”
Source: Read Full Article