By Oliver McManus @OliverGMcManus
“Look Saj, you’re a bitch”, the feisty first sentence from Sajid Abid reassured me that our conversation would be candid and revealing. The fighter had finished work just an hour previously – currently employed at a local surgery – but was more than happy to ‘get everything off (his) chest’, as he remarked afterwards.
Despite being around the sport for 12 years, a professional for four of them, relatively little is known about the welterweight. Indeed the Derby-man might never have got involved in boxing but for his Uncle.
“I thought ‘wow, okay, I’m a bitch apparently’ so he took me to a boxing gym when I was about 11 or 12 and it’s progressed from there. To be honest, I didn’t do so well at college, I dropped out, so I saw boxing as a bit of a stress release for me. I only spent a short time in the white-collar / amateur scene before turning over at 20”.
“If I’m honest it was my uncle who always said I could turn pro and said “you could do this, you can do that”, so not knowing much better I hung onto every word he said. Of course when you hear professional boxing, naively, you think ‘glamour, fame and money’. Let’s be honest it’s not like that but at a young age you tend to fall for that sort of stuff”.
When it came to making the much-anticipated debut, Abid took to the ring for six rounds against Angel Emilov. By his own admission the performance left a lot to be desired but the occasion has been hard to top –
“My debut was pretty amazing, I won’t lie, in terms of experience. I had Tyson Fury, Hughie Fury, Peter Fury and their cousin all walking me out. I had a fair few friends in the arena, my home city of Derby. I can remember it like yesterday, the MC was saying my name and the atmosphere was mad.”
Following on from such a memorable debut, inactivity struck the 24 year old during the early phases of his career. Three fights in 37 months stand in stark contrast to the regularity he’s found over the past year, doubling his number of bouts in just a third of the time. Sajid spoke with an understandable frustration as he explained the reasoning behind this,
“My manager at the time would go through my uncle so whatever my uncle said I went with and I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes, I left that to one side. It was naïve but whenever I was told I had a fight I was like “right, sweet” and then all of a sudden it would get cancelled. It was the same case over and over again, I had three fights in three years and something wasn’t right.
There was a situation where he came to me for my second pro fight and said ‘I’ve got a fight for you on the AJ undercard’ and I, being new to the sport, just said ‘SIGN ME UP’. Bit later he dropped the ‘there’s a lot of money to be made’ and it didn’t sound to right, it didn’t click. Then of course he said it was Conor Benn and, for only my second fight, that was when I turned off’.
There was a momentary pause at the other end of the phone, followed by a heavy sigh.
“I just became inactive”.
Simple words but spoken with a dejection that could firmly shatter all illusions of boxing glory.
Almost instantly, though and without prompt, Sajid began to open up on how he got back into boxing, following a year without a fight and irregular training, in the early months of 2017. It all began at the most unlikely of events – a wedding.
“One of my cousin’s was getting married and all the family were together. They said ‘look Sunny, we know you’ve got talent so we’ll sponsor you for six months to see how you get on’ and I wasn’t going to turn that down. My family wanted to see commitment so we said I’d drop to 66kg – which, let’s be honest, is just standard welterweight.
I was preparing for my first fight with Steve (Goodwin) and I hit the weight, as you grow older you get wiser and your mindset changes so they sparked a more professional approach in my work. If it wasn’t for my cousin getting married then I wouldn’t be a professional now!”
Towards the back end of 2017, Abid partnered up with Steve Goodwin who he credits with renewing his love for the sport.
“Once we’d sorted out my weight, the next stage was to find a manager. Arfan Iqbal, a close friend of mine, sung Steve‘s praises so I made contact and he was kind enough to invite us into his office.
He is the most professional person I have dealt with in boxing. It was refreshing to meet someone like that because he lays it out straight, there’s no bullshit with him. ‘This is what you need to do, this what I will do for you, this is what I expect from you’, there were no fake promises made. It’s an agreement that we’ll both do our best and what more can you ask for?
He treats everyone with the same level of attention, when I speak to him it feels like I’m his only fighter and for a manger with 100+ fighters to make you feel like that, he’s a genuine person.
He’s been really good to me, as I’m based in Derby, and said ‘look on BoxRec to see local shows, let me know if you want to get on them and I’ll see what I can do’. Prior to signing with Steve I was close to quitting but I thought I’d have one more go and I’m happy I did”.
I can brawl if I have to
Reflecting on his career it seemed as though the 24 year old had no real ill-will over events of the past and was satisfied with his progress,
“I’d say my last fight (against Qasim Hussain) was my best performance because I stuck to my boxing and whilst people love to see a brawl, I think that’s more for the heavier classes and street-fights, I prefer to display my technicality. Don’t get me wrong, I can brawl if I have to but I find if you box well enough then there’s no need to do so.
In that last fight it was the easiest fight I’ve ever had because I stuck to everything I’d worked on in the gym. My debut was a messy fight, I was looking for the knockout and I wasn’t happy. The same goes for my third fight (Ross Roberts) which is why I don’t go rushing anymore.
In my fifth fight I tore my bicep just before the fight and it was close to getting called off but I wanted to get in that ring, I’d been away for so long beforehand. I know I’m only 24 and I’m seeing improvements with all of my fights, so are the people around me, so I can’t complain about the past. Shit happens for a reason, to be blunt, it’s about creating your future because negativity in the past is irrelevant”
When talk moved to 2019 it was clear that Sajid had a plan in mind.
“I want to fight every three months, at least, give me enough time to train and sell tickets. Move me to 10 and 0 and then I want to contest an Area title by the end of the year. In my mind I should have fought for that a year ago, if things had gone smoothly from the beginning. We have to make do with what we’ve got so I can’t moan, there’s always time but by the end of 2019 I would hope to have a belt, of some sort, around my waist.”
Examining the domestic scene, Sajid acknowledged he was competing in a stacked division and whilst he was happy to be patient in his development, he would welcome fights with fellow prospects.
“I’m in no position to call people out, don’t get me wrong, but that Harlem Eubank knockout the other day was ridiculous (against Petar Alexandrov) – you can tell he hits hard, forget the opposition, it must run in the family. He’s only a few places above me on BoxRec so that’s a fight I’d want.
There are so many prospects and each person has the same base set of skills but obviously some people are just better at different aspects. I consider myself quite tall for a welterweight and I’m pretty rangy but then I look around me and suddenly all these other fighters are getting taller – it’s hard to differentiate on paper so I guess we’ll have to get in the ring to find out!”