Rashid Omar opts for new path as professional prizefighter

Rashid Omar opts for new path as professional prizefighter

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

By Dewi Powell: Three years on from a life-threatening stabbing, Cardiff’s Rashid Omar decided to add another chapter to his eventful story and embark on a new journey as a professional prizefighter.

Omar won schoolboy and youth Welsh titles as an amateur, earning the nickname of ‘Brickfists’ from his supporters. His vested career started with the Prince of Wales ABC and he owed the success as a senior to training at Splott Adventure ABC. Omar’s path was derailed in July 2017 when he suffered a scary setback as the victim of a serious attack. Three knife wounds, including one that punctured 5cm into his liver, resulted in a year out of the ring.

“I was on a night out and I got into a little argument,” he recalled. “There was an altercation and the guy stabbed me three times. It stopped me from training for a year. All the nurses and doctors said it might stop me from boxing permanently.

“It was hard. When I first come out of hospital, I couldn’t even walk the stairs without using an asthma pump. It was really hard fitness-wise. I was devastated but it made me more determined, it made me stronger. I had to get myself better.”

Omar acknowledges that he was lucky to survive the attack and avoid becoming yet another statistic of a growing knife crime problem in the UK. In the immediate aftermath, the father of four was supported by amateur trainers Pat Mahoney and James Mwasigallah and he committed to an extensive rehabilitation programme. Omar began plotting a path to the Olympics and decided to target the upcoming qualifying events, attending through his Somali heritage.

Somalia’s relationship with boxing has seen its fair share of turbulence over the past five decades. Dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre issued a ban on boxing in 1976 and all sports were suspended when Somalia descended into a chaotic civil war in 1991. The country was considered a ‘failed state’ in the following years due to the absence of a centralised government and the uncertainty was cemented when United Nations peacekeepers withdrew in 1995. It meant Somali sportspeople had to leave the country to compete on the international stage as independent athletes.

Since the formation of the Federal Government in 2012, Somalia slowly edged towards stability. The first boxing events for decades were held in 2018. Boxing’s return to Somalia coincided with the appointment of Hassan Essa to Technical Development Director for the Somali Boxing Federation, the country’s national governing body for amateurs. Cardiff-born Essa won a Welsh amateur title in 1997 and then fulfilled various roles for Grange Catholics ABC in Grangetown. Known to Omar’s parents, Essa’s input was crucial and he invited the southpaw to trials in London.

Omar was selected and he travelled to Gabon on the west coast of Central Africa to compete in the African Championships in May 2019. The highlight performance was a win against Namibia’s Jonas Jonas, who won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and Omar progressed all the way to the final. He eventually lost to Cameroon’s Mengue Ayissi but a silver medal at a major tournament was still a significant achievement. Now qualification to the 2020 Olympics was firmly on the agenda. However, the podium appearance in Gabon would prove to be the last of Omar’s 70-fight amateur career.

He said: “They [family] were very proud and the whole community was. In Butetown, it’s predominantly a Somali community. Everyone was stopping me in the street, especially the older generation who never thought it [a Somalian a boxing team] would happen.

“It was amazing but the Somali team ain’t got much funding. They wanted me to fund myself to go to all of these tournaments. I didn’t really think that was good.”

Contact was established with Tom Stalker, who captained Team GB at the 2012 Olympics and now works for management outfit MTK Global as their Chief Scout. The Scouser was impressed with the video clips he saw and they quickly came to an agreement for Omar to turn professional. Tony Borg took the role of Omar’s trainer and the transition also included a drop of 11 pounds. He shed the surplus weight and came down from super-lightweight (141lbs) to compete as a super-featherweight (130lbs) as a professional.

Training during the COVID-19 pandemic was obviously disrupted. ‘Lockdown’ restrictions set by the Welsh Government meant everyone, sportsperson or not, was subject to limited exercise and what was allowed had to be in their immediate locality. Omar enjoyed running and cycling around Cardiff Bay, though there’s no substitute for punching and he was eager to return to Borg’s St Joseph’s Boxing Club in Newport.

“I’ve been training in there for the last seven months,” said Omar. “I’ve learned loads up there. I’ve got great sparring with the likes of Lee Selby, Gavin Gwynne, Lance Cooksey and Robbie Vernon. We’re all around the same weight, so we’re all learning from each other.

“All of my training [since lockdown] has been limited. I’ve been doing pads in my garden a couple of times a week but I’ve been doing plenty of bike riding and running, every day.”

Prior to the pandemic, Omar hoped to turn professional on the undercard of Eddie Hearn’s postponed Matchroom show in Cardiff on 9 May. He was uncertain when he’d be able to make his debut but was certain of what he wants to do when boxing returns.

“I definitely want to be fast tracked. I wouldn’t mind having, say, two or three type of easy fights to get used to the pro ranks but I don’t want to be waiting around. I want to be fighting for titles straight away.

“I want to fight for the Welsh title but my goal is more than that. I want to fight for British and European titles, and possibly a world title.”

This article first appeared in the Welsh Boxing Annual 2019-2020. Click here to buy on Amazon.

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