The Love of the Fight

I was a hyperactive kid. Probably not a surprise, right? Except I took hyperactivity to another level. I couldn’t sit still for a second. At home. At school. Wherever. Plus, I was always getting into fights with my cousins.

My dad always loved boxing. He was a huge Muhammad Ali fan, and he would play me old tapes of his fights. There was a boxing gym around the corner from where we lived in England, and one day, he’d had enough.

“Amir, we’re going to burn some of that energy!” He took me down to the gym, and I never looked back.

I was eight years old.

No one in my family had ever boxed before. Just me. Still, all the trainers knew I was special right from the beginning. Even as a little kid, I was ahead of the curve and the rest of the pack. Before long, I was winning titles all over Europe. When I was only 16, I went to America for the first time for the Junior Olympics. I stopped everyone before the second round, including Victor Ortiz, and won gold.

The American team came up to me and said, “You’re going to Athens next year for the Olympics, right?” I told them no, because I thought you had to be 18. “You only have to be 17,” they said. “Why don’t you try it?”

That turned out to be a very good suggestion.

I became one of the youngest British boxers ever to fight in the Olympics. Even though nobody expected anything of me, I won the silver. The only person who could beat me the entire tournament was the defending gold medalist, Mario Kindelán.

I went back and beat Mario six months later in my final fight as an amateur.

I always think about how thankful I am that my dad took me to the gym that day. Boxing kept me from fighting on the streets. But more than that, boxing educated me. Because I was in the public eye and under media scrutiny from such a young age, I learned how to behave and serve as a role model.

Boxing also taught me discipline — how to divert my hyperactive energy into something positive. As a Muslim, I was taught from the Quran not to harm or hurt anyone. Through boxing, I could take all of my aggression into the ring — and then leave it there.

After a year, my teachers at school were full of praise. They couldn’t believe how I went from misbehaving all the time to becoming so well-behaved. And they were really surprised to learn that the reason was boxing.

I know it’s a violent sport, and most people think taking it up means you’re going to fight more often. But for me, it’s been the opposite. Boxing taught me to only fight in the ring. And it taught me to divert the rest of my energy into something positive.

It put me on the straight path.

My heritage is so important to me, and has played a huge role in forming my identity as a boxer. I am from Bolton, England (which of course means I love the Wanderers to death), but my family is Pakistani. Pakistan treats me like Manny Pacquiao in the Philippines. Everyone is so supportive. They see me as a British-Pakistani, one of their own — and love that I still come back to Pakistan to support boxing. I always raise the Pakistani flag high.

My identity as both British and Pakistani has absolutely shaped my career. You have to remember: I came on the scene right when 9/11 happened. A lot of people thought that being a Muslim would stand in my way. But I was always a guy who stood against terrorism. I spoke my heart, and gained many fans around the world as a result. I consider it my work to spread the positive messages of peace from the Quran — which is part of why I fight in America and the UK so much. They now see me as their own, too.

Boxing has always been my game, but I really love all combat sports. I started watching MMA as I began to spend more time in America. When I started training with Andrei Arlovski, I got into it even more. With all its different fighting styles, I think MMA surpasses almost any other sport in excitement. I love watching it so much.

I try to support boxing all over India and Pakistan, and now I do the same with MMA. I’ve gotten involved with the Super Fight League based out of India. Largely because of the SFL, MMA has become one of the most popular sports in the entire country. (We’ve even got Bollywood actors involved to help raise its profile!) We’re hopefully going to have over 50 events in 2016. In the meantime, the SFL is growing into one of the top MMA leagues worldwide.

I’ve also started mentoring young SFL fighters. MMA obviously employs more grappling than boxing does, but so much of it is still upper body. People call me the fastest boxer in the world, so I’m trying to help our fighters learn how to really use their fists.

Because I’m a professional boxer — and chasing a Mayweather fight — I can’t fight in MMA right now. But who knows? Maybe one day I’ll holler at an MMA fight myself.

If I do, one thing’s for sure: My opponent will have to take me to the ground immediately. Because if I can land just one punch, it will be all over.

I think it would be a great challenge. But for now, I’m just a fan.

Ever since I was eight years old and first went to that gym with my dad, I’ve been a boxer. I’m always waiting for my next fight and a chance to leave my mark.