Historically, British boxing has been littered with plenty of cowboys but far too few Indians, writes Glynn Evans.
One man intent on redressing that discrepancy is Hornchchurch newbie Sanjeev Singh Sahota, the latest in a batch of talented Asians who are starting to flood the sport.
‘I’m a Sikh warrior, a forward fighter with bundles of heart. I’ve a lion tattooed on me. The lion fights till he dies,’ warns the 24 year old light-welter who debuts in a four rounder on the huge Copper Box bill this Saturday.
The Francis Warren managed starlet hopes that his success between the ropes will help raise the profile of The Noble Art within the Asian community.
He says: ‘My goals revolve around pride, respect and becoming a role model, particularly to Asian youth. I want to motivate them to become active (participants) in sports. There’s so much talent out there but most get into business instead. They need that extra drive.
‘My own idols were (Muhammad) Ali, a great ambassador, Manny Pacquiao who came from nothing to everything and Amir Khan for all he’s done for British Asians. But it’s my father that really inspires me. He rose from nothing, then lost everything he’d built in the rag trade but climbed back up the ladder as a restauranteur.
In time, if I could act as a role model – give some goodness to others – that would be fantastic. I’d happily speak out about bullying or help people who suffer with (lack of) motivation.’
Shy and insecure as a youngster, Sanjeev concedes he wasn’t a natural scrapper.
‘As a kid I never enjoyed fighting, didn’t really have street fights,’ he recalls.
‘I was born and raised in East London and got bullied at my mostly white school in Upminster because of the colour of my skin and because I was a bit chubby.
‘When I was 14, the family moved to Murcia, Spain because the warmer climate was better for dad’s arthritis. Initially, I was a lonely kid in a new country with no language. Now I’m fluent in three; English, Spanish and Punjabi.
‘Shortly after, I became fascinated by ‘The Contender’ TV series, always trying to copy the moves. When a neighbour started going to the boxing gym I tagged along. The coaches were Spanish speaking and at first I was useless. Everybody laughed at me but I persevered, bought my own punch bag and gradually started to improve.
‘I was unbeaten in 10 kick-boxing bouts before winning the Madrid boxing championships in my first amateur boxing fight. I also won the Murcia title and ‘Rude Boy’ tournament. All told, I had 35 amateur fights, losing just four on points with two draws. In my last fight, I avenged the Spanish national champion. He’d beaten me the year before.’
With the Spanish pro scene stagnant, SSS returned to Essex last year to pursue his dreams in the paid sphere.
‘New life, new journey,’ says Singh Sahota, who is trained by Lennie Butcher and ex pro ‘Big Dom’ Negus at the Five Star Gym in Romford.
‘In addition to warm weather camps at ‘La Palestra’ gym back in Murcia, I also use Serious Fitness. Nigel, the manager, kindly gives me a pass to use the (CV) equipment at Fitness First in Romford.
‘All the Spanish boxers were fit and strong, like bulls; none more so than ‘Kiko’ Martinez (ex IBF Super-Bantam champion) who I did some sparring with over there. A very powerful man. But immediately, I found the English lads more technical.
‘I’ve been with Dom and Lennie since before I turned pro. They’ve always believed in me and given me confidence. I can’t see others doing for me, what they do.
‘Boxing has done so much for me with regard to improving my self-belief, fitness and lifestyle. It’s a hard, hard game but there’s such lovely people involved and I’ve made so many fantastic new friends.’
While Sanjeev presently lacks the pedigree and seasoning that some of Britain’s state funded amateur standouts enjoyed, he insists he’ll compensate through good old fashioned hard work and determination.
‘Whatever I do in life, I do the whole way, always 100%, never 90,’ he says.
‘It’s my belief that if you have a dream, you have to make it happen. I know I’m still a puppy but I’m prepared to climb the ladder. I’m developing every day, improving technically and acquiring more knowledge.
‘Boxing is so intense and I take it very seriously. I never drink or smoke and I’ve not eaten bad for the last six months now so I’ll treat myself to some chocolate after my fight…..and maybe some of mum’s curry!’
And the Eastern ace has a huge incentive to shine at The Copper Box. A sparkling performance will be rewarded with a berth on Olympic medallist Vijender Singh’s homecoming in Delhi this June.
‘I’ve 100% Indian blood so boxing on the soil of my home blood would be truly amazing,’ he states.
‘I’ve already been to India a few times with the family because dad is a President and Chairman of Kabaddi (a form of wrestling) and takes teams to the world cups. The sport is particularly popular in the Punjab.’
After one false start when the recent Harrow bill was cancelled, the Sikh starlet can’t wait to get his paid career up and running.
‘I’d sold over 200 tickets, mostly ringside, for Harrow so that was frustrating but we’re nearly there now,’ concludes Sanjeev who is sponsored by ‘East End: Spice Up the Nation!’
‘Eventually we might punt the ‘Triple S’ thing but I think it’s important to get my name out there first.
‘I’ve ticked every box I could’ve, done every run. I’ll just be looking to stick to my gameplan, fight my fight and may the best man win.
‘I know that if I stay dedicated, this pup is gonna grow into a big bad wolf!’