Ahmed Samir was having a bad day at the hallowed Church Street Boxing.
However, this was typical for an industry where it is hard to get the very people who claim to want to bang in an actual ring.
“Me and my trainer were talking about a fight, the manager was supposed to meet us (at the gym). We had the date for a fight but it got canceled (because) they could not find me an opponent and my trainer was upset.”
Samir was living his American dream as a professional boxer but it always felt like a deferment based on the politics of the game.
“I told him to look we came here to work so we are going to work, that’s it. We trained hard that day and I saw some people taking pictures of me and it was strange because usually in a boxing gym people ask you before they take photos or videos of you. I was thinking, maybe they like the way I’m training.”
They did but not for scouting purposes, for music video production. Standing 6 feet 1, at a chiseled weight of over 200 pounds, Samir represented an aesthetic sought after by the producers of “Feed The Wolf”, a hit single from Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf.
“After the producers came to me and said we are doing a photoshoot would you like to be in it, and I said ‘yes sure’ and that’s how I got in my first music video.”
“The Prince of Egypt”
“I’m from Egypt and I came here in 2007 to box for the Egypt National Team. I watched movies like Gladiator and Rocky and it made me want to box.
Samir had won gold medals at the 2007 All-African Games and the 2007 Arab Championships and racked up 295 amateur fights. However, behind the ropes, the struggle to the top was anything but sweet.
“It was very hard we had a lot of tournaments in Egypt to go through. We used to fight a lot like every two weeks in a different city on the junior team. We would have like two junior tournaments every year and a lot of city fights so we were really busy fighting.
“I fought middleweight, they put me in light heavyweight, it was hard. There were a lot of fighters from everywhere. When they called my name for the national team, I couldn’t believe it. I always used to look at the senior team and I wanted to fight with one of them and I hoped they would take me.
“I used to visit my friend at the Olympic Center and that was my big dream to go there. When I made it and I couldn’t believe it. When I got to the hotel and asked the front desk if my name was really in the room and they said yes!”
Still, the path to greatness had more traps in tow and this time it was from his teammates and coaches.
“There was a lot of corruption back in the days, it was a really bad system. I feel like I carried everything inside me and when I had the chance to leave I left. It was unfair, the system was really bad. The trainers were using us between the senior team and junior team and we had fights. Anyone coming up to the senior team from the junior team was treated badly. ‘Oh your loyal to the junior team’ and I’m like, ‘i’m with you !’ but there was so much politics.
“They forced me to go to the Army when I was still in high school on my way to college. It’s mandatory in Egypt so I was supposed to go to the Army for one year. They forced me to fight at the big tournament where the Army faces the Navy. Every team that won got 1 million Egyptian pounds but they used to steal our money. They made us fight and would give us 500 Egyptian pounds which are not even $100 US dollars; it was so corrupt.
“Schools were abusive when I was young even family too. In Egypt, it was really hard so I trained and fought as my way to get out of my house and be by myself.”
Samir made a decision that would alter the trajectory of his life. ad stood in Kennedy International Airport grappling with the decision of his life. He arrived with the Egyptian national boxing team to fight in the 2007 World Boxing Championships in Chicago. However, he did not board the connecting flight. Instead, he left his team and defected from Egypt on the spot.
According to a 2007 news release from Wael Talaat, director of the Egyptian Boxing Association, Emad Abdel-Halim and Ahmed Samir went missing shortly after the team arrived at a U.S. airport.
Several Egyptian athletes, mainly boxers and wrestlers, have done the same in the past to seek better career opportunities in more developed countries.
Many athletes in Egypt complain the state sports authorities give more financial support to soccer than other sports despite the national team’s failure to reach the World Cup finals since 1990.
“I was the number one heavyweight in 2007 and I was ranked number four in the world as an amateur. When I came to America to box with the National team to qualify for the 2008 Beijing games, that’s when I moved here; I left my team at the airport and I stayed.”
An uncle took him in and supported him, helping him land a job at a pizza place and eventually taking him to a gym, according to The New York Times.
The American Dream
“Feed The Wolf” intertwines lead vocalist Miss Velvet’s powerful voice with an intense musicality supplied by the band, The Blue Wolf.
The infectious intensity feels like this is the unofficial anthem for combat sports.
“Boxing was like my hobby. I’m 35 and I still have a lot of fight in me. It takes me out of my sadness but when I train I’m so happy. When I work or do anything else I’m sad, drinking, having so many problems in my life. Boxing was my medication.”
Immediately after the video shoot, the world was struck with the coronavirus pandemic. It shut down boxing gyms and left many unsure of how to proceed with their daily lives and routines.
However, for Samir, it brought a level of unintended salvation.
“The quarantine was a motivation for me. We were not thinking, now you can think about living normally and not everything is about work. Anyone can lose their job at any time, people have to realize that. All we think about here is bills: phone bills, electricity, rent. But right now I’m happy fighting, I’m happy training. Everyone should be doing what they love, it’s not only about money. Nothing is secure in this world, we can lose our job at any time so it’s better to do what you love and believe in it.
“The quarantine taught me about friendship, who’s my friend and who’s not, who stands by me and who’s not. People I’ve known for years that have been nice and supportive disappeared. Now it’s only you. You vs. you, like boxing. You have to get the best out of yourself and don’t negatively take the circumstances. Thank God, I’ve evolved into a happier person.”
Samir works the door at popular nightlife hotspot, Bagatelle New York which was shut down due to the pandemic. The closure was the best thing that could have ever happened to him.
“Now I’m training very hard and I don’t have to stay out late anymore. I lost 20 pounds. I walk around at 215 lbs every day, so it’s easy for me to get my weight down. Before I was not in shape but now I’m eating well-taking care of my body. I teach boxing classes online and after quarantine, I’m not going back to my job.”
A dual-sport athlete, Samir is 1-1 in mixed martial arts winning his first MMA bout as a middleweight with an 11-second KO in the popular Ring of Combat promotion in Atlantic City. It came with a title. As sports reopen, he is positive about the future knowing he came from a very dark place into his own by his rules.
“I had the chance to travel and see the world. I have 295 amateur fights and I have 12 professional fights. I stopped fighting in 2015 but I fought in AIBA professional boxing so my last fight was in 2016 Olympics games and before Rio Olympic games. After this, I focused on MMA and I have one belt at 185 lbs. I also used to fight heavyweight and cruiserweight.
“Whatever’s going to take me there I’m going to do. I’m training every day, I’m pushing myself in MMA and boxing. You have to do what makes you happy. What motivates you. You cannot be motivated every day but you have to have a goal and love it and try to grow. Just push yourself and try to get there.”