One of the oldest boxing clubs in London – the Fitzroy Lodge – has seen the likes of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua pass through its famed and ancient walls. Now the Lodge has a new professional boxer in its stable: Suli Abbar.
Step in under the railway arches in Lambeth, South London, and you will enter a legendary breeding ground for boxing talent. The Fitzroy Lodge was founded in 1908 by Dr Arthur Lionel Baly in an effort to help social reform. It has been in its current location since 1946 and has produced many successful boxers, both amateur and professional: Dave Charnley, British, European, and Commonwealth lightweight title-holder; Cornelius Boza Edwards, a former WBC super featherweight champion; Ted Bami, former European light welterweight champion; and a young David Haye who later became a world heavyweight champion.
I’ve been training at the Lodge for about two years. But six months ago, I encountered an unusually swift, graceful, and technical fighter whom I had not seen there before. Fast forward another six months and Suli Abbar has been granted his professional boxing licence and aims to fight his first professional bout this summer. Speaking to Suli, it is clear that he regards the capacity to defend oneself and others as one of the fundamental benchmarks of a man’s character.
‘’A man’s choice to embrace a path of suffering, broken bones, countless scars both physical and emotional, and then having the courage to step into the ring – all in the pursuit of glory – garners him the highest level of respect in my eyes. Boxing is the hardest and loneliest sport in the world and to remain relentless in a field where you really are promised nothing and the abyss is immeasurable, demonstrates your character as a man across all fields in life.’’
Suli’s posture in the ring is indeed striking in its heterodoxy. He punches hard, keeps his hands down when he circles the ring, all the while keeping his focus on his opponent. For him, style is not merely for show but has real substance: it ‘comprises the virtue of valour’.
To date, he has had three amateur fights in his native Saudi Arabia, all of which he has won by KO. This all took place during a time when amateur fighting was unusual and ungoverned in Saudi. Now that boxing is on the rise in his home country, he is aiming to show that homegrown talent is worth backing.
HOW IT STARTED
Suli moved to the United Kingdom to attend a boarding school. With him he brought a love for combat. Since childhood, Roman gladiators and conquerors such as Alexander the Great and Achilles were sources of fascination and inspiration. Suli speaks of being inspired by their greatness coupled with their preference for a short but glorious life, leaving an everlasting legacy over a long and ordinary life. Yet love of the past and its lessons remain trivial if not put into action in our own lives. With this in mind, Suli stepped into his first boxing gym.
The first impression was underwhelming. The trainers in Folkestone, where he was studying, stereotyped him and did not give him their time in training, says Suli. He was left to his own devices and ended up being used as nothing more than a sparring partner by competing boxers whom trainers believed in at the time. This was when Suli took the position that the conventional system was not there to protect boxers and help them grow. Nevertheless, he remained at that gym using it as an opportunity to become tough and to develop true grit. His view looking back is that he would not have been able to withstand the injuries and the brutal training it took to reach this point if it wasn’t for that gruelling year.
Hailing from a prominent family, Suli could have decided to train at a high-end gym once in London. Boxing gyms with the best equipment, functioning air-conditioning, and shiny walls are legion in London. But he subjected himself to gruelling conditions that could toughen him up for real combat.
At the Lodge, the contrast with his first gym could not have been starker. Entering its famed walls, Suli met the legendary coach Mark Reigate. What Suli was looking for was a gym that would teach him the most advanced fighting techniques without judgement. He wanted a school of combat with pedigree. The Lodge was a perfect match.
If your tactics are wrong, you won’t be able to stay calm in chaos.
In the preceding years, he knew that the Lodge existed but never took the time to look at it. After driving past one day, he decided to look in. He fell in love with the gym immediately. “It’s a home. It’s raw. It’s a community. There is discipline. Mark is a genuine master who loves the craft. It’s hard to relate in high-end gyms. Mark saw potential in me and gave me hope. He accepted me for who I am and where I am from.”
What others may consider to be arrogance and ego in a fighters style is what Suli brands as the element of unpredictability. When speaking of tactics, Suli once again turns to Alexander the Great,
“If your tactics are wrong, you won’t be able to stay calm in chaos. You need to be able to think; that’s when you are the most dangerous as a fighter. Never mind being strong and fast. You need to be able to remain calm under pressure. That’s the key to victory. It’s the punch your opponent doesn’t see that is the killing blow.”
Through his boxing journey and unconventional fighting style, Suli hopes to inspire younger aspiring fighters to follow their dreams. He comes from a country historically underrepresented in the ring. He comes from a well-to-do family and might have easily ended up doing something easier and more lucrative. He has been given every chance in life – and yet he wants to fight.
“Everybody needs to make decisions for himself. I’m not a role model – far from it, I’m just a man. I sin and I make mistakes, but I love my family and try to better myself everyday. But if anyone can learn from me I would be honoured. I’m always willing to give my time and help other people because I understand not everyone gets a fair chance in life.’’
Suli in action.
Given that Suli has chosen to dedicate himself to fighting, I ask him to expand on why he thinks humans are prone to combat and what specifically attracts him to the hurt business.
“In the ring you find out what you’re really made off. There’s nothing harder than kissing a crying mother goodbye before gracefully making your way to the arena. Everyone prepares their mind to step into the ring and face everything that comes with it differently. Since the beginning of time, men set out to explore and conquer. Today millions live and die without experiencing the fulfilment of victory and conquest achieved by relentlessness and never giving up, no matter how much it hurts. Boxing gives you the option to test yourself if you so will it.’’
Favourite combo: Hook to the body-right uppercut to head, South-Paw counter Hook and uppercut, Uppercut-hook-straight, Pullback right uppercut
Weight class: Light/Super-lightweight.
Life outside of boxing:
-Manager at Abbar and Sons Ltd
-Board member and partner at Ghazi Abdullah Abbar Co Ltd
Instagram: @suliabbarLyssna på det senaste avsnittet av Fighterpodden!