Amar Kayani has one of the most eye-opening tales of redemption in British professional boxing. The 26-year-old from Slough was a street-fighting trouble causer and a self-confessed “bully” who potentially faced years in prison. Now he’s a motivated professional boxer, disarming gang members, setting an example and leading young men away from street violence.
Kayani (2-0, 1 KO) describes himself as a “scrawny kid” who was bullied at school. For him, boxing offered enough strength, confidence and self-esteem to stand up to his bullies and to fight back.
The problem was fighting back quickly went too far.
“I started boxing because I used to get bullied and picked on a little bit,” Kayani told Boxing Social. “What happened with that is that it spiralled out of control. I ended up getting into loads of fights because – where previously I’d get sworn at and I’d leave it – now, because I could box, I’d turn around and say something back and say, ‘Let’s have it!’ and we’d end up fighting. As I got older, it spiralled out of control and people would call me if they had ‘problems’, I was known as that kid.”
Things went from bad to worse and street fighting became a habit that was hard to kick. Kayani felt he had some talent as a boxer, but temporarily drifted away from the sport, fighting on tarmac instead of canvas.
“Getting into my late teens, when I was in college, I had a lot of my teeth shattered in the front of my mouth. Three or four of my main teeth are fake teeth now,” he said.
“There was a point in my life where I was in court for a GBH Section 18.21 charge, for fighting – as a boxer you hit someone and you don’t realise how hard you hit them – and there was this ‘popular drug dealer’ I suppose you’d call him. I beat him up and he’s the last person you’d expect to go to the police but he told the police.
“So, I was sitting in the courtroom in front of the jury and my mum was there. It was really bad because they were looking at maybe 8-10 years because of what I did to him. I disfigured his face a little bit.
“After that, when I didn’t go to prison, I kind of went back and reflected. I’d seen my mum crying in the courtroom and my dad was stressed and my brothers and siblings could barely get any sleep and I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve got to do something about this’. I opened up this camp for all the guys that used to look up to me for being the bad kid, the bad guy, and I said, ‘Come train’.
The casual way in which Kayani recalls that he “disfigured [the dealer’s] face a little bit” reminds us that violence was just a way of life for him as a younger man. Now though, he’s turning bad experiences into good, with a youth initiative that swaps knives for boxing gloves.
“I was the kid that got bullied – then I ended up doing a lot of the bullying and I went to court but I’ve sorted my life out,” Kayani explains. “I started a youth club for the kids and now I’ve got a boxing club, Kayani Camp, literally just for the kids that went through the same thing as me. I get them off the street and literally sometimes they’re coming in to me – and I have this bag – and they’re throwing in their pocket knives, the little knives they have, so it’s good.
“These aren’t just kids who are good boxers. These are kids who used to look up to me for the wrong reasons, who are going down the exact same route I did. A lot of them would be in prison or on the street carrying knives around if they weren’t boxing, because growing up in Slough there’s a lot to prove. The kids are just bad – it must be in the water or something – but the kids are just naughty here.
“The 16-17 year olds are coming in and I say, ‘If you’ve got anything give it to me because if I find it later you’re getting kicked out of the class’. I let them train for free and they come and they hand over these little flick knives that a lot of them seem to carry nowadays. Occasionally, I’ve had kids give me serious weapons and I think ‘Wow, imagine if I had let that kid leave with this?’ We know, statistically, that if you carry a knife it’s going to end up being used on yourself.”
Because of his bad experiences, Kayani feels he’s more able than a lot of boxing coaches to connect with troubled kids. He feels they relate to him in the gym and – as a result – his knife collections have been successful, taking savage weapons off the streets of Slough.
It’s not just boxing lessons and knife amnesties, Kayani is keen to provide lessons in and out of the ring. One particular story, he feels, resonated with a lot of young men he meets who might consider carrying knives.
He tells me: “I got into an altercation one time when I used to work in Tesco and, obviously being a fighter, you just have to hit someone a few times and they feel it. I hit him a few times and he went home with a swollen face. He came back half an hour later and he had the biggest knife I’ve ever seen in my life. He chased me round the whole of Tesco for five minutes, it was like ‘Tom and Jerry’. I was screaming for the security guards. Eventually the police came and he left.
“Two weeks later they found his body. He had been stabbed. So I tell the kids, if you carry a knife, it’s going to get used on you, because that’s what happens. The statistics back that up. I tell them and it scares them a little bit and I confiscate their weapons. I’m not calling myself no hero or nothing, but a lot of these kids, they listen to me because they know I came from where they are. They’d rather listen to me than some old guy in the gym who they can’t really relate to.”
Amar Kayani’s professional boxing career is in its infancy, but the exceptional work he’s doing to curb knife crime and street violence is a perfect example of the value of amateur boxing clubs. That feels especially pertinent in a week that saw Eddie Hearn challenge MPs on their lack of financial support for the amateur game.
Kayani hopes to both open a larger edition of Kayani Camp and return to the professional ring early in 2021, Covid-allowing.
You can follow Amar on his Instagram: @kayani_amar