Shortly after the boxing world came together in celebrating a masterful performance from the once-fallen Julian Williams, a young fighter basing himself in Germany has been quietly plotting a stunning ascent to meet ‘J-Rock’ and his fellow world champions, at the top of the light-middleweight division.
From humble beginnings in one of West Africa’s smaller nations, unbeaten amateur standout Abass Baraou (6-0, 3KOs) spoke exclusively to Boxing Social, revealing his aspirations in a sport that has helped him flourish.
When speaking to those with an interest in amateur boxing, it became clear that most were familiar with Baraou, now aged twenty-four, signed with German promotional powerhouse, Team Sauerland. Infact, after winning a bronze medal in the World Amateur Championships only two summers ago, he’d also made space for a European Amateur Championship gold medal, surprising most by beating Great Britain’s highly-touted Pat McCormack.
Although not the most vocal, whispers of Baraou had been echoing through boxing circles since his decision to turn professional, with many tipping him to make an impact and actively contribute to big time boxing making its return to Germany – something the country has been missing since the prime of Arthur Abraham and Felix Sturm when the pair would regularly fill stadiums or large arenas.
It never started on European soil, though, for Baraou, as he explained his background and the importance of African culture.
”My family is from Togo and I spent my childhood there. Today, I realise that growing up in Togo was an amazing experience that shaped me into the man I am today. The biggest challenge throughout my boxing career has been not giving up when I was being pulled down and when I didn’t feel welcomed where I already knew I belong.
“I had 156 fights in total and I [only] lost 17 of them. My time as an amateur was great. I learned how to deal with a lot of ups and downs and I hope I can reach the same level I was at as an amateur in my professional career, as well.”
After such an impressive career draped in the German vest, it was inevitable that a large promotional company secure his services, with Sauerland matchmaker Tom Dallas explaining the interest in Baraou as soon as he’d decided to leave the inconsistencies of the unpaid ranks.
His talent speaks for itself, whilst he continues to build a profile and win admirers from further afield. After recently challenging former world champion, Carlos Molina, albeit now operating as a classy gatekeeper, the talented Togolese fighter was ready to push on, stretching himself and progressing ahead of schedule.
He last fought in May, defeating the overmatched but experienced, Ali Funeka, stopping the South African in just five rounds. Funeka was seen as a durable opponent, yet now aged forty-one, had seen better days and was long past his previous challenges for world titles. Still, however, Baraou impressed, taking his knockout ratio to 50% in a bout that was originally scheduled for ten rounds.
He was content with his own performance, yet never seemed one to sing his own praises or perhaps allow himself to be swept away by the opinion of others.
“I really enjoyed the fight [with Funeka]. Everything I prepared myself for beforehand, I was able to bring into my performance. He is tall and slick in his movements, so I think he was a good challenge. I hope I can look back at the end of the year having fought tough opponents and see progress in my professional career. I trust my team and management with everything else. It [my time with Team Sauerland] started with a meeting with Wilfried Sauerland. We shared the same visions which led to this great opportunity for me to follow my dreams.”
In a division which boasts champions such as Julian Williams, Tony Harrison and Jaime Munguia, there was no rush for titles. After such a decorated and lengthy career as an amateur, the transition to the professional game was key – picking the right fights at the right time. Of course, Baraou was extremely talented but it seemed that Nisse Sauerland and matchmaker Dallas, himself from the UK, had plotted their route to world rankings carefully.
Fights with Molina and Funeka ticked some boxes, former world title challengers and champions, beaten comfortably.
Living in Germany and representing them throughout his schooling and before his professional debut, Abass still fondly remembered his time in Togo. It was, as he explained, the country that shaped him as a man.
I couldn’t stumble across any information detailing previous Togo-born fighters who’d went on to achieve world titles, so assumed he may be the first, if successful when the time comes. It was a long, arduous journey to championships, but for now – remember the name. Abass Baraou has winning in his blood and doesn’t intend on anything to the contrary.
“I am focused on becoming the best boxer I can be and I think the rest will come by itself. I look forward to hopefully boxing overseas soon. I want people to look at my journey and see that if you put your heart and hard work into something, you can achieve anything you want.”
Interview written by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209