BOXING, for all its wonderful intricacies and inclusive nature, leaves its door agape, permitting pretenders an entrance to fighters, finance, and overblown fandom. Yet for every ‘advisor’ or ‘manager’ sprouting from our dry, starved soil without the required experience (or license), the sport does occasionally benefit from the wisdom of welcomed outsiders.
Swindon rapper Grim Sickers, speaking to Boxing Social between studio sessions of his own, is one of those outsiders, slowly positioning himself as a pundit and go-to voice on both British boxing, and boxing worldwide. Within minutes of opening, Sickers has dropped the names of at least 10 of his favourite fighters spanning different decades and different styles. This isn’t your typical armchair fan declaring his interest in a pay-per-view star, whilst remaining unaware of talented fighters lingering under the surface. Sickers knows boxing – he studies it.
“I was kind of a casual,” he admitted as he recalled his introduction to boxing at a young age, inspired by one of the UK’s most electrifying stars. “Without realising, it’s gotta be Prince Naseem. Without realising, it was a brown man like me coming in on a flying carpet with leopard print shorts, swagger like you’ve never seen before, Adidas. I’m just interacting with him without even realising. Him and [Kevin] Kelley, that’s when I caught on, but I was just a nipper. It was subconsciously, yeah. I’m half-Indian, and I know he’s from Yemen, but he’s my skin colour. At the time, he looked like me, and my dad’s black but he never really used to rate him at the time. I used to think, ‘He’s alright, I like him.’ The confidence and the way he used to punch like a flippin’ heavyweight, he did.”
“I’m from Swindon, but I didn’t really come from a background where boxing was on the TV – not really. We used to stay up for Mike Tyson obsessively, but I remember trying to stay up for Lennox Lewis versus Mike Tyson and I was falling asleep, waking up, then it was all done. I was rubbish at staying up young. But I’ll tell you what it leads to – I was a wrestling fanatic. I got into wrestling and boxing, with the ring and the entrances, it was similar. Then I found out that wrestling was fake and that kind of muddied it for me, so I got back into boxing properly. I really picked it back up with the Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton era.”
An obsession that began with tuning into the ‘big fights’ would come as no surprise to anybody that’s followed Sickers’ burgeoning career behind the microphone. Rap and boxing, often linked, intertwine in fascinating fashion. Listening to some of the Swindon-man’s material, you’re hard-pressed to avoid a witty boxing lyric, or a reference to fights from any era. One of his most played tracks on Spotify is titled: ‘Boxing Bars’ featuring Eyez and Big Zuu. During his verse, Sickers raps about: Crawford v Spence, Tyson Fury, Pacquiao v Marquez, Taylor v Prograis, and Chris Eubank and his ‘offspring.’
In ‘Open the Till,’ it’s back to Tyson Fury references, and on ‘Merking’ he drops a reference to Keith Thurman’s battle with Shawn Porter. It’s not just lyrics though, and with songs titled ‘Intercontinental Champ’ and ‘Tyson Fury 12th Round’ it’s evident that boxing and the circus that surrounds it are imprinted in his creative process. Muhammad Ali’s historic win over George Foreman is mentioned on ‘Near Miss,’ and the list goes on and on. When asked about his writing process and the references to boxing, Sickers laughed, “I know, I need to calm it.”
But what are the similarities that often draw boxers and rappers/MCs together?
“We’re all narcissists,” he explained, with half-humour, half-admission. “We all gotta build a character, I’m just being truthful. To have the audacity to go on stage and expect one thousand people to listen to you, or you want thousands of people to watch you fight… Obviously, their training or their sparring is like our time spent in the studio. The reason I really became a proper boxing fan is because I became sick of the music industry, and I wanted to be a fan of something. I was the biggest fan of music. But I’m surprised how many fighters don’t watch boxing, or they aren’t big fans of boxing. Or they pretend they don’t. And we’re both quite lonely, as well. We’re lonely people, so I’d say there’s quite a lot of similarities.”
“We are all or nothing; we don’t know when our next hit is, and our next release is like our next title shot. We don’t know when we’ll get it, we don’t know if we’re any good, we don’t know who’s gonna like us or follow us. It’s very similar. I wouldn’t go back for it. You don’t know if you’re good or not in music. You’re sitting at home, looking in the mirror, and you just don’t know. With boxing, you look at a guy like Sam Eggington and I heard he went into the gym just to be a sparring partner – it turns out he’s one of the toughest guys in the UK. He’s turned his career around nicely, man. He’s not far off a title shot.”
Eggington, the far-travelled Birmingham challenger, has become renowned for his exciting brawls. “… not if you’re his coach – he must be watching through his eyes, man,” exclaims Sickers, saying what Eggington’s trainer Jon Pegg must often be thinking. It is in this reference to Eggington, and in his claim that young, unbeaten Dennis McCann is one of his favourite fighters who’ll “rule for a long time” that the cult grime figure demonstrates an understanding of boxing stripped back a level or two.
He calls on Kash Farooq to win his rematch with Lee McGregor, promising his presence in the SSE Hydro, Glasgow, with a kilt on and a Scottish accent in tow. He refers to Joe Joyce as having that “Nokia 3310 chin – unbreakable.” And it’s in these glimpses of true character and comedy that his increased presence in boxing becomes apparent. Sickers has appeared in videos with John Fury, talking boxing and discussing Fury’s sons’ legacy. He has popped up on multiple platforms now, even referencing IFL TV as the outlet that “changed my life” when properly following the sport.
“There’s an IFL TV interview with Fury when he’s just about to fight Klitschko but he’s eating peanuts with Kugan [Cassius]. That’s the second I got really into boxing; they kept me up-to-date every day and you started to learn boxer’s personalities. You know them as brands, you know who they’re fighting, and that’s when everything changed. Boxing needed it. But in them [Floyd Mayweather] days, I didn’t know how to keep up with boxing. I’m a nerd; I like to read about it, now you’ve got IFL TV and Boxing Social. But then, I didn’t know how to keep up with it.”
Ahead of dropping his much-anticipated project ‘Sickers the Great,’ the artist who’s collaborated with some of the UK’s finest talent discussed finding his own passion, and what could have been without music: “I’d be picking and packing at the warehouse, mate. I’m all or nothing. I’ve learned from music that if I was to come out of music now, I could pretty much do anything I want, just because of the mindset that I’ve gained. It’s taught me a lot about life, a lot about mixing with people, being around people like Mike Skinner (The Streets) all the time. Just elite minds. I’m very grateful to music for that.”
“I loved American rap, so I was brought up on Jay-Z and Biggie, and 50 Cent. I thought we always sounded rubbish on American beats because of our accents, so, when our tempo fitted on a garage or a grime beat, that was me all over. I was like, ‘Yeah, I can MC now without trying to sound American.’ There’s nothing worse than a man trying to sound American, I used to hate all that. Basically, So Solid Crew, Wiley, Skepta, Dizzee Rascal and JME, when they showed me the way, that’s when I really started getting into it.”
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sickers had to watch projects with the likes of grime giant Dizzee Rascal side-lined. Again, he drew similarities with those fighters pushed and pulled from card-to-card, fighting in front of empty arenas, trying desperately to retain – and continue building – their fanbase. And now that both musicians and fighters have emerged at the other side, and while doors continue reopening, he hasn’t lost sight of his purpose.
“I put stuff in my lyrics for the little boy that’s sitting at home, wondering, and it’s so that he knows there’s someone out there just like him. He’s not alone. And he might not be able to say it, but I have the talent to say it, or the balls to say it. That’s why I still do it, bro.”
A welcomed outsider and knowledgeable source on boxing, you can expect to see Grim Sickers popping up at events, online or in print. He doesn’t need to force anyone’s hand, and he doesn’t need the profile. But he loves the sport and treats it properly. With fame-hungry figures tip-toeing out of the shadows in hopes of capturing percentages, it is refreshing to understand his motives. He can relate to the struggle of the boxer; both building from the ground up, under pressure to create and to perform, while never knowing who will appreciate or value their finished product. On one night, under the lights or behind the speakers, careers are created or crushed.
In boxing and in rap, you’re only as good as your last hit…