Kid Galahad believed it was fated that he would beat Josh Warrington to become the IBF featherweight world champion.
For 16 years, he had given his life to boxing. Dedication had long since transitioned into obsession. By his own admission, he had few friends and was without a partner. Such personal relationships were almost impossible to maintain as Galahad would always put the sport first.
There was no contingency plan. From the age of 13, he had not contemplated any other career path: it was boxing or bust.
Galahad was adamant that a second chance at glory would not be forthcoming if he were to be unsuccessful. He was not a ticket seller, and his awkward style didn’t endear itself to TV audiences either.
He was unperturbed. Another opportunity would be hard to come by, but it wouldn’t be required.
Galahad would be successful because he had to be. Failure wasn’t an option.
Then disaster struck. Two of the three scoring judges favoured the work of Galahad’s Leeds rival.
It would have been understandable if the outcome had resulted in a crisis of confidence, yet Galahad remained as certain as ever. He won the fight; he knows he did. He reasoned that his critical mistake was allowing others to decide the result of the fight.
It is an error he vows not to repeat tonight when he challenges James ‘Jazza’ Dickens for the same belt that eluded him two years ago, at Matchroom HQ in Brentwood, as the main event of the second week of Fight Camp.
“I’m going to make it my destiny,” Galahad told Boxing Social. “I’m going to make sure my hand is raised, no matter what. When you’ve worked all your life to this point, to leave things in the judges’ hands is not nice. I’m not going to leave it to the scorecards or anyone else to make the decision for me. I’m bringing my own judges and I’m bringing my own referee into the fight, that’s my left hand and my right hand. I’m not leaving it to the scorecards because you just don’t know.”
Galahad (27-1, 16 KOs) made a similar vow ahead of his last fight, a final eliminator for the right to challenge for this strap, against Claudio Marrero. Historically, the 31-year-old had always been a risk-adverse fighter. This ethos was evident against Adeilson Dos Santos, when Galahad twice sent his opponent to the canvas yet did not attempt to end the bout. There was no need, he was winning handily, and the brace of knockdowns merely emphasised the point. However, against Marrero, Galahad made good on his word, demonstrating a more ruthless mindset, forcing his rival to retire on his stool at the end of the eighth round.
Marrero was just another fighter standing between Galahad and his dream. Dickens is more than that. The two boxers have spent a lot of time together other over the past eight years. In 2013, they produced a close, engaging battle for the British super-bantamweight title. On that occasion, it was Galahad who was victorious, stopping his Scouse opponent in the 10th frame. Since then, they have shared over 70 rounds of sparring. When Dickens was preparing to face Guillermo Rigondeaux, he drafted in Galahad to imitate the peerless Cuban. As Galahad was in camp ahead of the Marrero bout, he enlisted Dickens to repay the favour. Often in the build up to this fight the pair have been described as friends, but Galahad was quick to clarify that, for him, that is not the case; Dickens is the man the Sheffield fighter must defeat to fulfil his destiny.
“It’s not that I like him,” he said of his opponent. “Of course, I respect him, I respect any person that gets into the ring and fights. It’s never, ever personal with me. I never take things personal, but this is my job, my life on the line and I’m going to go in there and smash him. That’s just how it is.”
It would be easy to dismiss Galahad’s line regarding his life being “on the line” as an exaggeration, but that is truly how he perceives it. Boxing is all he knows. When the world stopped during the first lockdown, at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, little changed for Galahad. He maintained his diet, continued his road work, and diligently continued with his strength and conditioning work. He sees boxing as a year-round profession.
Earlier this week, Dickens remarked that he would not want to be in Galahad’s position, with the Sheffield fighter having not fought since the Marrero victory in February 2020. The Scouser was in the ring as recently as December when he defeated Ryan Walsh to win the Golden Contract final. Dickens believes this will give him the edge tonight, but Galahad quickly dismissed the notion.
“That shows the mental level he’s on compared to the mental level I’m on,” Galahad said with a laugh. “If he’s thinking about petty stuff like that then let him. Stuff like that doesn’t even come into my brain. When you do what I do, when you live the way I live, it doesn’t matter.
“I don’t ever worry about my fitness or my conditioning, how can I not fight for 12 rounds when I’m never out of the fucking gym! How can you do what I do, how can you live how I live and not be able to do 12 rounds? It is physically impossible. I know Jazza is fit, and he lives the life and everything else, but there’s levels to this. I just believe I do everything two or three notches better than he does. He lives the life, but I just believe I eat better than him, I sleep better than him, I train harder than him, I look after myself better than he does. I know he looks after himself good, but I just know he can’t look after himself better than I do, because it’s not physically possible.”
Galahad’s world is one of black and white. He speaks in absolutes. In his view these are not opinions, but facts. The Sheffield fighter is happy to explain his thinking. On this occasion, he knows he cannot maintain personal relationships while giving his life to boxing in the manner he does.
As Dickens has a partner and children, Galahad is adamant that no fighter can have such commitments while matching his level of commitment to the sport.
“If he did do what I do, he wouldn’t be in a good relationship with his missus,” he said. “That’s how you know, he can’t be doing what I do. In the press conference he said: ‘It’s an eight-week camp,’ and I thought: ‘How can an eight-week camp beat a person who’s been living and training like this for 16, 17 years?’ How the fuck is an eight-week camp gonna benefit you? That’s it. I really do believe he’ll come, and he’ll try, but I know, he knows I’ve got his beating in the back of his mind. I don’t care what he says.”
Galahad cares little for the thoughts of others. He is never afraid to speak his mind, regardless of who it upsets. His steely focus ensures his career will always come first. At the time of the Warrington fight, Galahad was aligned to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport on a fight-by-fight basis. Initially, Hearn publicly stated that Galahad won the bout and would support the fighter’s petition for the sanctioning body to grant an immediate rematch. However, when Hearn signed the Leeds fighter, his opinion on the result changed; claiming he believed it was close and could have gone either way. Galahad was quick to point out what he perceived as hypocrisy on the promoter’s part on his social media channels. The relationship between Galahad and Hearn soured further when the boxer refused to step aside to allow Warrington to make a voluntary defence against Mauricio Lara, when resulted in the champion being stripped of his title.
While it is unclear if such actions have resulted in Hearn taking a dim view of Galahad, there will certainly be one person in attendance actively rooting against him: Tony Bellew. The former WBC cruiserweight champion is part of the DAZN broadcast team, the streaming service which will be showing the bout, and is also Dickens’ manager. Galahad admits he thinks that these factors are not in his favour, however, this is not an unusual feeling for the Sheffield fighter. He is acutely aware that he is not the most popular member of the UK boxing scene. His journey to success is a solitary one, he would not have it any other way.
“I always believe I’ve got everything stacked against me in life,” he said. “No matter what, that’s my mentality in life. My mentality is not: ‘He’s going to do me a favour,’ because no one is going to do me a favour. I do a lot of things differently. I don’t hang around with boxers, I don’t go to events and associate myself with people, I do none of that. I’ve got no personal relationship with any of these people. It’s strictly business. They probably don’t like me because of how I am. That’s it. It’s me against the world, that’s how I see it. That’s my mentality, it’s how it always has been and how it always will be.”
The switch-hitter often talks about the mental aspect of the sport, as he believes it is the quality that sets him apart from his peers. In terms of natural ability, he was acutely aware he was not the most gifted in the gym.
Most of those who were technically superior have long since walked away from boxing, the sweet science asked more of them than they were willing to give. Yet, Galahad remains. Diligently moving up and down the lines in the famous Wincobank perfecting his footwork.
“When I first started [boxing], I wasn’t the most talented. You have to earn your way up to the top. When I started boxing, there were loads of kids with way more talent than me, but I had the mindset, determination, and the focus. I didn’t have nothing else, so I had to make that everything. I sacrificed way too much to fall short.”
From a young age, Galahad harboured desires of being exceptional. Galahad (then known as Abdul-Bari Awad) had been raised by his grandparents in Qatari capital, Doha, where he lived a privileged existence during his formative years. At the age of four, Galahad joined his parents and his eight siblings in a three-bedroom flat above a convenience shop in Toxteth.
While his childhood was a happy one, Galahad dreamed of achieving more for himself in life. Becoming a doctor, lawyer or any such well-paid profession never seemed a viable option. The only realistic route to the lifestyle he envisaged was by engaging in criminal activity. He quickly discovered he possessed a natural aptitude for such illicit ventures. By the time Galahad moved to Sheffield at 11, he had been excluded or expelled from a number of schools and was proficient in robbing tram drivers and bus drivers.
Thankfully, a chance encounter with Prince Naseem Hamed led to the youngster joining the Ingle gym. His motivation to reach the pinnacle of his chosen field never diminished; Brendan Ingle, and his son Dominic, simply offered Galahad a different outlet to achieve the success he craved.
“I knew whatever I was going to do in my life, no matter what it was – I was probably going to be a criminal – I wanted to be the best at whatever it was,” he said. “I didn’t want to be an average drug dealer getting a couple of grand. I didn’t want to be a little gangster on a road in Sheffield, I wanted to be known everywhere. That was my mentality; whatever I was going to do, I was going to be the best at it.
“The only people I had around me were gangsters and drug dealers. I was fortunate that before I spent too much time on these streets, I met Brendan; he changed everything for me. If I didn’t meet him, I would probably be locked up or dead. [Brendan] said to me: ‘If you get kicked out of this [school], you’ll get kicked out of the gym’. I think that was in Year Nine. Before that, I didn’t even go to school for a year! I missed the whole year from [Year] Eight to Nine. At first, he didn’t know.
“I was just lucky to meet people like him. Even things like having a mum like my mum, I’ve been fortunate. Some of my friends’ mums, they didn’t help them or guide. My mum is very determined, I get my determination from my mum and my grandparents. They are determined people, they work hard. Even my brothers, when they were criminals or whatever they were, they still worked hard, they still grafted. That determination, mixed with Brendan was a perfect storm. I was just lucky to meet Brendan, Dominic, John and Alma Ingle. They all played their parts in the situation.”
One of the last items Brendan gave Galahad before his passing in 2018 was t-shirt from the night Prince Naseem Hamed added the IBF featherweight title to the WBO version that was already ready in his possession, by beating Tom Johnson.
At the time, Galahad did not realise the significance of the gift. He is certain that it is a sign; that it is his destiny to capture the IBF belt tonight.
Of course, Galahad believed the same ahead of his fight with Warrington. As a result, he won’t leave his fate in the hands of the judges.
He knows Dickens is a better fighter than the one faced eight years ago but is certain that his evolution over the time period has been greater than that of his rival. Galahad is certain that he is peerless in the 126lbs division.
Galahad believes that the closest parallel to him is the great long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie. The Ethiopian won four world titles and two Olympic golds in the 10,000m and is widely considered to be amongst the most accomplished athletes of all time in his discipline.
Galahad knows that talk is cheap. As such, he won’t rest until he has proven he is the best.
“I just believe I’ve improved a lot more than he has,” he said. “Of course, it’s going to be a tough fight. He comes to fight. I just believe there is no way he can beat me. I just believe I do everything better than he does and I believe he knows that I do everything better than him.
“Years ago, there used to be a runner called Haile Gebrselassie and there was a Kenyan guy [Paul Tergat] who could never beat him, but the thing was, if the Kenyan was around now, he would have won everything, but he couldn’t beat Gebrselassie at the time. That’s how it was.
“I just believe that’s how I am. I don’t believe there is a featherweight that could beat me. I believe I will become a world champion. I believe I will unify the featherweight division and I believe I will be one of the best featherweights that has ever lived. I don’t make silly mistakes. Jazza is going to get mentally, physically and emotionally destroyed.”
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.