After losing the vacant Commonwealth Middleweight title to Sam Sheedy of England, national and West African Boxing Union middleweight champion, Nigeria's Abolaji Rasheed a.k.a. Afonja Warrior, in this exclusive interview with Completesportsnigeria. com's JAMES AGBEREBI, bares it all on how he lost the fight, his experience fighting outside Africa for the first time and his next target. Excerpts…
Afonja Warrior, welcome back from England…
Thank you very much.
What was the experience like fighting outside Africa for the first time?
The experience was fine. My trip to England was okay, and I thank God that I had the opportunity to be there. And I am happy that I left Nigeria and did not disappoint my fans despite the fact that I lost the fight.
What was the feeling like when you first stepped your foot in England?
I was very happy, England is a fine country. Though I didn't spend more than a week, but the little time I spent there it was fine. You can't compare England with Nigeria, everything is working well. It's unfortunate that our government officials know all these things but are not ready to do anything for us in Nigeria.
What was the reception like from your family and friends when you arrived Nigeria?
Right from the Muritala Muhammed Airport, people were already waiting for me. Even when I got home, people came to welcome me and encouraged me. They said I did well that I should not relent, that next time I will do more than this.
So can you give us an insight into what your preparation was like before the fight?
Unfortunately, when I got there, they did not give me any gym to train. I was training in the cold.
Why? What happened?
I don't know. They took us from the airport down to my hotel, where there was no phone to communicate with anybody. I asked for a gym to train, but I was told there was no gym. So, I was forced to train in the cold. I had to put on three to four clothes.
Your coach or manager did not complain to the organisers of the fight?
We thought everything was in place before we got there. But normally in some tournaments which I have participated in here in Nigeria, when boxers invited from other countries arrived, they were given gym to train.
The guy that was sent to pick us at the airport just took us to our hotel and dumped us there.
Do you see it as a plan for you to lose?
I believe that was it. But I thank God that despite all the obstacles, it was not what they expected on the day of the fight that they saw. Because if it was not there plan for me to lose, they will not take someone from Nigeria and prevent the person from using a gym. It was until the day of weighing which was on Thursday morning that they came for me. Since we got there on a Monday, I did not see any of them.
After going through all these ordeals, how would you describe the fight?
After my experience before the fight, I believe I did very well because I don't think my opponent had ever had such a fight like that before. I denied him the opportunity to dominate me despite his efforts to frustrate me. He did everything possible to knock me out but it didn't work out. Even after the fight, some of the people came to me saying I won the fight but Sam is their boy. They said it was only a knockout that would have given me the fight. But it is not easy to knock someone out because he is a good boxer like me.
So you believe you lost because of an undue home advantage given to your opponent?
Of course, because the judges and the referee were all from England. So, I believe that was the advantage he had over me.
Is there any plan of a rematch?
Though there is nothing like that for now, but very soon I will ask for a rematch. Before I ask for a rematch, I have to be involved in fights and win before asking for a rematch.
How lucrative was the fight for you?
Well, it wasn't that lucrative, but I won't say I did not get anything, I got something. But I believe it was like a stepping stone to bigger things to come.
So what lesson would you say you have learnt from this experience?
I have learnt that next time when I want to go for any fight outside Nigeria, I must make sure everything is in place. Everything must be agreed before travelling. I will confirm from my manager and coach that when we get there there will a gym to train, that they will not just dump us somewhere.
What is your next target?
What I need now is to relax before I will start to train again because it is possible I go for another fight this year, but for now, I don't know whether it will be a title fight or a warm up fight. But I believe I will fight soon.
Looking at you career now, who is that boxer that inspires you?
Floyd Mayweather is someone I look up to. I love his style, the way he moves and again he is very rich. So for me he is my idol.
How would you say you have fared financially since you turned professional?
I would say I am managing because that's why the fight I lost is painful. I know if I had won, I know how much I would have made. My trip to England was to sell myself, and I thank God I did not rubbish myself. I believe I will become a world champion and when that happens, the money will definitely come.
What would be your advise to boxers who plan to go outside to fight for an international title?
My advice is they must plan very well. They should learn from my mistake, and make sure everything has been agreed before going for the fight.