Sadam Ali: A Star is Born

Anthony Catanzaro (far right) sees big things in the future of Sadam Ali (center).

By John Archibald

Something kept running through my head this past Saturday when I watched a four-round display by junior welterweight Sadam Ali at Prudential Center in Newark, a bout that saw Ali roll to a unanimous decision win over Jason Thompson.

Wow, this guy is unbelievable.

“I can honestly say I love to do what I’m doing,” Ali told me in a recent conversation. “I have a great support system in my family, friends and fans. Knowing they have my back makes me want to continue working hard so I can just keep taking this thing to a higher level.”

Ali was born in Brooklyn and began training at the age of eight years old at the Bed-Stuy Boxing Club after “Prince” Naseem Hamed inspired him to lace up his boots. He immediately felt at home in the ring and began to perfect his new craft. As an amateur fighter, Ali was a Junior Olympic National Champion, PAL National Champion, U-19 National Champion, and he was twice a New York City Golden Gloves Champion. Prior to the 2008 Olympic Games, he finished first place in the lightweight division at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Houston, becoming the first New York City boxer to win the trials since heavyweight Riddick Bowe did it in 1988. He was also the first Arab-American fighter to ever represent the United States in Olympic boxing.

“It felt beautiful to make history,” Ali said of the accomplishment. “Being the first Arab-American to represent the United States at the Olympics proved that it doesn’t matter what race you are. If you work hard and set your sights on a dream, you can achieve it.”

When watching Ali this past Saturday, it quickly became evident to me that he didn’t have any openly visible holes in his repertoire. Not only did he have quick feet and lightning fast hands, he had an impressive amount of power in his punch as well.

“In this weight class, there are so many fighters,” Ali commented. “You can’t just be strong or just be fast. You have to be able to mix up power and speed.”

With over 200 amateur fights and five wins as a professional under his belt, Ali undoubtedly feels at home in the ring, but his experience is not something he takes for granted.

“Some people say they don’t get nervous before a fight, but I’m not afraid to admit that I always get a little nervous,” he confessed. “The nerves I get, I like those kind of nerves. They make me prepared for every fight, and I feel like every time I step in the ring, I have a point to prove. I know what I have to do, so I just pray and then go in there and do my thing.”

The impressively humble Brooklyn native also admits that he never overlooks anyone who steps in front of him.

“I never underestimate anybody,” he said. “If you have the guts to get in the ring with me, then I respect that. As for my career, I’m going to continue working hard and do everything I need to do to get to the top.”

Two men that can vouch for the commitment that Ali gives to the sport of boxing is NABO Junior Welterweight Champion Paulie Malignaggi and veteran boxing executive, Anthony Catanzaro.

“We started training at a gym in Coney Island, and we needed some sparring as we prepared for the first (Juan) Diaz fight,” Catanzaro said of his first meeting with Ali. “Sadam was quick to jump in the ring to help Paulie work, and we always got really good sessions out of working with him. Being gymmates creates a new comradery and brotherhood, and we watched the relationship between Paulie and Sadam grow. I started to get to know his father a little better, and he eventually told us that he would like us to assist him with Sadam’s career.”

Family is something that has played a dominant role in the life of Ali, and that is something to which Catanzaro credits his development as a fighter.

“Sadam is a great person, and he has a wonderful family support group,” he remarked. “Not only is his dad a good businessman, he is also a great father. That type of solid support and love is very important for prize fighters. When any of our fighters are in the ring, we want them to know that they’re not alone. We’re right there for them every step of the way.”

As for the future of Ali, Catanzaro doesn’t see any limitations.

“The sky is the limit with Sadam,” he stated. “I can see him putting in 7-8 more fights this year, and there is no doubt that he is on track to be a world champion. I can honestly see Sadam winning titles at 140, 147 and 154. He is a very strong fighter with a beautiful combination of hybrid speed and power, and I don’t think he’s even grown into his body yet.”

While Catanzaro is very passionate about his fighters, he changed his demeanor at the end of our conversation to describe one of his favorite things about Ali.

“When he’s not fighting, Sadam is that guy sitting in the corner talking quietly with a little lisp and wearing a cardigan sweater,” he laughed. “He’s just sitting there looking pretty and dressed like a prep school kid, and I could see someone picking a fight with him. But when he gets in the ring, it takes nine guys to beat him up because he’s an absolute beast. It’s a beautiful thing to watch that transformation. It’s like two different people.

“The irony in that excites me.”

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