On Labor Day 2006, California Governor and seven times Mr Olympia winner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Joe Weider protégé, presented Joe with the Venice Muscle Beach Hall of Fame’s Lifetime Achievement award. Schwarzenegger credited Weider with having inspired him to enter bodybuilding and to come to the United States to seek his American dream.
Formerly known as ‘the Governator’ and huge action movie superstar, Schwarzenegger commented on the passing of Joe. “He taught me that through hard work, I could be a champion. Joe didn’t just inspire my earliest dreams of becoming the best body builder, to live the American dream and becoming an actor. He helped me make them a reality. He invited me to America to pursue my bodybuilding career. I will never forget his generosity. He wasn’t just generous with his money but with his time and expertise and he became a father figure to me. He urged me to ‘exceed yourself’.”
Everyone needs positive, inspiring and motivating people around them. I am lucky to have my own Joe Weider in the form of René Carayol. We met in the most uncommon of circumstances, but he saw the potential greatness that lies within me, just like Joe saw it in Arnold.
My mum, my dad and Mr Isola Akay MBE from All Stars Boxing club have all played a significant role in my journey. Many more along the way have shown me genuine love and believed in me.
I come from a deprived area in London that is unfortunately filled with far too many hard luck stories and the inevitable crime that follows those without hope.
As a 14 year old I had been expelled from two secondary schools, and could not see a positive future for myself. How could I? Everyone around me was negative and pessimistic about the future. I never lost the belief deep down inside that I could achieve something positive with my life.
The British boxing industry just didn’t have any faith or support available for me – so I was by myself. I had a dream and I have had to fight hard both inside and outside the ring to turn that dream into reality.
In 1985 I decided that I wanted to take up boxing, my parents, especially my mother, was dead against the idea. She’s not one, who believes in violence, but I loved the sport and I kept asking. Persistence is a key to being successful and that is a trait I had as a young adolescent.
In 1988 after years of asking, my mum agreed to let me try it out, and my father took me to the All Stars Boxing gym in Paddington, London. That’s when I first met Mr Akay, who constantly added fuel to my fire. I thoroughly enjoyed my first session and it enabled me to find my true self. This passion and commitment to the sport of boxing has never left me, no matter what the setback.
Much like Arnie, America was always my big dream and in 2005, I set out for New York City. I was a little scared and anxious, but going into the unknown is what has always driven me. I learned that in order to achieve your dream you have to try the things that others said could not be done. This approach will inform you just how good you really are.
From the start America loved me and believed in my talent. I met Dmitriy ‘Star of David’ Salita and boxing trainer, Harry Keitt on that first trip to New York. Dmitriy would fly me to America for training camps for many years to come, to assist him prepare for his boxing matches. He believed in my talent and nicknamed me the “British Marvelous Marvin Hagler”.
I met Stan Hoffman, manager to over 30 world champions, up in the Catskill Mountains during a training camp with Dmitriy. Stan believed I had attributes that could not be taught, but that champions naturally possessed. He would get me my first fight in America.
That fight led to me getting my break out fight with former world champion, DeMarcus Corley, who had just fought the now, two time world champion, Devon Alexander, for the world number one spot. I was a huge underdog, but I caused a major upset which would lead to former undisputed welterweight champion, Zab Judah avoiding a fight with me on the Roy Jones Jnr and Joe Calzaghe event at Madison Square Garden a few months later.
After years of going to NYC I needed a new challenge. I decided to take myself to Las Vegas to watch Floyd Mayweather prepare for his fight against Miguel Cotto. Again, I felt the fear of the unknown, but I just felt it was part of my destiny and went anyway.
Floyd was welcoming and I decided to return. Training alongside and watching the best in the business is something very special.
Sometimes you have to pause and reflect on what you have achieved, as many people and athletes never get as far as I have come. Every day I wake up and I am nearer to the dream I had as a five year old child. Maybe I am deluded, but being deluded and believing in myself has got me to the ‘mecca’ of boxing.
This year alone I have trained alongside three world champions; Floyd Mayweather, Ishe Smith and Chad Dawson. Dreams can come true but you have to believe, be persistent and work so hard. It is not easy to do what I do, but it is worth it. I inspire people to achieve their dreams but René Carayol, Lucille Treasure, Zachary Theophane, Tyrone Theophane and Dorothy Edwards are people I think of everyday and because of them I push myself harder than the day before. As the man says, “surround yourself with positive people and positive things will happen. Surround yourself with negative people and negative things will happen.”
Be careful who you associate with, as that can be the difference between success and failure. I’m currently in a gym with three former world champions who are now boxing trainers. They all respect and believe in my talent; Roger Mayweather, Cornelius Boza Edwards and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad.
There are two current world champions resident in the gym, Ishe Smith and Floyd Mayweather and many great fighters coming and going in the gym. I’m in the perfect place to reach my potential, but that also means that I have to give even more. There is no easy road to success and there is no-one to blame for failure but yourself. The real trick is to know that you have tried as hard as you possibly could. Then even failure can feel like winning.
The constraints and hardships I endured whilst growing up will not be an excuse for failure, in fact it has served to drive me ever further towards my destiny.