Clichés are clichés for a reason.
Hamzah Sheeraz was just 21 years old when he took a step back and had a long, hard think about where he stood, how he was progressing and where he wanted to go.
The middleweight from Slough was unbeaten in twelve fights and had the backing of Hall of Fame promoter, Frank Warren. Plenty of fighters would have been content to stay in their bubble, happy to see their name on the left-hand side of the bill with a steady supply of winnable fights and handpicked sparring partners.
Clearly subscribing to the belief that you only get out what you put in, he decided to cross the Atlantic and place his future in the hands of Ricky Funez at the tough Ten Goose Gym in unglamorous Van Nuys area of Los Angeles.
Overnight he went from being a known prospect and a name on the scene to just another unknown fighter walking through the doors of the gym every day.
It was a brave, bold decision for a youngster to make and Sheeraz (18-0, 14 KO’s) had to prove himself all over again but three years later, it has paid off in spades. He has developed into a prospect with genuine world title potential since linking up with Funez and this weekend the pair face their most significant test yet when Sheeraz takes on the dangerous Liam Williams at the Copperbox Arena.
Growth is uncomfortable. Iron sharpens iron. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
See, they all fit.
“I’ve been there for coming upto three years now,” Sheeraz told BoxingScene.com.
“Initially when I went out there it was people from over here [the UK] telling me I’d made the wrong decision but in anything I’ve ever done in life, I’ve always made sure that I’ve listened to myself and my team. I’ve always stood by my own decisions and my own actions and I’ve always held myself accountable for everything I’ve chosen to do. I didn’t really listen to anybody. Everyone is entitled to an opinion at the end of the day. It was just a matter of believing in what I felt was right for me and Ricky as well. It’s been proven to be right to this day.”
Not many fighters on the British circuit command more respect than Williams. Almost every fighter who has sparred ‘The Machine’ talks with awe about the rounds they shared, marveling at his ferocity and aggressive nature. Williams’ boxing skills are often overlooked but he does have a fairly unique style amongst British fighters and stepping into the ring with him can be an eye-opening experience for up-and-coming boxers from these shores.
Out in Los Angeles, the gyms are packed with young, hungry fighters who have grown up with that all-action ‘Mexican style' of fighting. Sheeraz stands 6ft 3in tall and has a sizeable reach advantage over almost every fighter he steps into the ring with. He is accustomed to dealing with fighters who want to get close to him and finding suitably aggressive sparring partners to replicate Wiliams hasn’t been a problem.
“Oh, no. You walk outside the gym and you can find it right there,” Sheeraz laughed. “I suppose it’s one of the reasons why I made the initial move out to Los Angeles. That good, hard sparring and the education. Nah, there’s been absolutely no shortage of that at all.
“It’s nothing we haven’t prepared for though. It’d be silly not to prepare for that. At the same time, I know everybody is labelling him as some ferocious beast that I have to fight but I feel like I’m getting slightly overlooked here a little bit. Come February 10th I’m gonna put that right for sure.”
Sheeraz returned to Britain to finish up his preparations for the fight and last week he found himself on the media merry-go-round in a basement gym in Bermondsey, southeast London.
Press days are part and parcel of the job but they can be long draining affairs for fighters. They move from camera to camera answering the same questions again and again and giving their thoughts on fighters and situations that have absolutely nothing to do with the matter at hand.
Boxingscene.com waited until Sheeraz was at the very end of his media round and sat down with him as he sat having his hands wrapped by Funez. He seemed weary of the constant stream of people questioning if he is ready for Williams or how he will cope with the Welshman’s power and aggression. He clearly believes that people should be wondering how Williams is going to deal with him.
Sheeraz seems to accept that he is going to have to show people rather than tell them and although he expects a desperate Williams to fight for his boxing life, he thinks actions will speak louder than words on Saturday night.
“For sure. When you fight someone like that they’re always gonna come with their A-Game and we expect nothing less,” he said. “We’ve prepared for everything he brings but I do feel like everything seems to be so focused on him, I’m kind of getting overshadowed a little. It’s not an issue because I know on fight night I’m gonna shine but you’ve got to understand, I don’t just go to Los Angeles for a laugh. I don’t spend money out there just for the sake of it. I’m probably the hungriest I’ve ever been and the most ready I’ve ever been. I’m just buzzing to fight really.”
This type of fight is rare in British boxing. Normally, the task of finding out whether a fighter is ready to graduate to world level involves bringing a former world champion across to the UK as an opponent. They normally provide the ideal level of skill and experience to provide a stern test but quite often don’t carry the name value to catch the attention of general sports fans.
Williams is different. As well as having the pedigree to hold Sheeraz’s world title aspirations to the fire, he is well known and respected as a quality, exciting fighter. If Sheeraz beats Williams the world will open up for him but although he will have passed his acid test, he won’t be turning his back on the British scene just yet.
“I would say yeah but at the same time, you say ‘Yeah’ and then you get these opportunities to fight the Nathan Heaneys or to fight the Chris Eubank Jnrs and what not. It’s about me making that a reality now. There are endless opportunities but the first stop is Liam Williams and I’m mentally, spiritually and physically locked in on February 10th.”