On March 17, Sadam Ali stopped Juan Nicolas Cuellar of Argentina in the third round of their bout, which was held in Port of Spain, Trinidad. The victory, which came via mandatory stoppage after Ali had built a 22-2 lead, guaranteed the 19-year-old Ali a berth on the United States Olympic team, which will compete in Beijing, China, this summer.
The 132-pound Ali will be the first Brooklyn, New York, native to qualify for the Olympic team since Riddick Bowe did so in 1988. Four years earlier, in 1984, another Brooklyn native, Mark Breland, won a gold medal at the Los Angeles Games.
“I am very humble, but I want to come home with the gold,” said the mild-mannered Ali. “That is all I’m thinking about right now.”
Last November it looked like Ali’s Olympic aspirations were dashed for good. He served a voluntary three month suspension after testing positive for cathine, a drug that is associated with amphetamines. A team doctor believes that a concoction of medications he prescribed for Ali’s bronchitis led to the positive test.
“I always knew that I did nothing wrong,” said Ali. “I was shocked when the report said I took drugs. I don’t take any drugs. I knew it was a mistake.”
Ali’s attorney, Salvatore E. Strazzullo of New York, said the young fighter learned a valuable lesson from the unfortunate incident. “It showed Sadam how delicate it is to be a top amateur and pro boxer,” he said. “It showed that you have to always keep your guard up and know what’s going on around you.”
Ali, whose parents Mahmoud and Ayah emigrated to Brooklyn from their native Yemen in 1978, started practicing karate when he was 5 years old. It was only after he saw Prince Naseem Hamed, who hailed from the same country as his parents, that he developed an insatiable interest in boxing.
“I liked him (Hamed) so I started asking my dad to take me to a boxing gym,” said Ali. “I’d ask him everyday.”
To this day, Ali has never met Hamed but he has attained phenomenal ring success. A veteran of about 150 amateur bouts, he has won two New York City Golden Gloves titles and back to back national championships at 125 and 132 pounds. He believes he is the first amateur in history to win consecutive national titles in separate weight classes.
Ali and his father are both living the American Dream. Moreover, says the young Ali, he feels an equal kinship with his American roots as he does with his Middle Eastern lineage.
“That’s what I am, so that’s who I am in the ring,” said the young Ali. “That’s what America is about.”
Moreover, the sensible teenager says that even though he spent the vast majority of his formative years preparing for Olympic glory, he doesn’t feel as if he missed out on anything.
“I did everything I wanted to do,” said Ali. “I don’t feel like I sacrificed anything.”
“We come from a close-knit family,” added Ali’s father, who is in the real estate business. “No streets, no hanging out doing nothing and getting in trouble. He’d go to train, and I’d take him. He was always very dedicated, from the beginning.”
Although Ali left Canarsie High School in Brooklyn because of his boxing obligations, he did graduate from a high school near the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. At some point down the road, he says he would like to attend college to study business.
“I like school, but I hate homework,” he said. “But I know how important a college education is, even if I’m going to turn pro.”
Ali is scheduled to next box in a dual match against Puerto Rico in Philadelphia on April 26. His father says that he has already ordered two to three buses to transport his son’s Brooklyn fans and family members to the City of Brotherly Love.
Regardless of the outcome of that fight, as well as any other fights Ali will have prior to the Olympics, he will be the United States 132 pound representative in Beijing.
Having sparred with such talented professional contenders and champions as Gary Stark Jr., Luis Collazo, Zab Judah and Curtis Stevens at various Brooklyn gyms, there is little that Ali has not seen in the ring. All of that invaluable experience will serve him well as he goes for the gold.
“My goal is to get the gold in China, and then have a successful pro career,” said Ali, who, not surprisingly, believes that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is the best pound for pound fighter in the world today.
Mayweather Jr. might be the best right now, but Ali’s favorite all-time fighter is another Olympic gold medalist and professional champion with the same last name: Muhammad Ali.
Sadam’s emotional connection to Muhammad runs a lot deeper than the fact that they share surnames.
“When I hear people chant my name, I think of him,” said Sadam. “Knowing we have the same last names, and hearing people say it, gives me an energy boost. It makes me more determined and I fight harder. It makes me feel like a champion.”