While several thousand people traveled to Las Vegas from all over the United States and Mexico last Saturday night to watch Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez fight at the highest level, several car loads of people from Oakland, Ca. made the hour plus trip to Sacramento’s Red Lion Inn to watch a man embark again on his own journey. After a decade in prison, Bilal Mahasin returned to the ring to prove that he is a born fighter and fulfill his mission to become a champion. The junior welterweight’s performance in defeating Moris Rodriguez via six round unanimous decision proved that even professional boxing’s humblest of locales are capable of producing sublime moments that match anything produced in Vegas under boxing’s brightest lights.
Bilal Mahasin was born in the struggle that exists in American cities, traveling from Oakland to Los Angeles to St. Louis and back and forth again. “Fighting is my nature,” he says. Fighting in school and in the streets, he loved it when he walked in the boxing gym for the first time in Los Angeles at the age of fifteen. Bilal would work out in the gyms of the cities he found himself in. Never competing, but always training hard and sparring the best he could find.
At nineteen years old he committed an armed robbery in Missouri and went on the run. Mahasin describes the event as an isolated incident and says he resolved to change his life soon after. Returning to Oakland, Ca., he trained with Robert Salinas and his Excitement Crew out of Kings Gym. After just one amateur fight, Salinas told him he was ready to turn pro. With a warrant out for his arrest, Mahasin fought under the alias Manuel Rose. After quickly winning his first two bouts and working as a sparring partner for world class fighters, Mahasin was arrested after he won his third bout, which was televised on ESPN2: “They say they found me because of that fight.”
Mahasin was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 12 years, of which he served 10 years and two months. Mahasin is a third generation Muslim. Having found himself before his arrest and conviction, Mahasin spent his time inside prison acting as a spiritual leader to other prisoners. “It is my responsibility to help others,” he says. He was also always thinking about his boxing. Andre Ward trained in the same gym with him when Ward was an amateur. Mahasin points to Ward winning a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics as inspiring him to remain focused while locked up.
Out of prison and fighting for the first time under his real, Mahasin, 4-0, entered the ring in St. Louis Cardinal red and his long dreadlocks tied tightly behind his head. Mahasin was fighting out of in the opponent’s corner as the man who is not supposed to win. For a man coming off of an eleven year break from professional boxing, he looked to be in tremendous physical condition. He faced Sacramento trained boxer, 23 year old Moris ‘The Silencer’ Rodriguez, 4(3)-3-1, who wore white trunks and shoes and his corn rows tied in a pony tail.
If you are going to fight junior welterweight Moris Rodriguez, you better be able to box or you better be able to hit with authority because Moris Rodriquez throws each and every punch like you just knocked his mom down and stepped on her favorite hat. Moris is not a crude plodding banger, but is swift of foot and has a left hook that can drop a man with one shot. His losses have come against quality prospects. These are losses that Mahasin says he studied. Rodriguez is a tough choice to return against. But, Mahasin fought with a focus emanating from his presence that spoke of his purpose.
Rodriquez came out hard charging from the start, affording Malasin no opportunity to shake off any ring rust. Rodriguez attacked behind a 1-2 to the body to set up his overhand right and his left hook. But for all the ferocity of his comings, Rodriguez often neglected the goings. Mahasin found the range early amidst the danger, stepping back just in time and countering with quick hard straight punches in between Rodriguez’s wider assault. Mahasin was steadily walking the tight rope. The last punch of his counter combinations often landed flush to the Rodriguez’s head. Rodriguez threw the same combinations, while Mahasin would change his regularly. By the end of three, Mahasin was hurting Rodriguez. Round four saw Mahasin turn to the aggressor, walking Rodriguez down and keeping him in close range, landing the type of shots that made one wonder how much more could Rodriguez withstand. But withstand them he did. Several times during the remaining rounds Mahasin looked to finish and Rodriguez would storm back each time. Slumped in his corner between rounds, his team dousing him with water to revive him, Rodriguez was pushed to him limit, but always arose to fight again. The fight ended how it began with Rodriguez forging ahead possessed, having to walk through Mahasin’s hard counters, now crosses and hooks, trying to land the knockout punch that never came.
In his victory, Bilal Mahasin showed that he was a step above the rest of the fighters on the card, promoted by Uppercut promotions. He has the focus, reflexes, quick hands and feet, technical form and smarts to make a run at as a pro. How he does this with only one amateur fight and a decade living in hard conditions away from the sport, is a wonder.
When I complimented him on his focus in the ring he quietly chuckled and said he has lots of sources of motivation from which to pull. He is the last free man in his family. His dad and older brothers are serving life sentences. His mom is fighting breast cancer. He is caring for his nephew, a young amateur boxer. Mahasin views his life as part of a divine decree. These struggles are something he is intending to make it through.
“Boxing is a part of me. If there was no professional boxing, I would still box,” Mahasin states. Having taken no abuse in this fight, he wants to fight as soon as possible, “to prove a point.” And what is that point? “That I am a dead game fighter. I want to be recognized as a champion.”