This is the big one. He wants bigger ones, duh, but to this point in his career, the stage he will be on, the TV platform he will be on, the caliber of foe he will face…this is new territory for Sadam Ali.
I reached out to the Canarsie, Brooklyn boxer, aged 26, to get a sense of where his head is at as he counts down to Nov. 8, when he will meet Luis Carlos Abregu, underneath the Bernard Hopkins-Sergey Kovalev main event, on HBO.
“I'm from Brooklyn, we work hard, we want to be at the top, and we know it won't be easy,” the boxer with the 20-0 (12 Kos) record told me. “This is the big one. I've been highlighted on HBO, but that was a long time ago, and this is where I envisioned myself being…I just didn't know when.”
Advisor Anthony Catanzaro and all of Team Ali has eyes wide open; they know Abregu has pop. They just think their kid has attributes which will trump pop on Nov. 8. Catanzaro told me movement will be key, and he likes his kid's hand speed to stand out on fight night.
“Abregu is a tremendous power puncher,” said the fighter, who lives with mom and dad, four sisters and his little bro in Canarsie. “People say this is a risky fight, but the way I look at it, I want to prove that I'm capable of being at the top. People say he's fought better guys, I agree. But I feel I'm better than him…We're both hungry, he feels he wants another shot at even bigger fights. I feel he's in my way, because that's where I want to be. I know it will be a great fight!”
Boardwalk Hall will be the staging ground for the clash, which features a boxer, Ali, who doesn't have a signature foe/win leaping off the page at you, against one, Abregu (36-1 with 29 Kos), who holds wins over Antonin Decarie (2013) and Thomas Dulorme (2012) and lost respectably to Tim Bradley in 2010. Yep, Abregu has danced on similar sized stages before, so we sort of know how he'll look. Ali, not as much…
“I have to be smart, have a Plan A, B and C,” Ali told me. “I have to be defensively aware the whole fight, because I could be doing great for six rounds, and then boom, he lands something. Things can change in any moment, no matter how bad he's doing.” I've seen Ali do this before, box smartly, with an eye toward winning points while retreating, so it's plausible he could do it in AC. Now, if Abregu lands the odd showy bomb and Ali isn't as busy as maybe he could and should be, it could be a hard hill to climb for him. He does move pretty well, does slip and slide pretty well, can dictate tone with his jab at times. He's pretty refined, so he could make the sometimes lung-y Abregu look silly at times? Yes. Does the Argentine possess more power and seasoning than anything Ali has dealt with? Yes. Will there be a time when Ali will be tested, will need to hold and clear his head? Entirely possible….Yes, this will be testing time.
Sounds like the kid, who fought for the US at the 2008 Olympics, knows that focus is a huge part of the right gameplan for fight night. Trainers Andre Rozier and Lenny Wilson and Willie Vargas are good ones to keep him apprised of that in camp and in AC, on fight night….
Ali told me he's been happy with his career progress; the righty, who can box smart, bang a bit, doesn't mind the odd trade, likes to give fans their money's worth, but without sacrificing recklessly, debuted in January 2009. He recently signed to Golden Boy, and Catanzaro has been patient and wise in stepping him up incrementally. Of course, there is a time when all athletes who want to leave a solid legacy footprint step up, and this is where Ali will be Nov. 8.
“I'm ready to step up,” he told me. “I want to be special, he wants to stay in the position he's in. This is my career on the line, I lose, it's ten steps down, I win, it's twenty steps up. I leave it in God's hands.”
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