Hamzah Sheeraz plots path to the top of the boxing world - via some hard yards in Dubai

'This kid is special - people just don’t know it yet,' trainer says of 22-year-old British Pakistani

Amid the respite of an air-conditioned office at the Real Boxing Only gym in Al Quoz industrial area, Hamzah Sheeraz makes a statement that could have multiple meanings.

“Mentally, you go to a place you have never been before,” says the 22-year-old boxer from the UK.

That could apply to a couple of things that have taken place over recent weeks for the WBO European junior-middleweight champion.

It is not, as it turns out, a reference to the football team for which he inherited a deep love from his family – much to his current chagrin. Although Arsenal, he points out, are a test of patience at present, too.

“I’ve ended up being a diehard fan – just at the wrong time,” Sheeraz says. “I’d have got rid of [manager Mikel Arteta] ages ago. I went to the game against Chelsea with [his promoter] Frank Warren. That put a real downer on my day.”

Still, though. His team might be struggling, but at least they have a nice stadium. One which Warren has picked out for a future world title fight for Hamzah, should the young fighter continue his current rate of progress.

Which is the reason he is currently in Dubai. The European champion will go for the WBO’s International title, against a yet-to-be-announced American opponent in November. He is hoping for a shot at a world title "within four or five fights".

His training camp in Dubai is actually a precursor to an even-more intensive one in Los Angeles, at the home gym of his trainer, Ricky Funez.

It seems difficult to imagine how they can simulate any tougher conditions than these, though.

Despite training in the middle of the day, the air-conditioning in the gym has been turned off. Sheeraz wears a sweat top, too, and Funez pushes him to his physical limits.

“Training in this heat, mentally you go to a place you have never been before,” says Sheeraz, whose professional records stands at 13 wins and no losses.

“It is not about motivation – I don’t need any help with motivation – but you need to keep yourself going and keep yourself in check.

“I did it in America first, and I was dying. I was in a gym, about two times the size of this office, they blasted the heaters, and I had my sweat suit on.In the first week, I was dying. Like for this camp - if you had seen me last week, I was finished.

“It takes about a week and a half for your body to acclimatise to the heat. It never gets any easier, but it is good for the weight.”

Managing weight is an essential part of any boxer’s life, but particularly so for Sheeraz.

The British Pakistani fighter is distinctive in that he fights at light middleweight – so with an upper limit of 154lbs, or 69.85kg – and yet stands at a towering 6ft 3ins tall.

“The heat is a massive factor, because I am massive for the weight,” he says of his reasoning for being in Dubai to prepare for a big fight. “To be 6ft 3in and 154lbs is almost unheard of. So coming here has been good for the weather, and the facilities over here are the best of the best in everything.”

Sheeraz has been coming to the city regularly since he was eight years old, which was coincidentally the age he followed another family obsession, and took up boxing.

His grandfather had fought, as had his uncle, who had a fine amateur career, while the youngster had famous role models, too.

“Being a British Pakistani, Amir Khan was the obvious one for me,” Sheeraz says. “I used to watch him on ITV, because at the time it was free, so I would tune in when he was coming up. At the time, he was the only British Pakistani doing it.

“And I used to go to the fights. I must have been to 10 of his fights, up until he won the world title, then after that he would fight in America and obviously I couldn’t go.”

Despite witnessing the brutality of pro-boxing in the flesh at such a young age, he says he never flinched when he saw his hero taking a punch.

“I was so young then, I was naïve to it all,” Sheeraz says. “I didn’t realise how much a punch hurt, how much a body shot hurts, and the sacrifice and hard training that goes into a camp before fight night.

“At fight night, all you see is the lights, cameras and the action, and that’s it. You get the win, and you go home.

“But it’s not like that at all. I discovered it at my first training session with Ricky. He said, ‘This is it, this is elite-level training, and this is what it takes to get to the top’.”

The fact Funez has taken on Sheeraz is a clue to both the promise and the character of the young boxer.

He has trained the likes of Shane Mosley and Ryan Garcia, as well as Jake and Logan Paul, in the past, but admits he had fallen out of love with the sport before the lanky boy from London came along.

“When I was asked to look at this kid, I didn’t want nothing to do with boxing,” Funez says. “When you invest years in a fighter, then they decide to leave you, it is heart breaking. If they go to another trainer, then get a big fight, that trainer gets the fruits of my hard work.

“Hamzah brought me back to life. He is a sharp kid, bright, intelligent, and disciplined, which is what I liked.

“Everything I tell him to do, he does. If he doesn’t know how to do it, he will try it and practice it. He absorbs everything.

“This kid is special, and people just don’t know it yet.”

Updated: September 8th 2021, 2:57 AM