Bilal Fawaz – a Nigerian-born boxer who was abused as a child and trafficked upon his arrival in the UK – is set to make his professional debut against Vladimir Fleischhauer.
The former England amateur captain will face the Russian at London’s storied venue, York Hall, on Friday evening after overcoming some unthinkable challenges during his life.
The UK-based boxer grew up in an abusive Nigerian home – describing his parents as ‘brutal’ and referring to his childhood as ‘torture’.
Bilal Fawaz – the Nigerian-born boxer that was abused as a child and trafficked upon his arrival in the UK – is set to make his professional debut against Vladimir Fleischhauer tonight
When he turned 14, he was sent to London to meet with his estranged Lebanese father. However, Fawaz’s dad was nowhere to be seen when he touched down in London. It became apparent that the young boy had been trafficked into the UK.
Fawaz was imprisoned in a house in east London and continually threatened by his captors. He was told he could not leave the premises and that he was banned from attending school. As a result, Fawaz spent his days doing household chores.
Speaking about his circumstances he faced upon his arrival in the UK, Fawaz told Sportsmail: ‘Coming over to the UK was invigorating but when I got here I realised everything I thought was going to make me happy was going to be taken away.
‘I never thought I would be in a circumstance where I was not going to be allowed out of the house. It really hurt. It hurts the soul.
‘If you believe you are going to be given something and then that gets taken away from you… you feel empty. I felt empty to the point where I didn’t know what to do with myself.’
Fawaz managed to escape the ‘torture’ at the age of 19 and went into the care of the state. However, the Nigerian-born boxer faced a new set of issues while in the UK system.
The former England amateur captain will face the Russian at London’s storied venue, York Hall, on Friday evening after overcoming unthinkable challenges throughout his life
He lived in a hostel for abused and abandoned children for four years. During that time he managed to get a sports diploma and take up boxing – becoming national light-middleweight champion in 2012.
However, following his 18th birthday, Fawaz was forced to battle with the Home Office to claim residency in the UK.
The Home Office tried to deport Fawaz to Nigeria on two different occasions but failed to do so as his birth had been not registered in the country.
The boxer was also arrested in 2017 and 2019 and sent to a migrant detention centre – which severely impacted his mental and physical health.
Fawaz – who became homeless after the incident – said the second arrest saw him turn to alcohol. The boxer said he was only released from the detention centre due to his ‘medical condition’.
The UK-based boxer grew up in an abusive Nigerian home – describing his parents as ‘brutal’ and referring to his childhood as ‘torture’. He was then trafficked into the UK
He told Sportsmail: ‘They had to release me because of a medical condition. I think they were just toying with me. I think they were just playing games with me.
‘They don’t care who they hurt in the process. They know they can get away with it. They are still getting away with it. I am a victim of that.
‘If they had given me a work permit, my life would be unbelievable now. I could have moved forward with my life and done something.
‘Instead I was broken. I was an alcoholic, I was living on the street. I was also smoking. I have to thank Simon and Alison, they are the only people who saved me.
‘They came to me when I was sleeping on the streets. They came to me when I had no money. When I had nothing. They offered me a place to stay and they gave me some money. Without Simon and Alison I wouldn’t be here today.’
Fawaz said being stateless made him feel like an ‘orphan’ and that he has been yearning for a sense of ‘belonging’ ever since. He also reflected on how the circumstances had taken a toll on him financially – claiming he still has ‘nothing’.
He said: ‘The feeling of being stateless is like the feeling as a kid of being an orphan. Also, I don’t have anything to show for myself. I still don’t have a home, I am sharing a room and sharing bathrooms with other people.
‘I don’t have anything in my bank account. I don’t have a house. I don’t have a car. I am taking the bus everywhere. I have nothing to show. I am still asking people for donations.’
Fawaz said he could knock Fleischhaue out in the first round on Friday evening but admitted he wants to prolong the fight to ‘toy’ with the Russian
Some of the biggest names in boxing appealed to the Home Office on Fawaz’s behalf. Frank Warren notably wrote to the Home Office in 2014 praising the fighter’s ‘exceptional talent’.
Warren also offered Fawaz a ‘£330,000’ contract, but the Nigerian-born boxer said he could not accept as the UK government told him he would be imprisoned if he did so.
Fawaz told Sportsmail: ‘I was offered £330,000 by Frank Warren. All I had to do was sign on a piece of paper but I couldn’t sign. If I signed I would have been taken to prison as the Home Office said I wasn’t allowed to work or claim benefits.’
Fawaz believes he could have represented Great Britain at the Olympic Games if it wasn’t for the Home Office.
Fawaz was considered for the Olympic team ahead of the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Games, but was unable to join because he had no passport.
‘The Home Office received a letter from Team GB,’ he said. ‘They received a letter saying this boy is somebody we would like to help. We would like to choose him to box for the country. We would like to help him as he has an amazing country.
‘They asked the Home Office to give me a travel document to represent Great Britain. I was No 1. I was next in line for the Olympics. That means no one can take your spot. You are going to be the one they take to the Olympics. I qualified, I was ready to go. They knew that.
‘All they needed to do is to let me go. The Home Office turned around and said I wasn’t anyone special. I had to wait my turn and wait my turn I did. It took so many years.’
Fawaz is still confused as to why he has been treated so badly after ‘bleeding’ for the country. The boxer said: ‘Why are they doing all of this when I fought for them?
‘I represented them. I literally bled for you in the ring. I literally represented you against the country you are trying to deport me to.
‘I wore the England flag. I was the England captain. Even then, they turned around and said we are going to lock you up in a detention centre. You are not meant to be here.
‘I fought against Germany as the England captain. I fought against Ireland as the England captain. I fought against Sweden as the England captain. So many countries.’
Fawaz is now looking ahead to his professional debut. The 33-year-old managed to scrape together enough money to successfully acquire his boxing licence last year.
However, the global coronavirus pandemic meant Fawaz had to wait even longer to make his professional boxing debut.
He will now take to the canvas against Vladimir Fleischhaue as part of the undercard for Danny Dignum’s WBO European middleweight title defence at York Hall in London.
Fawaz said he could knock Fleischhaue out within the first round on Friday evening, but admitted he wanted to prolong the fight to ‘toy’ with the Russian.
The Nigerian-born boxer said: ‘I could knock the guy out in the first round. But, what’s the point? I want the world to see what I can do.
Fawaz also compared himself to Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali and Tyson Fury – claiming he embodies the best characteristics of each fighter
He also described Ali as it idol growing up and said it’s an honour to wear the same brand
‘I want them to see I have the capacity and the skills to go the distance. I want them to see me toying with the guy. I want to put on a boxing master class, that it’s just not luck.’
Fawaz also compared himself to Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali and Tyson Fury – claiming he embodies the best characteristics of each fighter.
Fawaz said: ‘I am not a muscle fighter. I don’t use muscle. I have a lot of knockouts on my record but I am not a person who uses a lot of muscle to knock someone out.
‘I am more of a tactical boxer. I am more like Floyd Mayweather. I am more like Muhammad Ali. I am very elusive. I am very calculated. I am very tactical. I am also like Tyson Fury. He has that fighting spirit.
‘I have all of their styles. I box in a way where I am tactical. I box in a way where I put them under pressure. I embody all of those fighters in one.’
Fawaz also said he grew up idolising Ali and that it is a great honour to wear the same brand – Everlast – at the People’s Champion on his shorts.
‘When I was growing up, my idol was Mohammed Ali. Now I am wearing the same brand that my idol wore. How can a refugee like me be wearing the same brand Ali wore? Can you imagine how huge this is for me. I can’t thank Everlast enough.’