Olu Babalola: former Sheffield Sharks star swaps basketball for boxing under ex-pro’s guidance
A former professional boxer wants to create more world champions from Sheffield with his new venture guiding the careers of young fighters in the city.
Ex-cruiserweight Izzy Asif, who won three of his four bouts in the paid ranks between 2010 and 2012, is preparing to unleash the first of four prospects signed to his management company Global Boxing Management (GBM) this weekend.
Heeley-based super-featherweight Frak Ali – nicknamed ‘El Fraco’ because of his ‘exciting’, Mexican-inspired style – will make his professional debut at the Magna Centre in Rotherham on Saturday.
If all goes well, the 26-year-old could be set for an undercard slot on Amir Khan’s Crypto Fight Night in Dubai next month thanks to Izzy’s contacts.
"He’s dead serious about winning titles, he’s not in it for anything else,” Izzy, now 38, said of El Fraco.
"He’s a confident, exciting kid and he will come to entertain.
"He wanted to turn pro two years ago but with everything that’s gone on we have had to put it on hold.”
Another fighter in Izzy’s stable may not have youth on his side, but makes up for that in stature.
Towering 6ft 6ins heavyweight Olu Babalola is a former professional basketball player who played for Sheffield Sharks between 2010 and 2015 and represented Great Britain.
The 40-year-old now wants to make his mark in boxing.
Izzy, from Sharrow, said: “He came to the gym and I saw him hitting a bag and thought ‘we could do something with him’.
"He took to it very naturally because of his attributes and sporting background.”
Izzy was a talented sportman in his youth, captaining Sheffield Collegiate Cricket Club, where he played alongside a young Joe Root, and trialling for Sheffield United.
Yet a sense of ‘what if’ remains over his boxing career.
"People still say to me ‘you could have carried on and done more’ but at the time I had so many other things going on it was hard just to focus on boxing,” he said.
"But I’m so grateful for doing it because if I didn’t have those fights these opportunities wouldn’t have come for me. That’s where I want to use that experience.
“I want to produce Sheffield champions. We are probably one of the biggest boxing cities in the country.
"I want world champions.”