Switching from the felonious streets of Newham to the tame town of Stevenage created an amateur boxing champion and now an emerging professional prospect in 23-year-old middleweight Bolu Kareem.
A young Bolu went from having any number of opponents to fight with in the mean streets of E16 to finding himself with no prospect of any scraps at all when he switched to the safe suburbs of Stevenage. The lack of fighting caused such itchy knuckles in the teenage streetfighter that the boxing gym soon beckoned, and he’s never looked back.
Bolu was born and raised in Upton Park, East London, a stone’s throw from West Ham FC’s Boleyn Ground, an area synonymous for being deeply engaged in the deadly post code wars that have claimed countless teenage lives to knife crime in the unending, fatal gang wars that have gripped the country’s capital for decades now.
A young Christian from a good family, who always succeeded in his school studies and carried himself in a polite and respectful way, was found to be scrapping in the streets all too often and had never seen the inside of a boxing gym before.
“Before I started boxing, I had loads of fights,” Kareem openly confessed. “I weren’t part of a gang, I never had that gang mentality, but I literally just kept getting into scraps all the time.
“It sounds worse than it is, because I wasn’t a bad kid, but I just used to fight a lot. I guess I was a good kid around bad kids, if you like.
“I didn’t get bullied, but people would try to. It wasn’t me going around picking the fights, absolutely not, no way, I’m a well-mannered, nice person, but I would never turn down a fight neither and trouble weren’t hard to come by in my area.”
Statistics show that the borough of Newham is ranked in the top 10 districts for the highest rates of crime in the UK.
“There were lots of gangs around, everywhere you looked there was trouble, but I was never a gang member or ever had that gang mentality, it just wasn’t me, I never got mixed up in that.
“Gang mentality boys have no heart and they wouldn’t fight unless they had numbers behind them or weapons in their hands. I’d fight someone one on one, but then more of their people would join in and I’d just carry on punching.
“I used to love fighting so much, but boxing is a far cleaner, safer environment to do it in, which makes a lot more sense.”
The catalyst for the change in scenery came when tragedy struck too close to home for Kareem’s caring and protective parents.
“A friend that used to live on my block died in a knife crime attack, it was quite close to home, so it was a bit of a shock and a wakeup call," he remembered.
“I went to the same school as him and my parents went around to give their condolences to their family and just kind of decided to leave the area after that.
“It was rough area, anywhere you went there was knife crime, drugs, gangs… back then the post code wars were way worse than they are now.
“Both my parents worked in North London, so Stevenage wasn’t too far from there, so that’s how we ended up there.”
It was this life-changing transition from a bad area, prevalent in knife crime and gang warfare, to a safer environment in Stevenage, where parks have been recognised by the Green Flag Award charity as among the cleanest and safest in Britain, that turned a streetfighter into a pugilist.
“When I left the area, there was no one around to fight! I always used to fight people in East London – well people used to fight me – but it’s not the same kind of area as Newham, so I had no one to fight!”
It was this lack of activity and absence of using his fists regularly that caused Kareem to enter a boxing gym for the first time in his young life.
“As soon as I left school and left the area, I went to college and just went to a boxing gym in Stevenage one day. I got in the ring and sparred the second day I was there and really enjoyed it.
“It was an MMA gym, but boxing was what I looked forward to doing and didn’t enjoy the other stuff as much because I preferred to punch.
“I was about 18 when I had my first ever fight, so quite late compared to others, but I won my first 11 bouts in the amateurs.”
Kareem earlier mentioned that he excelled at school and he can back this claim up with a degree received at Coventry University when he later relocated to the West Midlands.
“My mum and dad are not together now and my mum moved to Birmingham. I did ok at school, I went on to study Business Studies at college, then I went to uni and got 2:2 in sports marketing.”
A natural fighter, Kareem soon earned a place on the university boxing team and began competing in national tournaments.
“My first fight in Birmingham was against a kid from the nearby Jewellery Quarter. This was when I was on the university team at Coventry University.
“I won 14 fights in total, lost four, and I stopped about five of them. I won the National British Universities & Sport Colleges Light-heavyweight Title, Central England Light-heavyweight Title, and ABA Midlands Champion Light-heavyweight Title.”
During his uni years, the emerging amateur champion became engrossed in his sport and quickly began to idolise boxing greats such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammed Ali, Manny Pacquiao, Joe Calzaghe, Chris Eubank and Prince Naseem; naturally gravitating towards them for their persona and accomplishments outside of the ring and equally for their successes inside.
Despite the distractions of studies and sport, however, it still didn’t stop the streetwise scrapper from getting into sticky situations.
“I should have got a 2:1, but I got stabbed around the same time as all the important exams were taking place. I was cut, sliced on the top of head with a knife after my mate got stabbed a few times at a party.”
He elaborated, “It was at someone’s house, a little party, and it happened outside in the road. I don’t remember too clearly, there were just people arguing and I was holding people back, but then I saw my friend getting stabbed and had to go over and stop it, and I ended up getting sliced on the top of my head, just above my forehead, but my mate was stabbed all along his body, arms and back.
“I took my friend to A&E and we all got patched up, I got my wound glued back together, so no stitches, and then I got arrested for it! We all got let off in the end though.
“I had a lot of people telling me to defer the exams until next year, what with a knife wound on my head, but I went on with it anyway and got a lesser 2:2 mark.”
Bolu can now proudly boast a short but successful boxing career with three titles claimed. Aged 23, back in Birmingham, he is currently seeking a pro gym to establish his base at to begin his professional boxing career.
After all the trials and tribulations, he wisely reflected on his background and upbringing and proffered the advice he would give to his younger self, “My advice to my old self would be to stay focused – that’ll be it, just don’t get distracted, don’t think about what everyone else is doing, just stay focused.
“And that’s what I’m doing now.”
For tickets to the debut fight please call: 07908 136733
To follow Bolu on Twitter, click here @bolu_kareem
Bolu would like to thank his sponsors and PR Manager Tim Rickson