As a huge fan of boxing, it was only right to feature Gloucester's own Akeem Ennis Brown. Akeem, born and raised in Gloucester, has been boxing since the age of fourteen and is the current reigning Internation Boxing Federation (IBF) European Super Lightweight Champion.
This blog documents an interview I had with the European Champion discussing various topics in the life of Akeem 'Riiddy' Brown.
How long have you been boxing for?
I have been fighting since the age of four. My brother would teach me the correct footwork, the correct ways of throwing a punch and just generally how to fight. He would organise for me to fight other people like his friends so I could learn to defend myself in live performance. Fighting has been engrained in me since I can remember. At fourteen I stepped into Jon Pitman's Fight Factory and that is when I began my boxing journey.
Were there any other sports you were interested in?
I used to play football and basketball, but once I had that taste for boxing it took over my time and any time I had spare was dedicated to crafting my boxing skills, developing and learning the sport.
For people that would like to get into boxing as an amateur and one-day pro, what is your best advice to them?
I like to look at boxing as an apprenticeship. The work I put in on my amateur days was the learning part of my career. Now that I am in the pro-league, it's time to invest in my future with my team and make the right decisions for my legacy and stability. For anyone that wants to get into boxing, you have to be willing to put in the work 100%, believe in yourself and you can achieve it and most of all don't look for an approval within society. If you want it you'll do it because it's what you really want.
Anyone that knows you, knows that you have an extraordinary bond with your coach John Pitman, how did that come into fruition?
Well I first came to Jon's gym when I was fourteen with some friends. I remember after the first session saying to Jon I wanted to spar and he advised me it's not the right time. So, I came back for a second session and asked again and his response was still 'not today'. Then during my third session I told myself 'if this guy doesn’t let me spar, I'm done with this place'. Jon was reluctant, but allowed us to spar amongst each other (with my friends). I guess because of the way we presented and our attitude at the time we were just deemed 'Street Kid's' and no one was really taking us seriously. But once he saw I had something in me he took notice, I even sparred with a pro at the time and managed to hold my own. Jon pulled me aside and talked to me on a level about boxing; he saw the potential in me. But, there's more to the story; I stayed away from the gym for around two months. I had a lot going on with home life, street life and school. Jon always had belief in me and he invested so much time, effort and money at a time when I had no one. I'd bunk off school and head down to the gym and tell Jon that there was a school trip and I didn't want to go. He knew I was fibbing, but he preferred that I was in the gym rather than on the streets up to no good. I gave Jon a hard time but he never gave up on me, he promised he would stick by my side and ten years later he is still here. It's not what you know, it's how people see you and Jon stuck by me when he didn't have to, when my career looked like it was coming to an end and most of all he stuck by me when I needed someone the most. I've only ever boxed for Jon and I believe I've also invested in the gym to get it where it is today. We both have a good understanding of each other and Jon knows how badly I want this dream. Sometimes he's so motivated I think he wants it more than me.
How was your amateur career? For people that don't know, what are your record and credentials. Tell me a bit about that part of your life?
In the ammys I had thirty-one fights, twenty-five wins and six losses. I honestly believe that those losses were suspect in the sense that there was some unfair judgement, but I'm also to blame; I could have trained more or done more in the fight. I can hold my hands up and accept those losses. I got through to most prestigious tournaments like the ABA's and I breezed through the rounds easily but the finals were always where I seemed to lose. I mean they were all very close fights and unfortunately it was the case of not training enough and doing enough in the fight. To be honest I only had two solid seasons in amateur boxing between age sixteen and eighteen. I wasn't taking advantage of my position; I went out with my friends, to parties and being on road because I was young and because I was winning, so I just expected to keep winning. I let my pride and ego capitalise on my amateurs. Equally I was living everywhere from hostels to sofa surfing.
So, learning from that experience how did that shape your professional career?
The thing is, fighting in your home town is fine, but when you fight in someone else's backyard you notice how much more difficult it is to get the win so you have to do it by a large margin and leave no doubt that you won that fight. Unfortunately there is corruption in boxing and it does affect boxers and their direction in their career.
Yeah, talk to me about the Glen Foot fight?
That was an interesting bout because when I announced I would fight him people were saying 'I'm going to get knocked out.' and then I beat him on a majority decision and then even that was questionable, like the judges’ score cards were way off, but I got the 'W' so it's all good. People then went on to play Glen Foot down and say he was 'passed it.' I have nothing but respect for Glen, he's a quality fighter and we were looking for a match against him for a title but unfortunately that didn't come to fruition.
I remember when you fought Freddy Kiwitt and people doubted you then, how did you deal with the criticism?
I'm glad you mentioned that because it's so true. When I fought him everyone doubted me. My manager at the time had the impression I wanted to lose and go on to be a journeyman. The only people who believed in me were my brother Kane and obviously JP (Jon Pitman).
Funny how that played out because you went on to knock him down and then outclass him. Now look, you’re IBF European Champion, ranked top fifty in the world. World Title in the horizon?
Yeah for real, you have to believe in yourself man. I knew I had what it takes; I'm in the gym hungry and took on a guy undefeated in my seventh fight. I took the risk against someone that I was supposed to lose against and look what happen. By the end of 2019 going into 2020 I want to be in the title-mix.
Talk to me about the promotional side of boxing, I often hear about boxers having to sell tickets to secure fights - is that something you've had to face?
Ah bro, it's such a headache, the question is can you sell tickets? Because if you can't fill seats you have no choice but to be the 'B' side. Meaning you will have to fight hard fights and top guys with a lot of promotion behind them. Eighty to one-hundred tickets will cover you, your opponent and then you have to pay your team and coaches. This is why it is so important to have a good amateur career and build a following. Like I said before it's easy to sell tickets when you're fighting from home but fighting away tends to be more difficult selling tickets. It's hard work to sell eighty tickets minimum at £40 a ticket, people don't have that money to spend four to five times a year; maybe twice, but that potentially slows down my career. I decided I wanted more competition at that point in my career and decided to fight away, like I previously mentioned against Freddy Kiwitt. Everyone expected me to lose and become a journeyman because of the risk I was taking. A show runs on tickets, that's just the way it goes unfortunately, but if you opt for the risky option of fighting away the reward is better progression and attraction. Tickets are a phase. You can get through to the other side of the tunnel, then it can be bright. I'm still not 100% through it, but I'm on TV now so it's slowly less of a thing I have to worry about. For me there was no way I could sell that many tickets for the first ten fights I had to take the risk. God willing I came out on top and when you have God on your side nothing can be against you, it's all in his plans.
Amongst all the fighters you've trained with and sparred with, who sticks out the most in terms of talent?
Linares was the most interesting; very competitive. He has such a unique style and there’s no doubt about it, he’s world class. I held my own man and that's something that builds confidence. Styles make fights and he's definitely something special. The best so far, but not the hardest in my opinion and that's not to take anything away from the likes of Ohara Davis, Lee Selby, Luke Campbell and so on.
Do you ever look back and think 'WOW' I'm doing what I love?
I try not to, to be honest because I don't want to become complacent. I’m always grateful to God for the life I have. Sometimes we spend so much time thinking about what we want to be, we forget where we currently are. I think about that four-year old boy sat watching Rocky and boxing with his brother and then I think to myself if I told him 'you're going to be a pro-boxer,' he would be over the moon. If I then went on to say 'you're going to be winning championships,' he would be so happy and can you imagine what it would be like if I told him 'you're going to be known and loved by your city.' Sometimes you have to enjoy the moment, but never forget what the plan and mission is. I care about my legacy in boxing; something my kids, grandkids and further can look back at and think 'WOW, that was my relation.' I have to think like a business man though, I need to make sure when all is said and done I'm able to look after my family. People that know boxing know that boxing don't love you; get out what you want then leave. Mayweather is a prime example. He has a perfect record, good health, he’s financially able to look after generations of his family; he hacked the system.
It's easy to work 9-5 or everyday jobs, but would it be fair to say your living your love and passion? What is your advice on people following their dreams?
What ever you believe in, what ever is your passion, you know you got this. No one else needs to understand it but you. Everything's a gamble and risk but, if you have that ounce of belief then go and do it. You can do anything you want if you put in the work 100% and graft for it. Even when society holds you down and when people are against you, you have to learn to be on your own if that's what it takes. Living with a positive mindset will help your mind change, things will change, look at people around you that have talent and invest your time in them too. You can change their life as well as your own and be a mentor. Build for the next generation, be a leader and make more leaders. I put all my trust in God and believe it's all in his plans, win or lose, I trust his decision. I'm so grateful, I made an agreement with God that when all is said and done I will do his work. We have to better people for the next people in line.
Top three boxers of all time?
- Jack Johnson
- Sugar Ray Leonard
- Floyd Mayweather Jr/Roy Jones Jnr
Jack Johnson? WOW, I wouldn't have guessed you would put him in your top three.
You know about Jack Johnson?
Of course, the original baddest man on the planet.
He was the original bro, there's no one badder than him. The stuff he got away with in the 1900's he would have been lynched and hanged, but because he was such a bad-ass in the ring no one questioned Jack.
Joshua, Wilder or Fury?
AJ for me, think about it English, British and Olympic Champ. He built a path for the next generation of boxing, he brought the boxing world to England. Who wins? I think we’re going to see history repeat itself. Back to the era of Ali, Fraizer & Foreman. I think they’ll all beat each other but it will be the person who gets the two wins that will cement their legacy.
Finally, what are your predictions on the first of March against unbeaten Bilal Rehman?
I'm expecting a hard fight, maybe even the hardest fight ever. Maybe people doubt me again, but I always expect that. Bilal is a colourful guy, he's got something about him, but I don't think he has as much as me. I think levels will show, I don't think he has the experience I do. This is his shot, quite similar to when i fought Freddy. I've heard his interviews and he sounds hungry. I stepped up after six fights, he's only stepping up now. He's done it the average way fighting journeymen in his first ten bouts so, it should be an interesting fight.
Akeem it has been a pleasure and honour to have this interview with you. Thank you for your time and being Akeem 'Riiddy' Brown. You represent this city of Gloucester in such a spectacular way and prove people wrong consistently. I wish you all the best and I will be watching via iFL, I look forward to more interviews with you my man, all the best.
Akeem's first title defence will be on 1st March 2019 at Vale Sports Arena, Cardiff, fighting the unbeaten Bilal Rehman, live on iFL TV. With both fighters undefeated and holding the record's of 12-0, you can guarantee this fight is one not to be missed.