Junior Saba

Myth.  Folklore.  Stories.  For so long, the name of Junior Saba seemed destined to be filed away under the ‘what if’ category of boxers that promised to light the sport up, yet never received their opportunity to shine.  As highly touted as any prospect in recent memory, to this day people still recall stories of the adolescent amateur so bright in talent that his signed gloves would raise money for good causes.
But then the brakes.  The break.  Stories abounded regarding where Saba was, why he never made the professional transition.  Rumours of a scheduled debut on a Floyd Mayweather undercard, fuelled by stints sparring in the Mayweather gym out in Vegas.  Gossip about failed medical examinations followed the name of Saba, until finally the stories dried up and the hope seemed gone.
That is, until now.  Last Saturday night, to the surprise of York Hall and all assembled for Goodwin Boxing’s Strike Force show, Junior Saba was unveiled as the latest big name signing under Manager Steve Goodwin.  It shocked many.  The prodigal son, fittingly being brought out in a stage managed masterpiece of entire ring walk at the home of boxing, the announcement was made.  Junior Saba was turning professional.
“It was great” enthuses Saba when discussing the announcement.  “They put me on the spot that evening, I didn’t know until I got there.  But you have to be ready for these things, anything can happen.  It was literally great.  People said they have never seen anything like that before and I’m just grateful to have had the opportunity to do it.”
Not all fans will have been aware of who the young man sporting the black leather jacket and jeans combination was, what his story was or why there was a bustling excitement from those who did know his name.  As he confidently took to the microphone alongside MC for the evening Brett Hollywood, the message throughout was clear.  “This is my time”.
“I’m just getting my career on the road, taking my time.  This is a new chapter, getting experience in the professional game now” says Saba.  When asked about how much he has been in contact with the sport during his absent years, he speaks fondly of those who surround him.  “I’ve always kept myself in the boxing scene as my close friends I grew up with are involved.  The likes of Ohara Davies, Chris Kongo, Joshua Buatsi, Isaac Chamberlain; I’ve always been around them and in attendance at their fights, I see what they go through”.
The stories of medical issues aren’t all rumour.  There is substance around them, but like all good stories, the facts have undoubtedly been embellished upon by those that want to fill in the gaps.  When asked about his journey though, it is clear that Saba is looking forwards and not backwards.
“It has been a rocky journey, getting news that you might possibly never be able to fulfil your dreams, it’s quite a tough pill to swallow.  There were a lot of dark nights.  But I feel it was all a test from the higher power, God, to make me experience life and having to handle my own problems” Saba reflects.  “At the time, it was looking like I might never be able to turn professional but there were a lot of rumours that were incorrect.  I don’t really choose to go into the details too much, but we have been to see a lot of specialists to make sure everything is in place.  At the end of the day, the British Boxing Board of Control is the strictest governing body out there and there is no way they would sanction someone to get their licence if they weren’t safe to fight.”
It was with the help of Kevin Campion, Head of Boxing at Goodwin Boxing, as well as a close family member that pushed Saba to receiving his full licence.  They are people that he can’t speak highly enough of.
“Everything is OK now.  Kevin has been such a big help and big part of the process.  He’s a lovely man and I want to thank him for his help; he’s been in close contact with my cousin and they have really picked me up from the ground.  I had nowhere to go and didn’t really want to go anywhere.”
Having come so close to the precipice of being a forgotten name in the sport, Saba is keen to impart to others that have been through the same journey that what is important isn’t necessarily the outcome or the journey, but the people that help you through it.
“A lot of boxers, their dream is to become world champion.  But then when you get the news that there may be a possibility you can’t fulfil those dreams, it’s a dark cloud that hangs over you.  You start hiding away from certain things.  But I want a lot of boxers that have been through this to not be embarrassed about the position they are in.  It’s not their fault, it’s nobodies fault.  Nature can take its course but as long as you surround yourself with positive people that only want good for you, then you’re in a positive place.”
Are those people the same people that were there for him when he was in his ascension through the amateur ranks? 
“When things like this happen it really checks your personality.  You find out, do people really like me for me or for who I am?  It showed me that the people I had around me genuinely liked me for myself.  My friends who are at the top of boxing right now, they didn’t have to keep me around them, but because they are genuine people they don’t see me as ‘Junior Saba the boxer’ they see me as ‘Junior Saba their brother’.  It’s about keeping positive people around you and embracing God.  It doesn’t matter which way it goes, everything happens for a reason and everyone has their own paths.  God doesn’t make mistakes.”
When I query with him if that means that there weren’t bad influences or hangers on at the time, again he is only keen to stress the plus side to what he has been through.
“There have been changes of the people around me, but I don’t dwell on that.  It’s all about the positives that have come from the experience.  It’s not even that it’s the people I want around me, it’s the people God has placed around me.  I’m all about the positive energy and good hearted people.”
What is interesting about the Junior Saba boxing story is that he took a different path.  There was no aspiration of making the Olympics, the Podium squad.  He wanted his education to be that of a professional, even while still a child.  There was no better place for him than the home of the ‘Dog House’ sparring session, the Mayweather Gym in Las Vegas.
“It’s been such an amazing experience.  My amateur days were so different to anyone else’s.  I went to America at the age of 16 and just learned my trade.  I was sparring the top fighters in America, then tough Mexicans, Cubans, Colombians.  I was just learning.  Money literally can’t buy that experience, everyone in America is ready to go.  That was the path God put me on for a reason; I don’t know why that is, but I feel it made me a better fighter and a stronger person.”
Having had his last amateur fight “around 15 or 16”, Saba is still only a young man now.  Does he think that those years learning a different lesson to his contemporaries will set him apart when he makes that long awaited professional debut? 
“We’re going to have to see!” he laughs.  “It’s all good talking but everyone knows talk is cheap.  A lot of people have taken an interest in my career, there’s been a long wait around it.  The time is now, so we will have to see on my professional debut but I feel that time in America was perfect.”
The next time Saba steps between the ropes in front of a live crowd it won’t be for an elaborate introduction, but to fight.  The gloves will be on and an opponent ready.  No date has been set as yet, but as with any fighter, it is a matter of making sure the timing is right. 
“As boxers we always want to get in the ring, but that’s why we have Managers and Trainers!” he tells me.  “We’re all young, want to get in the ring and rush but I have Steve Goodwin there and my cousin, who is my mentor, just guiding me and letting me know there isn’t a rush.”
When that date comes around, does he feel that with such a back story and so many hopes around his ability, there is going to come additional pressure? 
“To be honest, I don’t feel any pressure at all.  The reason is, whatever happens in my boxing career I’ve already been through a life changing experience.  I’ve got a testimony to tell, I’ve got my family and my friends and genuine people around me.  I take every day as it comes and I know God wouldn’t put me in this position if there wasn’t a reason.  I feel it’s my calling but, like I said, we will find out on the night.”
Saba is still finalising his training team.  He is spending sessions at Miguel’s Gym in Brixton, as well as Moreno Boxing in Dalston Junction.  He is taking his time, making sure that a Coach is found that fits his style as well as his positive outlook.  The break from the sport has been sufficient enough that there would be no point in rushing his return.  Everything needs to be correct before doing so, the due diligence in all aspects completed correctly.
That thorough approach is what lead him to his new Manager, Steve Goodwin, as he tells me.  “It’s been great.  I’ve heard his name for a few years within the boxing industry and I have never heard a bad word about him.  It’ll be an interesting relationship as the journey continues.”
Whether the light shines back onto Junior Saba as it had once promised, only time will tell.  However everything is now falling into place, where in the past they were falling apart.  Where once the dark nights fell over Junior Saba, he now only deals in positivity.  Smiles, laid back approach, only those around him who add to his ethos.  Junior Saba has it to do all over again, another journey.  But he has crossed rough terrain already, tackled hardships.  For Junior Saba, the time is now.