Growing up, I always watched boxing because that was my brother Rustam’s sport.
He and I never watched amateur boxing. Whether it was on YouTube or TV, it was always professional boxing that we would watch. Before I even took up boxing myself, I had seen only one amateur match. In that fight, my brother stopped his opponent in the first round.
When I was a kid, I did not know the difference between amateur and pro boxing, except of course, that professional boxers were shirtless and wore no headgear, whereas amateurs fought with red or blue tank tops and headgear. But I had no idea about managers, promoters, match makers, about the payments after each fight, etc.
I wanted to turn pro after the year 2014. I had already won three national titles and I was on the senior national team. So at this time I was expecting to make some money out of boxing, because this was my job, after all, and I worked at it, training full time. Rustam, meanwhile, was working to support me. I had no monthly salary, I had to cover more than half the costs of my international trips. I was representing our country, and I won medals at most international tournaments, but there was always a financial shortfall.
The applause, the warm wishes and congratulations, the medal or the trophy was never enough. There were times that Rustam would have to work two jobs to keep bread on the family table, and that's what bothered me. Seeing him struggle while I was enjoying success in my career, and travelling to different countries, that really began to eat at me.
My brother gave up his sport of boxing in order to bring home paycheques, and I have always known that he wanted to pursue his boxing career as much as I did, because he was a very talented boxer. But as the man of our house, he had to work, and so he gave up his dreams for our family.
Brother knows best
In 2014 I told Rustam, “I want to turn pro. I want to make some money through what I am good at, and I know I can be the best.”
He would hear none of that. Rustam would shut that down and tell me I am too young, I still need to grow. I needed to go to the Olympics and then maybe we could talk about it. He would always tell me, “Don’t worry about working, boxing is your job. You just keep training and let me do the working and one day when you become a world champion, then you can help and maybe then I won’t have to work as much anymore.”
My father passed away when I was seven years old. My mother, Alla raised us (my two older sisters, me and my brother, and my younger niece) on her own. I always think of her when I have no more strength left.
For a single mother to raise five kids all alone is not an easy thing — especially to do so while immigrating to an entirely new country not knowing the culture or the language.
Little did I know that I was going to be a boxer. Rustam started boxing here in Canada, and he would sometimes take me with him so I could learn to defend myself.
And to be honest, I hated it. I couldn't stand it. Sometimes I would pretend to be asleep so I would skip the boxing training, but eventually my brother caught on to my tricks and forced me to come train with him.
After learning the proper technique and winning a couple of fights, I started to enjoy it, and I kept training in both soccer and boxing. I would literally be training every minute after school.
I worked hard at boxing and soccer practices and I loved them both. The result is, I have feet and hands now, and that’s a hell of a combination. Fighters always tell you “feet are one of the most important tools in boxing.”
Eventually, I had to leave behind one sport and choose one sport to pursue because it was becoming impossible to balance both, and that was the toughest decision I ever had to make. Obviously, I chose boxing, and I don’t regret it. The results speak for themselves.
I have been to three world championships and two Continentals (which take place every two years), I have been to the PanAm Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. Qualifying for these tournaments took a lot of hard work and training in the gym. I have beaten Olympic and world medallists and I am now more than ready to turn pro.
Of course, I could stay amateur for the next Olympic cycle, but with Boxing Canada’s centralization program, which demands that I move to Montreal, and the lack of funding and support we get from the boxing organization, there is no point in me wasting another three years.
It's time to turn pro.