Just a few weeks ago, Josh Warrington took on Carl Frampton at the Manchester Arena in one of the greatest fights seen for years.
It portrayed the glitz and the glamour of boxing at the elite level. A pay-per-view show, a lucrative world title, a sell-out 20,000 crowd with the attention of the boxing media firmly shone on it.
It is a far cry from the world of the up-and-coming boxer, with most young fighters making their way up the rankings on the little-known small-hall scene.
One such product of the circuit aiming to emulate the feats of Warrington is Moortown’s Zahid Hussain, the current Central Area featherweight champion, who has won all 14 of his professional contests and on March 30 fights Sheffield’s Razaq Najib in a Commonwealth title eliminator.
After a short stint in the amateurs, which featured a couple of ABA novice finals, Hussain quickly made the transition to the professional game. But his beginnings in the paid ranks were only ‘professional’ by name. Any money brought in through ticket sales were used to pay his opponents and a lack of sponsorship meant he had to work at his father’s takeaway to provide a sufficient income.
“I used to work in my dad’s restaurant, where you’d be working late into the night,” Hussain told the YEP.
I enjoy the nervous energy of the fight and the best way of describing it would be to call it an addiction.Zahid Hussain
“It did get on top of me at times, going alongside my training with boxing and preparing for fights.
“It was stressful, working and boxing. Just simple things like turning up on time to both work and your training became difficult. My life just became rushed; I was rushing to work, rushing to training. I had a lack of sleep and I couldn’t give my body the rest it needed after training. It was awful, to be honest.
“To take the sport seriously and to be going to levels that I want to be at, you need to be full-time. Boxing is no joke, it’s not a game, it’s a dangerous business. There was no way I could be going into big fights unprepared.”
Without the backing of a major promoter or manager, the 27-year-old had to secure sponsorship in order to fund his career.
Hussain added: “I’m full-time now thanks to my sponsor, North East Tree Services and without them, I wouldn’t be the fighter I am today. They’re helping fund my training, pay my bills and enabling me to be a full-time fighter.
“Unlike in most team sports, you don’t get a weekly wage, in boxing you just get paid after your fights, which are only three or four times a year. Sponsors really do help out and without them, a lot of professional boxers would be nowhere.”
Shortly after securing his full-time status, Hussain fought Hungary’s Ignac Kassai at the New Dock Hall in Leeds – his first fight in his home city – but he suffered a potentially career-ending hand injury.
“I connected with him really sweetly with a right hand,” he continued. “It really hurt him and he was bleeding from the eye. I could feel the shock of the pain straight away, it was like a jolt through my whole arm. I threw the shot again and I felt the pain killing me.”
“I just kept jabbing him with my left hand and the referee stopped it because the cut was getting really bad.
“I was just relieved more than anything because I don’t think that I could have gone the full eight rounds with my hand in the state that it was in.”
“I had an operation on it soon after and it wasn’t something that had a 100 per cent chance of working.
“The doctor said to me, prior to the operation, that there is no guarantee that this will work.
“I really do love the sport, I think about it night and day so I don’t know how I could have lived with a broken hand.”
Persisting through injury as well as a gruelling schedule of training without a great deal of tangible financial rewards takes a strong mindset. As does simply stepping through the ropes as a boxer.
Hussain likens the sport of boxing to an addiction, with the violence of the ring being his chosen obsession.
“I enjoy the nervous energy of the fight and the best way of describing it would be to call it an addiction,” he explained. “I’ve not boxed for a few months now and I’m already getting twitchy – I want to make in the ring.
“A lot of fighters will claim that they’re not nervous when they’re in the ring. But, I’ll tell you now, they’re lying. Every fighter gets nervous, even the best in the sport.
“As you step in the ring, your nerves do fade a little and mindset changes. You’ve gone through all of that hard training with your coach but then when he leaves the ring, he can’t help you and your survival instincts kick in. It’s just and your opponent in there.”
But what about when the buzz of the addiction is no longer readily available in retirement?
“I do sometimes think about what I’m going to do once boxing finishes,” answered Hussain with an air of uncertainty. “I want to make as much money as I can through boxing and then put those into some good investments, that can set me up for retirement.
“Personally, I feel like I won’t retire until I’m around 35 or 36. At 27, I feel like I’m younger than I am and that there’s still a lot more to come from me.”
Next on the agenda for Hussain is March’s clash with Najib, a fighter with nine wins from 11 contests and on a three-bout winning streak.
“Razaq’s a good fighter and I’ve only seen him a couple of times, when we’ve been boxing on the same shows,” added Hussain.
“It’s going to be an interesting fight. He’s a come-forward fighter and a fit lad, but that’s all I can really say about him as I haven’t watched him too closely. My coach Keith Walton will do some research and we’ll work on the gameplan in training and look to replicate that in the ring. As long as I focus on myself and I train right, I believe I’ll win.”