February 27, 2021

‘I’m not a stereotype, I’ll do great things!’

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By Ed Draper

Last Updated: 31/08/20 11:26am

Akeem Ennis-Brown targets British and Commonwealth titles on Tuesday Akeem Ennis-Brown targets British and Commonwealth titles on Tuesday

Akeem Ennis-Brown targets British and Commonwealth titles on Tuesday

Akeem Ennis-Brown tells Sky Sports about punching world champions for a cut price, plotting his own path to major titles, and defying racial stereotypes.

Ennis-Brown, known as Riiddy Riiddy Riival, is fired up and focused on taking the British and Commonwealth super-lightweight titles on Wednesday night as the Gloucester fighter believes victory will force boxing’s power brokers to sit up and take notice.

“I feel I’ve been shut out,” Riiddy told Sky Sports. “People have said, ‘Don’t let him in.’ Not being attached to a big promoter, why would big promoters feed me their fighters knowing I’m going to beat them and ruin their moneymaking?”

If Riiddy, 24, prevails and moves to 14-0 with a win against the 36-year-old Commonwealth champion Bowes, he is convinced doors will open and his pay will go up.

“I’ve been pushed to the back of queue, shut out. It is what it is, but I’ve got my shot now,” he said. “And when I get the title, no one is taking it from me. I’ll sit down and see the promoter who has the big fights, the bigger roster, who makes the most sense for my career.”

He is not daydreaming of a life in the limelight just yet though. Riiddy’s been here before. The fight has twice been postponed – first time due to a health scare for Bowes and then lockdown scuppered the rearranged date in March. It means Riiddy has not boxed for 18 months and it has educated him on the frustrating fickleness of professional boxing.

“I handled the second time better than the first. First time I thought my golden pot was right there and it got snatched away from me. The second time I was kind of prepared for it and leading up to the fight I had it in the back of my mind with COVID that maybe it wouldn’t happen.

“Until I get Bowes in the ring, even if he’s walking to the ring, I know there’s still a chance it might not happen.”

When they do meet, Riiddy is confident of besting a man who looks similar to him on paper. Both men are tall for the 10-stone division at 5ft 11in. Both are southpaws and both look to be technicians rather than one-shot finishers.

Undefeated Riiddy has one stoppage victory from 13 wins while the more experienced Bowes (20-3) has closed the show early in just three of his contests to date.

“It’s going to be me just being a lot better and a lot slicker,” Riiddy said in an assured tone. “I’ve dealt with bangers, I’ve dealt with pressure fighters. I’ve dealt with tall, rangy fighters. I’ve dealt with ABA styles, and now it’s time for me to see how I deal with a guy who has a similar style to me.”

Riiddy’s skillset has been enhanced by a bulging portfolio of illustrious sparring assignments. Again, he’s under no illusion his modest level of fame means boxers have been allowed to get his services on the relative cheap.

“I sparred with Josh Taylor ahead of the Regis Prograis fight because he needed a southpaw. I learned a lot from him. I’ve been in with Jorge Linares, Lee Selby, Luke Campbell, Ohara Davies, Joe Cordina, all these top fighters.

Unified champion Josh Taylor has traded punches in sparring with Ennis-Brown Unified champion Josh Taylor has traded punches in sparring with Ennis-Brown

Unified champion Josh Taylor has traded punches in sparring with Ennis-Brown

“When I can say ‘I can beat the best,’ I have to believe it to myself and I’ve backed it up. Because I haven’t got the biggest profile, I don’t charge that much for sparring. So they’re getting world-level sparring from me at a prospect’s price.”

Riiddy’s boxing education began as a sparring partner to less-storied opponents. His big brother, Shugz was his first coach and mentor long before he ever entered a recognised gym.

“He’d get me people to spar, his friends and other older people and he’d take bets. From 10 years old I’d be sparring 15 or 16-year-olds and then grown men when I was a teenager, just ‘average Joes’, but tough guys.”

Shuggz’s influence on Riiddy transcends boxing tutelage.

“He’s about four years older than me. He was so wise, beyond his years. He was a father figure for me. My mum and dad separated. My dad was great, but I spent a lot of time with my brother.”

Riiddy’s official boxing career has been moulded since his mid-teens by his trainer, Jon Pitman. Again, like Riiddy’s deep loyalty to his brother, he has remained committed to Pitman in the face of suggestions he should court a famous trainer.

“People say, I should look for a bigger name. But they don’t understand. Jon’s been with me since I was 14. We were saying the other day, we could write a book. It’s been a rollercoaster. Even his Mrs said to me, ‘Sometimes it’s like we’re both married to him!'”

Riiddy is now playing the role of mentor himself to his own son, Kardelle, and lockdown has provided ample time for him to hone his fathering skills.

“I love kids, but it can be tough. He’s just turned four. He’s talking loads, he’s hyper. But the time I’ve got to spend with him in lockdown has been great. We watch the boxing together.”

Riiddy himself appears financially aware beyond his years. While he rues the loss of money spent on the camps for the aborted Bowes fights, he says he has survived lockdown due to savings. He also expresses gratitude to the sponsors, Gloucester businesses, who have stood loyal to him.

The pause for the pandemic and the global attention on the Black Lives Matter movement has led Riiddy to reflect on his own upbringing in provincial England.

“It was okay. I grew up in a white school. My area was mostly white. I grew up with white friends, believing everyone is just human. That’s how I was raised. Did I face racism? From a youth to becoming an adult? Yes. I’ve been called racist names.

“I’ve also felt racism when people try and control you in a certain way, stop you getting something. I’ve never sat down and said ‘Boo-hoo me.’ It makes me stronger, makes me determined to prove to everybody else that I’m not a stereotype, there are black guys who can do great things.”

Riiddy is optimistic the current campaign for greater equality will yield lasting change because of its unified backing.

“I’m happy that how much the movement is shining a light on this thing and I’m happy at how many white people are trying to support it. My coach is white. I’ve had black, white, Asian friends. My son’s mum is white. It feels like a change is coming. Something is happening.”

Something significant will also happen in Riiddy’s promising career, if he defeats Bowes on Wednesday evening, with ring walks expected at around 10.30pm, and he has vowed to produce an enthralling encounter.

“It’s going to be an action-packed fight, the first of September. Finish work, kick back with a beer and get on YouTube. I’m ready to put on a show.

“I’ve been out of the game for a year. I’ve got some catching up to do and I can’t wait.”