Amir Mansour’s Long Walk to the Championship

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The 46-year-old heavyweight still dreams of winning a world title. Can he upset the odds versus undefeated phenom Efe Ajagba Saturday night on PBC on FOX?

“Artful clobbering.”

That’s how Rolling Stone Magazine described the drum-playing skills of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. The same might be said of Amir “Hardcore” Mansour.

With an appearance that could serve as inspiration for a character in Street Fighter, Mansour pivots, slips, slides, and feints. And he clobbers. More than half of his first ten opponents gave up the sport after losing to him. Some, like Maurice Harris and Fred Kassi, never won again after they faced him. Three of his opponents fought for a title shortly after facing Mansour. More than twenty others have gotten shots at a title while Mansour holds a phone no one calls.

“I’m the most decorated heavyweight around to never get a shot,” he says, referring to his WBC and IBF regional and continental belts. For a man who started boxing back when Nelson Mandela went by 46664, Mansour is running out of time.

Next up for Mansour is, Efe Ajagba. Ajagba, 8-0 (8 KOs), was PBC’s 2018 Prospect of the Year. He and Mansour will square off on the televised undercard of the Shawn Porter-Yordenis Ugas welterweight world title bout Saturday night on PBC on FOX (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).

“He lacks experience,” Mansour said flatly. “But in his corner is one of the best [trainer Ronnie Shields]. I know I’m the B-side. But I still believe I can be champ – if given the chance.”

A good part of the thirty years since Mansour took up boxing were spent behind bars. His self-belief helped him get through those years.

“Every single day, for eight-and-a-half years, I told everyone around me that I would be heavyweight champ. They thought I was crazy.”

While in the penitentiary, he hooked up with former featherweight boxer, Calvin Davis. “One of the smartest boxing minds I know,” Mansour says.

That mind soon concocted a plan, as brilliant as it was crazy, to keep Mansour’s dream alive.

As a college student, Nelson Mandela took up boxing. In his biography, he describes the gym as “poorly equipped.” No ring, cement floor, no mouthpieces. Despite the austere conditions of the African gyms, boxing was one of the things Mandela missed being able to do after he was incarcerated in 1962.

Similarly, boxing, other than hitting the punching bags, was forbidden in Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution. It was a code 220, “high severity” violation with punishment that included being “thrown in the hole.”

Davis, however, believed in Mansour and soon started training him. Correction officers believed in Mansour too, and looked the other way when inmates sewed a set of cotton-filled leather boxing gloves for Mansour to spar with.

Davis would scour the yard, choosing from among hundreds, a sparring partner for Mansour. Some were amateur boxers. Others were weightlifters or athletes. Many were street fighters. Just about all of them could be called hardcore too.

Like the African gym in Orlando where Mandela boxed, there was no ring in Schuylkill. It was a mop closet, with a cement floor that they called the “sideline.” With Davis supervising from the door and the CO’s averting their eyes, Mansour practiced his violent art.

When Mansour finally left behind the mop closet, barbed-wired fences, and convicts, he walked into a boxing world full of con artists and broken dreams. A sport where they dangled the cheese, then, as you sank your teeth into it, you found yourself stuck in a trap.

Every single day, for eight-and-a-half years, I told everyone around me that I would be heavyweight champ. Heavyweight Contender - Amir Mansour

At home, his sons had been the recipients of eight-and-a-half years of teasing. When Mansour resumed his career, he bought ringside tickets for not only his sons, but for those who had mocked them all those years.

Also ringside were three correction officers and their wives. Once Mansour began appearing on local televised bouts, the warden back at Schuylkill would grant a “late night” so that his former sparring partners, and those who thought he was “crazy,” could watch.

Mansour, now 46, went on an impressive run. They began calling him “champ” in the streets. He’s involved with the PAL center in Dover, Delaware. Always candid and well spoken, he shares his story, warts and all, with the youths at juvenile detention centers in Virginia and New Jersey.

“I know what I did to the community was bad,” said Mansour. “I owe my brothers and sisters – black, white, and candy-striped – I mean, if all I can do is warn them, I owe that to them.”

For some, he’s done much more than give a warning.

Among the many faces he spoke to at Ranch Hope in New Jersey, one stood out. The kid was a fan of his, the counselor told Mansour and though they had never met or seen each other before, Mansour felt the boy had a familiar face. A few questions later, Mansour found out the boy was the orphaned son of one of his cousins. Within hours, Mansour was on the phone with an aunt and almost immediately, paperwork was filed for their long lost relative to move in with the family.

In the ring, Mansour, among the best over-forty heavyweights ever, would soon meet with one tough break after the other. Long counts, dubious decisions, layoffs, and short notice offers followed. His most recent fight was a September 2018 stoppage loss to Filip Hrgovic.

Mansour says he knew he wasn’t properly prepared. “Financially, I had to take the fight. And I hate that I was in that position.”

Still, he accepted the offer and tried his best because, it was his only offer.

For Ajagba, Mansour (23-3-1, 16 KOs) says he has been given ample time to prepare. Sadly, after all those years of telling anyone who would listen that he would become heavyweight champion, he no longer expects it. “I don’t think it’s happening. I’m done dreaming.”

Most people on the street already call him champ. The kids in the detention centers where he visits, they call him champ too. The inmates who knew him, who felt his meaty fists against their rib cages, consider him a champ. They don’t need Mansour to wear an oversized belt to know if he is a champ.  

When Nelson Mandela received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1998, said he “felt like the heavyweight champion of the world.” Mandela didn’t need a sanctioning body official to make him feel that way. Mansour shouldn’t either. Still, he’d like to make it official. If only he could get the chance.  

For a closer look at Porter vs Ugas, check out our fight night page.

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