Kid Galahad is looking forward to making a first world title defence in front of his home city fans in Sheffield, England, on Saturday, but times were not always this good for the IBF featherweight champion.
Galahad, who faces former champion Kiko Martinez, put his career on hold while he served an 18-month suspension for a doping violation from 2014 to 2016, and then had to regain momentum. He received a two-year ban, which was later reduced by six months, after he tested for the banned steroid stanozolol following his fight against Adeilson Dos Santos in September 2014.
Galahad (28-1, 17 KOs), 31, claimed his own brother spiked his drink with a banned substance following an argument. He returned to the ring in 2016 and registered eight wins to earn a world title shot. After losing to local rival Josh Warrington for the IBF world featherweight title by split decision in June 2019, Galahad won the same title when he stopped James "Jazza" Dickens at the end of 11 bloody rounds in August.
Galahad -- real name Abdul-Bari Awad -- went into the Dickens fight after 18 months sidelined due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the lack of action was something he had faced before.
"When Covid hit I had already been through a lockdown of sorts, I was used to it because of the ban," Galahad told ESPN. "I was stuck on an island when I was suspended. I had to keep working to make boxing work for me when I came back. You're best being over prepared rather than underprepared and I'm always striving for better.
"They were hard times, but I'm mentally a tougher person because of it. I continued training every single day. I didn't get a job and I was out for 18 months," he continued. "It was like revision for a test that you don't know when is going to happen. I had no choice. I didn't have anything else, nothing else apart from boxing. I put my eggs all in one basket a long time ago. It was either boxing or getting involved in crime. I had to make boxing work and [promoter] Eddie Hearn has given me opportunities. I had to keep believing when I was out."
The world title dream was something Galahad, who moved to England from Qatar at four years old, had chased since his childhood.
Galahad was discovered aged 13 by his trainer Dominic Ingle's father Brendan, the revered trainer originally from Ireland who died in 2018. The fighter is the fifth protege of Brendan Ingle to win a world title following the success of Johnny Nelson (cruiserweight), Naseem Hamed (featherweight), Junior Witter (super lightweight) and Kell Brook (welterweight). It was the Irishman who gave Galahad his ring name after a 1962 film featuring Elvis Presley and developed Galahad early on his boxing journey alongside champions at the Wincobank Gym in Sheffield.
"I've been around this gym for a long time, when the likes of Jonny Nelson, Ryan Rhodes, Junior Witter and Kell Brook were around," Galahad says.
"They were all either world champions or European champions and I learned a lot from being around them at a young age. I know you can't afford to get complacent in this game, I don't think Kell or Junior ever were that but if you look at Mikey Garcia the other week, you can he see he got beat by Sandor Martin in a big shock, he must have took his eye off the ball. Josh Warrington was also in a shock against Mauricio Lara [who stopped Warrington in the ninth round in a big shock] -- was it complacency or Lara's style?"
Galahad faces Martinez, 35, who reigned as IBF junior featherweight champion from 2013 to 2014. Martinez (42-10-2, 29 KOs) has suffered seven losses on British soil, but Galahad insists he is not aiming to better the wins against the Spaniard than the likes of Warrington, Carl Frampton, American Gary Allen Russell Jr. or Mexican Leo Santa Cruz.
"Martinez has been at a high level for a long time and he has fought some top fighters like Leo Santa Cruz, Josh Warrington, Carl Frampton and he's a former world champion," Galahad says. "He has so much experience and I can't look at what someone else's performance against him and think I have got to do the same or better. I'm concentrating on what I can do, not what someone else did. But I truly believe I will do a better job, and I'm going to do a number on him.
"When you are the at the top of the mountain you have to be more hungry than you were climbing to the top. I live the life, a lot of people say they do in boxing, but others don't. I'm always in the gym, always making sacrifices.
Galahad knows he must first handle business this weekend, then he'll set his sights on bigger, and higher profile opponents.
"I'm not really looking ahead, let me beat Martinez and then we will see what my options are, whether it's the winner of Leigh Wood versus Michael Conlan, Can Xu, Emanuel Navarrete or Santa Cruz," he says. "I can't wait to box in Sheffield in front of fans, the last time I did that was over two years ago on the undercard of Kell Brook's fight. Sheffield fans have been waiting for a big fight and I want to do a number on Kiko for them. I want to show the fans how far I have come while they have been away."