Constructing a fighter: Ibrahim Kamal

A boxer is rightly molded from the ground up, just like a skyscraper.

Fight by fight, brick by brick, slowly building a sturdy foundation.

Promoter Gary Freedman knows this to be true, as he aptly paces the young career of his pupil, lightweight Ibrahim (Firearm) Kamal.

Freedman and Kamal are just days away from a trip to Mexico for the slugger’s sixth professional bout, a six-round contest against local Jairo Mercado.

“He [Kamal] had 135 amateur fights, which is a considerable amount,” said Freedman, Monday morning at Cabbagetown Boxing Club in Toronto. “We are going to fight for the Canadian lightweight championship next spring. That is our goal.”

Kamal, born in Toronto’s East York neighborhood, but raised in Tripoli, Libya, has tremendous raw ability, however like any up-and-coming fighter, training, dedication and patience will ultimately determine the height of his professional ceiling.

To reach the first of his many goals in the ring, Kamal will now need to not only increase his level of competition, but also the length of his bouts.

After Mexico, the 26-year-old is slated to appear next on Oct. 22 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont., in what will likely be his last six-round tussle.

Then he will make the leap to eight-round matches and will need to perform admirably in them in order to earn a Canadian title shot, fought in a 10-round format.

“The ultimate goal is to become a world champion,” said Kamal, who began his foray into combat sports via karate because boxing and wrestling were banned in Libya. “But, you have to take steps. If it was that easy, then everyone would be fighting for a world title.”

Fans tune in to see stars, whether it is boxing or any other sport, and charisma, like natural ability, cannot be taught. Kamal has that unexplainable twinkle, and the crowd-friendly smile to match.

After a brief conversation, it becomes clear he is the kind of puncher who is easy to root for, and his humble beginnings make for a compelling story.

Where he began

Kamal’s father accepted an employment opportunity in Libya shortly after the birth of his son, packing up the family and leaving the relatively stable confines of Canadian soil.

Rather small for his age, and bearing no resemblance to his adolescent peers, Kamal remembers feeling like an outcast during his early school years.

“I didn’t look like them,” said Kamal, whose skin tone and features resemble more his Guyanese mother, than his Egyptian father. “I was getting picked on every day.”

It became obvious to the senior Kamal that his son would need to learn the basics of defending himself, otherwise his confidence would eternally plummet and his boy would be unable to hold his head high.

Resourcefully, a makeshift punching bag was assembled using a pillow and a sheet of plywood. Each day, the boy would thrust his fists, while his dad encouragingly scored the blows on a scale of force.

“He would give me a one-to-10 score on how hard I punched the board,” said Kamal, still dripping sweat from his morning workout. “I would never get a 10. He believed, if you get a perfect 10, there is no room for improvement.

“That remains instilled in my mind today.”

The family returned to southern Ontario when the boxer was nine and he first entered an organized gym at 11.

Already used to facing long odds, dropping his first amateur fight did little to dismay the bellicose youngster. Smartly, he dusted himself off, stuck with his newfound regimen and began competing in various international competitions and camps.

“Once I won my first provincial title, that’s when everything kind of came together,” said Kamal, referencing his 1998 victory at the age of 13. “In 2001, I made the national team, and then the junior team the following year.

“That’s when I began looking at boxing as a career.”

Where he may go

Standing five-foot-eight and weighing roughly 145 pounds between fights, Kamal (5-0, four KOs) is an imposing presence for many of his opponents.

He easily sheds the 10 pounds required to make the lightweight limit before each fight and wouldn’t look out of place if pitted against fighters of a division heavier.

Beyond physical stature, he has solid hand speed and moves nimbly in-and-out, always on his toes. Being a southpaw also adds another element in keeping his opposition off balance and in a perpetual state of discomfort in the ring.

“As an amateur, I built a reputation as a slick counterpuncher,” said Kamal, who predicts a knockout for his upcoming fight. “Now that I’m settling down more, rather than always moving, the power is coming.”

In his last bout, a six-round unanimous decision victory over the seasoned Maurycy Gojko in Montreal, Que., Kamal went the full distance for the first time as a professional, unable to put away his outclassed opponent.

“He tried to put the guy down, but couldn’t drop him,” said Freedman, president of Title Fight Promotions. “The guy [Gojko] absorbed the punches, and was able to stay in there.”

Hardest fights to come

After coming out on the winning end of his most considerable challenge to date, Kamal is poignantly eyeing his next trip through the ropes, knowing his stiffest tests are yet to come.

In time, a moment of true adversity will present itself as at one point or another, every boxer finds himself backed into a corner, desperately seeking a way out.

Freedman won’t accurately know what he has in Kamal until he survives such alarming encounters, but gradually increasing the difficulty in his competition is certainly the best way to prepare.

Rey Morales currently acts as a stand-in trainer for the fighter, until Freedman locks in a new handler for his pugilist.

“He has all the natural abilities, the speed, power and the right attitude,” said Morales, who also runs an eponymous boxing equipment company. “He is going in the right direction.”

With another training session in the books, Morales, a former professional boxer himself, is confident his student is well prepared for his upcoming trip down south.

He also envisions a verily promising future for the up-and-coming fighter.

“I believe he can be a very successful boxer,” Morales said. “People will remember him in this sport.”