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Ajmal Faizy – the boxer who fled the Taliban

Ajmal Faizy
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Afghanistan's first boxer Ajmal Faizy spoke to Declan Warrington

THE Taliban torturing his father to death wasn’t enough to force Ajmal Faizy to flee Afghanistan for England. That only came when the light-welterweight and his remaining family were warned he’d be next. Then only 13, Faizy, who by 14 had suffered more heartbreak and hardship than most could take in a lifetime, felt a responsibility to defend the same fertile farmland that had cost his father, Abdul Salem, his life for refusing when the Taliban demanded it for themselves.

Salem was taken to a barn, hung upside down and brutally beaten to the extent he died three days later. As his eldest son, Faizy then became their target and was also tortured, only escaping with his life, despite the threats against him, when his mother sold part of the land to sneak him to Kabul to catch a flight to Manchester via Dubai.

“They did me a couple of times,” Faizy, who grew up in a small village in Parvan province 70km outside of the capital city Kabul, told Boxing News. “I’ve got a scar over my eye, a scar over my ear, a broken shoulder. They used hockey bats. I could have died at any time.

“Losing my father is something that you can’t describe. I was really young. It was very upsetting. It’s your father.

“The responsibility – I knew if I had to give up what we had, there weren’t no food to support our whole family. I had a little brother. Back then he was seven, and I thought to myself, ‘I cannot see him starve to death’. You can forget a beating, but you can’t forget the guilt that you’d have.”

If those trials proved Faizy’s physical toughness – and he could reasonably argue that being tortured by his own uncle during “family problems” had prepared him for the Taliban – his mental strength would face further tests upon arrival in the UK. Unable to speak a word of English having not even known where his plane was headed, Faizy, now living in Lancashire, was detained until an interpreter arrived to translate his story and he was granted the status of temporary refugee. “My first three weeks [in England], I’m feeling like I’m in jail,” he explained. “I just locked myself into my room and that’s it. I couldn’t talk to no one because I didn’t know no one, I couldn’t speak the language. It was scary.”

Taken into care where he settled until the age of 18 when his foster payments ended, the family Faizy was living with then slung him out without warning with his possessions in bin liners on his back. “I wasn’t the first person they’ve thrown out,” said Faizy, who believes he could have been using his college course in plumbing had Barry Higginson – far more than mere trainer to his fighter – not nurtured him in the gym. “One Saturday night she [Faizy’s then-foster mother] went off her head and told me to get out of the house, started chucking my stuff out.”

That same night, Higginson, who has children of his own and had already developed a close bond with the fighter who described him as “like a father” in the local Fit2XL boxing club, allowed Faizy to move into the family home where he was given his own room. “He’s been really helpful since day one and I want to pay him back,” Faizy said. “I wouldn’t be where I am now [without him].”

Higginson, who says Faizy “boxes like a Mexican” – the Afghan admires Argentina’s Marcos Maidana and considers himself a pressure fighter – only learned of the fighter’s tragic, troubled past after giving him somewhere to stay. Questioning the frequent way Faizy would dramatically wake in the night and shout and scream, the two grew closer as the trainer, having gradually pieced together Afghanistan’s first ever professional boxer’s back story, took him to see a counsellor before inspiring a series of amateur victories. Under his guidance Faizy made his professional debut in October 2013 with a fourth-round stoppage of Oliver Rainbird. He would go 7-2-1 (4).

“I’ve been living here for most of my life now. I work here, I pay tax, I’m a citizen really. This is like my home now,” he said. There is another ambition: repaying a debt to Higginson, the father figure and first person to show him love when he arrived in the UK. “The only way I can do that is becoming something for me, for myself, and for him.”

Injuries have seen Faizy retire from boxing and set up his own business now.

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