Akeem Ennis-Brown’s career has been short. But the 24-year-old has already sprung surprise upsets on Freddy Kiwitt and Glenn Foot in 2016/17. Those wins announced his arrival on the scene and since then he’s bagged titles and beaten a string of top-quality fighters, most recently Bilal Rehman in March. That string of tough matches has helped to make Ennis-Brown the tricky, proficient boxer that he is today. Currently training in an empty gym, in an attempt to maintain some fitness and career momentum during lockdown, Ennis-Brown is convinced he can go much further in the super lightweight division.
He told Boxing News: “I like that fight [against Bilal Rehman] because he was a tall, rangy guy, he was unknown to me – I didn’t know nothing about him – and he was undefeated in 12, same as me at the time.
“It was a good test to see who was going to push on. The difference between us is that in my 12 fights I’d picked that hardest opponents. I wouldn’t say he’d had it easy, but it was just a bit different to my journey.”
Known for his unorthodox southpaw style and his ring moniker, “Riidy Riival”, the young fighter claims that his stylistic flourishes come from an unusual start in the sport. “My brother was my first coach really,” said Riidy. “He used to get me people to spar from the neighbourhood and as I got older he’d get me these big men to spar. That’s where I started to hone my skills.”
The image of young boys inviting strangers into ad-hoc spars will remind many boxing fans of Brendan Ingle’s famed informal sparring sessions. So the story goes, the Irishman would take Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham around local pubs, asking punters try and hit Graham, while the boxer worked with his hands behind his back. Or, the equally famous occasion, where all-comers were invited to spar Johnny Nelson in return for a cash payment – half of Sheffield turned up, the boxer said in his autobiography, but not so many stuck around to spar after they saw Nelson working in the ring.
Beyond that similarity, Ennis-Brown’s elusive style certainly carries some echoes of Sheffield’s famous Ingle gym or – as Barry Jones commented during his fight with Rehman – shades of iconic upsetter Kirkland Laing. Riidy is keen to carve his own groove in the sport though – shrugging off comparisons with other fighters, no matter how legendary. “I’ve heard a couple of people say that before,” Ennis-Brown says of Jones’ comparison, “but I do my own thing.”
The Gloucester man brought high-level professional boxing back to his city when he claimed the WBC Youth World Title against Chris Jenkins and now, sitting on 13 wins and three titles, he’s hoping that he and coach, John Pitman, can push on to bigger and better things. Having been scheduled to fight Phillip Bowes for the British and Commonwealth titles it seemed those bigger things were just around the corner. But when the fight called off – Bowes was deemed not medically fit to compete – Riidy was forced to consider other routes forward. The Gloucester fighter is dripping with ambition and not shy when it comes to calling out his rivals.
“Obviously I’ve got to deal with Phillip Bowes,” he said, “we’ve got our fight for the British and Commonwealth but if I could have my ideal one, it would probably be Lewis Ritson.”
He’s confident he could pull of a “one-sided” victory over the tough Newcastle man and it’s a clash of styles that fans would surely relish.
The one thing lacking from Riidy’s resume so far is stoppages. He’s only bagged one in his 13 wins, that coming in his fourth fight against unknown Slovakian, Csaba Bolcskei.
Facing Ritson would be an easier task with some notable power shots in the armoury, but Ennis-Brown is convinced that that power – and the ability to stop more opponents – is coming. “100% I’m feeling more powerful,” he said. “I turned pro at 19, so I’ve only been a kid, you know? Now I’m getting the man strength and things are changing.” Riidy Riival has already proved immensely difficult to deal with, handing defeats to the likes of Foot, Rehman, Kiwitt and Jenkins. Now, if he can add that destructive power to his repertoire, Gloucester fight fans might have a lot more to get excited about in the near future.