IT could be argued there is no better embodiment of the current state of the heavyweight division than Lebanon-born, Germany-based WBA ‘regular champion-in-recess’ Mahmoud Charr. At 36, and with almost two decades of fighting experience behind him, Mahmoud (or Manuel) has done it all. He has won fights and he has lost fights. He has taken fights for noble reasons and he has taken fights for money. He has come up short in title shots and he has won a title that most feel is not a title. He has fought boxing politics and fought inactivity. He has fought drug cheats and has failed a drug test of his own. He has thrived in Germany, his adopted home, and is now hoping to one day do the same in the Middle East.
“My inactivity was a very big problem,” Charr said of his recent three-and-a-half-year absence from the ring. “I had depression; I was sick in my head.
“Don King has destroyed the careers of many fighters. He would always say, ‘We make the fight,’ and every time I was in training and sparring but the fights never happened.
“No TV network wanted to work with Don King or pay for his fights. But the WBA never stop Don King. He has been around a long time and he was a close friend of Mr [Gilberto] Mendoza. It’s all about politics. They are ashamed to go against Don King because he is so old. They don’t want to upset him. But how many fighters has Don King had who never fought?”
In May, Charr boxed undefeated 306-pound American Christopher Lovejoy, another man whose career has been impacted, for better or worse, by Don King. He stopped Lovejoy inside two rounds that night and now intends to fight again in September, politics permitting.
“I have no situation with Don King,” Charr wanted to point out. “He has to make clear that the next fight is between Trevor Bryan [the WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight bauble-holder] and Charr. But Don King wants me to sign with him because he doesn’t want to lose his money when Trevor Bryan loses against me.
“If I sign a two-fight agreement with him, he can then earn his money back when I fight [Anthony] Joshua after beating Bryan.”
Charr, 32-4 (18), may be many things but stupid he is not. He knows as well as anyone that for as long as he remains in the picture, belt or no belt, he represents a lucrative option for elite heavyweights in need of an opponent with an ability to sell. Adept in more than one language, and with pull on more than one continent, Charr is confident opportunities will soon be his. “I’m the champion in recess and they stole my belt,” he said. “Everyone knows I was ready to fight Trevor Bryan in the US. I had the visa. But Don King never signed the agreement, so I never flew to the US.
“I will now give Trevor Bryan a pass to fight anyone. He can fight Dillian Whyte, or he can fight Joe Joyce. But the WBA have to give me the green light to fight Joshua. I want Joshua. I’ll give Don King the solution: make Trevor Bryan vs. Dillian Whyte or Joe Joyce for the [regular] title, and I want the fight against Joshua. I will make the belt free.”
For the longest time Mahmoud Charr has been Mahmoud Charr’s best promoter and, at times, his only promoter. He worked his way to relevance the hard way, matched relatively tough from the outset, and he made a habit, circa 2012, of gate-crashing press conferences and calling out some of the biggest names in the heavyweight division. His story is one he knows better than anyone else and is one he considers potentially lucrative in a sea of sameness.
“When I was in Lebanon, I lost my father in the war and then I got my first gunshot in my leg when I was four years old,” Charr said, matter-of-factly. “I had an operation in Lebanon and after this my mum flew with us to Germany and we had the hardest time. I was not German and I was not Lebanese, either. To be accepted in Germany was so hard for me.
“After I fought [Vitali] Klitschko [in September 2012] I lived a good life. But until then my life was so bad. I always had fights and always had problems with the police. There was a lot of struggle. You live in Germany with no German papers, every day is hard.”
Even Charr’s boxing journey was an unconventional one. A kickboxer at 16, he became a K1 champion in that discipline at 19 and was then invited to spar Nikolay Valuev, the WBA belt-holder, in a boxing ring at 20. Charr, at the time, had just 10 amateur boxing matches to his name, but travelled to Berlin, Germany to spar Valuev and made such an impression on both the seven-foot giant and those watching the session that they wouldn’t let him leave without him signing a professional contract. “After that my life changed,” Charr said. “I became a pro and I became disciplined. I then understood that the discipline you get from boxing transfers to life.”
At 21, Charr beat Cuban amateur standout Pedro Carrion over eight rounds, and followed this with other noteworthy pro victories against the likes of Nigerian Gbenga Oloukun, American veterans Sherman Williams and Michael Grant, Britain’s Danny Williams, and Ukraine’s Taras Bidenko. His first title shot then arrived in September 2012, when thrown in deep against then-heavyweight leader, Vitali Klitschko.
“It was very frustrating,” Charr said of the night he was stopped on cuts inside four rounds. “When Klitschko fought Lennox Lewis [in 2003], did you see his cut? He fought a few rounds with it because they gave him an opportunity to fight with a dangerous cut. I had a small f**king cut and the Klitschko doctor stopped the fight straight away. They put me in the red corner and my corner was the blue corner. We didn’t even have a chance to stop it.
“I was feeling that it was my night, you know? Everyone, if they have this chance in their life and are stopped by a small cut, will act crazy in the ring. Everyone.
“I had 10 amateur fights, 21 professional fights, and went to Moscow to stand against the best heavyweight in the world. I was not scared. At the weigh-in, I got in his face. Every heavyweight who went head-to-head with Vitali was scared. But I wasn’t. He looked in my eye and saw I had no fear. I was sure I was winning that fight, I swear.”
Be that as it may, Charr didn’t. He was stopped because of his cut and was then stopped inside seven rounds, due to punches, in his next big fight against Alexander Povetkin in May 2014. “I fought him just a few weeks after going 10 rounds with Kevin Johnson,” Charr recalled. “I was not in shape. I was not ready. I just made the fight for the money, to rescue my family from Syria. Povetkin was in the best shape possible and, as you know, many times in the past they catch him for drugs.”
On the subject of drugs, Charr said, “It’s in every sport: football, athletics, cycling, everything. Who has the drugs? The best teams with the most money. They always win. You have the money; you have the power. Drugs cost a lot of money. If you want a good doctor, a good doctor costs a lot of money. How can a normal fighter pay this kind of money? They can’t. If you have the power, you have everything. You will win always, every fight.”
As for Charr’s crowning achievement to date, that occurred on November 25, 2017, when he outpointed Russia’s Alexander Ustinov over 12 rounds to lift the (rightly) much-derided WBA ‘regular’ heavyweight gong. It was both a belt he treasured more than most and a belt he would never get around to defending, owing, sadly, to a failed performance-enhancing drug test (for drostanolone and trenbolone) in 2018 – something he still strongly denies – and the antics of the WBA and Don King.
“I beat Ustinov seven months after two hip operations,” Charr said. “This was the biggest present for myself. For 33 years the world gave me pain, but on this night I gave all the pain back to the world. I paid back every hater, every idiot, every crazy person, and every person in my life who was not my supporter. I did it with one win.”
Away from the boxing ring, Charr has of course had tougher fights and far greater victories. On September 2, 2015, for instance, he was shot three times in the stomach during an altercation outside an Essen kebab shop, the impact of which left him not only bleeding out but believing his time was up. “After the shooting I said goodbye to the world,” he admitted. “I did not believe I would sit up again after those three shots to my stomach. I said goodbye to everyone. I said goodbye to my mother. I called my wife to tell her I love her.
“After the operation, I sat up and opened my eyes and did not understand where I was. I was not in my room. I was not at home. I then looked at my stomach and it was very, very bad. I said, ‘God, thank you for the second life.’ Now I have two birthdays: September 2 and October 10.”
He has room for one more birthday, too. “I hope Eddie Hearn understands that Anthony Joshua needs to fight me in Saudi Arabia,” Charr said. “I speak Arabic very well and I think that would be a good promotion there. I have fought Klitschko and so many big-name fighters. People know me. [Oleksandr] Usyk [Joshua’s next opponent] is an Olympic medallist but I think this fight will not be interesting for the fans. Usyk will run and run and Joshua will have to chase him. “If Joshua fights me, it will be an explosive fight. We will go bam-bam-bam. We will give action. I will not run from him and he will not run from me. We will stand in the middle of the ring and make a fight. It will be more interesting than Joshua and Usyk.
“I could be the new ‘Prince’ Naseem for the UK,” Charr went on. “I am a refugee from Syria, I lost my father in the war, I got shot in my leg at four, I went to prison, I got out, I got shot again three times in my stomach, and then I became heavyweight champion. If I lived in the UK or the USA, I would be one of the biggest stars in the world and my life would be a movie. My book is going to be called From the Street to the Stars. After that, we make a movie and I will play myself. I am the best actor ever.”
Few will be brave enough to dispute this, especially given Charr’s confidence and the trajectory of his life to date. But if you dare accuse him of chasing paydays, expect the intense 36-year-old to accuse you of not understanding his story. “I don’t care about a payday. Who gives a f**k about a payday?” Charr said. “I care about legacy. For me, money is nothing. Money comes and goes. But a legacy stays for life. I do this for my kids. I want them to one day be able to say, ‘My father was Mahmoud Charr, the heavyweight champion of the world.’ Tell me, what is money? It makes you happy for a short time, but how many bowls of spaghetti can you eat in your life?”