Hammersmith boxer Zak Chelli will realise his childhood dream today (Friday) when he makes his debut in the paid ranks with his father in his corner.
Chelli faces Sonny Whiting at York Hall – the spiritual home of British boxing – in Bethnal Green.
The 18-year-old signed a pro contract with boxing impresario Frank Warren after dominating the amateur scene. And he now looks to become the latest prizefighter from the borough to make a name for himself in the super-middleweight division.
IBF super-middleweight world champion James DeGale and world title contender George Groves both began their ring craft at Dale Youth ABC where Chelli went on to win two national titles before moving to Times ABC with his father, Zak Snr, and brother Yahia.
Like father like son
Chelli used to watch his own father prepare for his pro fights when Zak Snr fought at light-heavyweight during the Nineties and the love of the game grew from there.
“My dad has been training me every day since I was a little kid. I used to run back home from primary school and my dad would cycle along the 5k-route shouting ‘Come on champ’,” said the 12-stone pugilist.
“I always dreamed of having my dad in my corner when I turned pro and now that dream has become a reality. When I signed that pro contract I was over the moon but I know it now means I must train even harder.
“I used to watch DeGale and Groves train at the Dale Youth gym and remember when they came back with the gold medal and world title belt. It just motivated me to be the best in my division.
“You have to dedicate your life to the sport and be at the top of your game when you get into the ring. I now need to prove it in the ring with the pros and I am looking forward to the journey that I have ahead of me.”
This weekend, Zak will wear the same shorts and robe that his father used to wear when he was a boxer.
In with the best
In preparation for his maiden bout, Zak helped local boxing hero DeGale get into shape for his recent world unification fight with Badou Jack, an early contender for Fight of the Year, as well as sessions with Chris Eubank Jr.
Chelli did not feel out of place in those sparring sessions with the two world champions. Instead, it confirmed to the west Londoner that he has made the right choice going pro.
“I felt comfortable in the ring with these two champions and held my own. DeGale and Eubank’s trainers gave me a lot of praise after the sessions. Those words filled me with great confidence but I know I must now show it in my fights starting on Friday,” added Zak.
The father and son team have been preparing for this day ever since Zak first laced up the gloves as a five-year-old and now the bright lights of the professional game are on them.