Lekan Obiora patiently awaits his pro debut from behind a computer screen, the final stop on a journey into boxing from Nigeria to Glasgow, writes Ed Draper.
A 27-year-old Software Test Analyst for Sky, Lekan has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, with plenty of options in the expanding IT industry.
“I don’t need to box,” Obiora explained to Sky Sports. “I know that. I want to. I know it’s something I can do.
“I’ve been looking for something for a long time, that special thing and I feel I have a gift for boxing.”
Obiora emigrated from Lagos, Nigeria to Glasgow at the age of 13 and found the sport a few years later after settling in Scotland.
“The first time I went into a boxing gym I was sixteen or seventeen years old. It was only because my friends and I were bored of beating each other up in the streets so we thought it would be good idea to go to the gym. We weren’t really interested in the exercise part of things, we just wanted to get into the ring and start knocking lumps off each other!”
Football, school and other teenage distractions meant Obiora didn’t build on his initial enjoyment of boxing until he was studying at Glasgow Caledonian University.
“During Uni, I was boxing consistently until things heated up on the course and I also had to work, to provide for my mum. I recently picked it up again and I’ve been training at Adam Booth’s gym in London.
“I’ve been training alongside Josh Kelly, Luther Clay, Michael Conlan and Harlem Eubank to name a few. I observe and take everything in. I learn a lot from them.”
Lekan has gained words of expert advice from Adam Booth, but it’s another Adam who’s helped his dream of fighting for a living edge closer to reality.
“I met Adam Martin when I’d already made my decision to turn pro. I had to battle a lot of things inside my head; was I really good enough? It wasn’t until I started sparring and I’m holding my own that I started to believe I could do this.
“To meet Adam Martin was a blessing. I wanted to find a trainer who would look after me properly because you hear a lot of bad things.”
By “bad things,” Obiora refers to boxers losing out in the business side of boxing. But he also points out that the British Boxing Board of Control’s procedures ensure fighters understand contracts.
“There are three members of the board. What they go through with you mainly is your contract (with your trainer) to make sure you understand it and aren’t getting ripped off. They ask you why you want to box and they ask you about your amateur records.”
Obiora had 19 amateur fights winning “eleven or twelve” of them. A member of the board was due to observe him moving around in the gym and then only a brain scan stood between him and a pro debut.
Those plans were shelved when the coronavirus arrived, so Obiora has been focusing on his career at Sky, working remotely during lockdown. It’s a job he enjoys, but one he’s ready to put on hold to chase glory in the ring.
“I’m happy with what I’m doing now with IT. There’s loads of opportunity. There’s a sense of security, but once things get back to normal, my aim is to go boxing full time and that’s what I’m working towards. I would like to put all my eggs into boxing, but I have IT to fall back on.”
Lekan has been encouraged and energised by the exploits of two-time-unified world champion Anthony Joshua, who is of Nigerian heritage.
“Joshua’s been a huge inspiration. I can relate to him. To see what he’s been able to achieve in a short space of time inspires me. I’ve seen him around Sky, but I haven’t spoken to him. I keep saying to my friends, ‘me and him are going to become boys!'”
And Obiora too wants to become a role model for future generations.
“I want to use it (boxing) to inspire people with my story. Regardless of your background, you can achieve want you want,” Obiora said with a flicker of passion in his normally relaxed voice.
To date, it’s an inspirational story of academic accomplishment set against a huge lifestyle shift in his teens. And it’s a story, which has featured discrimination and racism. Obiora has given his backing to the Black Lives Matter movement and is optimistic equality for all is achievable.
“It’s good to see people coming out and showing support for the cause. It’s also a shame that it’s something we’re still talking about in 2020. It takes me back to my experiences growing up and I experienced racism.
“Growing up as a child you don’t really think too much about it. You think it’s minor. It wasn’t until I got here (the UK) that I first experienced the N word on the street. It made you realise things you saw on TV happened in real life.”
As well as suffering racist abuse on the streets of Glasgow, Obiora has also reflected on how unconscious bias may have counted against him later on when he was seeking a job in engineering.
“Obviously, it doesn’t help where you’re the only black person going for a job. Whenever I went for an interview I looked around (at the interviewers) and if there wasn’t a black person in the room, I just knew I had no chance.
“We need more people of colour within companies where decisions are being made. A white person can’t know what it feels like to be a black person, day in and day out. We need people who can relate to us and we can relate to them.”
Obiora hopes he can help push societal change, but he wants to create influence and leverage by making an impact in the ring, most likely as a welterweight. And, at 27, he isn’t planning to hang around when the virus relents and he can make his long-awaited debut:
“I really think I might be out this year. I’ll be fast tracked. I need to get a move on. After a few bouts, I’ll be looking at southern area titles. I’ll give myself three years and I want to be competing for a British title.”
His first goal is to be reunited with his colleagues at Sky on site. But when he’s allowed to chase his boxing dream who’s to say the boy from Lagos, who became a man in Glasgow, won’t write another thrilling chapter of his success story?