Muhammed Ali, like the famous boxer of the same name before him, dreamed of being a champion boxer. But he didn’t just dream—he worked hard. He trained, he recovered, and he ate right. He was talented, too. As an amateur boxer, he won the Haringey Box Cup, the Celtic Box Cup, and the University National Championships (all in Britain). He considered his type 1 diabetes a “blessing in disguise” as it taught him discipline and perseverance.
Ali was diagnosed with type 1 at age four, but he had the disease well-controlled and his body in peak condition before he was set to make his professional boxing debut in December 2015. But just before his first professional match, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) told him he wouldn’t be granted a license.
“I was 10 days out from my professional debut and my manager called and asked if I was diabetic. I said I was but it should not matter as I had already passed my medical, but he told me the board was refusing my licence*. That was it, I was devastated,” Ali said.
At first, Ali thought his boxing career was over. He was heartbroken. He gave his boxing equipment away to friends, hoping that at least it would be put to good use.
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But he couldn’t quite forget about boxing. After his advisor promised to help him, Ali decided to challenge the BBBoC’s decision and make another attempt to get his license. Ali gathered a team of medical and legal professionals to help him make his case.
“In 2015 the crazy thing is, no medical reason was given to me as to why I’ve not been granted a licence, there was nothing apart from diabetes written there, for example speaking about my blood sugar levels or anything, it was just because I’m diabetics we can’t grant you a licence. I thought that was discrimination to be honest…” he said.
Ali worked for almost three years to get the decision changed. The BBBoC wanted to see his blood sugar levels being checked between each round, so since Ali can’t take off his boxing gloves between rounds, he wears a sensor on his hip. He says it only takes about a second to check his blood sugar.
Finally, with the support of his doctor, Ali was able to satisfy the board that his blood sugar levels were controlled, and they decided to reverse their decision and grant him a license. Ali will be the first professional British boxer with type 1 diabetes.
But Ali holds no bitterness about the slow decision: “I want to become British champion most definitely. The British Boxing Board of Control have granted me a license, and I’d love to show them it was the right decision by winning the Lonsdale belt,” he said.
Ali will begin his professional boxing career in September of 2018. People all over the world, those with and without diabetes, are cheering for him.
“Even by getting this far and having the chance to box means that I’ve already won. It shows that if you don’t ever give up you can achieve your goals,” he said.
*Licence is the British spelling for license