Home News Fes Batista is the Misfits boxer who considered suicide – until a...

Fes Batista is the Misfits boxer who considered suicide – until a Lady Gaga song saved his life and Roy Jones Jr. honed his skills in the ring… on Saturday he debuts in KSI's promotion after more than a decade of work

14
0

It’s rare for a boxer to name Ronaldinho as an inspiration, rarer still for one to credit Lady Gaga. Fes Batista hails both. No possibility is off-limits in his universe, a universe eccentric, joyful, poignant in equal dollops.

On Saturday night, Batista makes his Misfits Boxing debut against Ben Williams in Leeds. It is a significant waypoint on a journey that began with football in the streets of Huddersfield, plumbed the depths of near-suicide at university, revelled in training alongside boxing legend Roy Jones Jr.’s chickens, and will end God-knows-where, God-knows-when.

His life can be divided into two eras: the pre-Gaga and post-Gaga. It was on a miserable night at university that Batista found himself holding a knife to his neck, alone in his bedroom. Relentless racial abuse, bullying, and exclusion had eroded his feeling of self-worth.

”Why did you not make me white? Why did you give me this horrible brown skin?” he cried to his maker, looking in the mirror. He had never sworn to God in his life. Fourteen years later, as he pieces together the fragments of memory, the same tears return.

Fes Batista (Mohammed Faisal - pictured here) debuts in the Misfits Boxing promotion on Saturday and wants to use his platform to combat bullying

Fes Batista (Mohammed Faisal – pictured here) debuts in the Misfits Boxing promotion on Saturday and wants to use his platform to combat bullying

At university, racist abuse nearly pushed him to suicide. A Lady Gaga song brought him back from the brink and now he is fighting in the promotion founded by KSI (left)

At university, racist abuse nearly pushed him to suicide. A Lady Gaga song brought him back from the brink and now he is fighting in the promotion founded by KSI (left)

Batista – real name Mohammed Faisal – is visibly shaken as he recalls the bullying that he, a British Pakistani, faced on a mostly white campus. It began with being excluded from social groups, progressed to being shoved around and called a ‘P**i’, and descended into him being labelled a ‘terrorist’. One hollow night, instead of crying himself to sleep as had become ritual, this typically cheerful young man was pulled towards the unthinkable.

‘I went downstairs and, in a rage, got a knife. It was a short, silver knife. I thought tonight, I’m going somewhere else, wherever the hell I’m going is somewhere else and not here.

‘I closed my eyes and said, “listen, you’ve got one highlight reel. Take a deep breath.” I remembered I used to put my collar up when I was in junior school, and I used to score goals and call myself Inzaghe from AC Milan. I said, “okay, you’ve got that memory.” I remembered certain things in cricket. And then the highlight reel stopped, and I was like, “oh sh**, do it now.”

‘That’s when I heard Marry The Night.’

Had Batista not left music playing in the background, he would not have heard the song that rescued him from the brink. The YouTube algorithm plucked Lady Gaga’s 2011 single from the ether. Something in the lyrics about not giving up and being ‘a soldier to my own emptiness’ stirred Batista and made him feel understood. Then he played it again and watched the video. Slowly the fog of self-hatred and shame dissolved. His own miracle story was born.

‘I told myself from that day on: one day I’m going to be a star. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but one day, I’m going to do something big with my life. These people are going to Google me and think – “that guy, no way.” Call it delusion, call it a paradigm shift. I decided I was going to get my revenge in a success way, rather than doing anything silly.’

Since then, he has boxed professionally and trained with some of the best in the sport. His biggest night yet awaits. 

Batista has fought professionally (pictured right) and is nearing 11 years with the World Boxing Council as an anti-bullying ambassador

Batista has fought professionally (pictured right) and is nearing 11 years with the World Boxing Council as an anti-bullying ambassador

He credits Lady Gaga - whose song 'Marry The Night' saved his life - as a a key influence on him

He credits Lady Gaga – whose song ‘Marry The Night’ saved his life – as a a key influence on him

Sometimes his self-promotion can be a touch bombastic – he declares himself the ‘first-ever influencer boxer’ – but that’s little surprise in a theatrical sport. Ahead of his fight with Williams, he handed his opponent a Lady Gaga poster, only for it to be torn up, much to his dismay.

He is trying to use his platform for good. ‘The Terrier’, nicknamed after his beloved Huddersfield Town, is nearing 11 years with the World Boxing Council as an anti-bullying ambassador, touring schools to educate the next generation.

While no household name – his pro career produced just two fights, both wins – boxing has turned his life around.

An early ally was Amir Khan, the former unified light-welterweight world champion and one of Bolton’s most iconic exports. At the start, he was just a distant star who Batista travelled to watch punch other men. But eventually it was Khan who persuaded Batista’s reluctant father to let him leave England and move to the United States to pursue his newfound dream of boxing.

‘When I told my dad I was going to leave university and make it in Vegas: “What are you on about? Where’s your boxing, IQ?” All that,’ Batista laughs. Outside of his 14-hour working days, his dad had introduced him mainly to cricket. Around the age of 16, he had added in a splash of boxing if only to increase his fitness for the cricket field, but he had never showed promise.

Years on, and here he was flying across the pond. He would end up being coached in the early throes of his new pursuit by Dewey Cooper and Jeff Mayweather, adjusting to a new pace of life. His first fight against Lawrence Purifoy was in 2015 went the distance and was, coincidentally, on March 28: Lady Gaga’s birthday.

The real transformative relationship of his life, though, has been with Roy Jones Jr., one of the all-time greats. It’s an unlikely friendship, a Huddersfield Town fan who wears quirky sunglasses and a ferocious powerhouse who won world titles at four weight classes, but somehow it has blossomed.

‘I bumped into him, a big hero of mine, and told him my story. And he was like, “look, I can help you. I want to take you under my wings. I love your story. But can you fight? I need to know if you can fight.”

‘So he had a gym in Vegas and I went there and I sparred and I did really well. He was like, “Cool. I’ll sign you up.”

And so sprang up the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to be apprenticed under Jones beneath the sweltering sun at his training camp in Pensacola, Florida. There’s a sprawling £1million, 15,000 square-foot mansion there, 80 acres of land, a farm, and animals causing chaos. Welcome to a unique kind of university.

Amir Khan helped convince Batista's father to let him pursue his dream in America

Amir Khan helped convince Batista’s father to let him pursue his dream in America

Training in the camp of boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. catapulted Batista on his journey

Training in the camp of boxing legend Roy Jones Jr. catapulted Batista on his journey 

In the wake of their unlikely friendship Batista claims Jones Jr. is now a Huddersfield Town fan

In the wake of their unlikely friendship Batista claims Jones Jr. is now a Huddersfield Town fan

‘That was a different experience, Florida, very different from what I’m used to. There are a lot of rattlesnakes around everywhere. I’m not a fan of dying in the middle of a farm in the middle of nowhere surrounded by venomous snakes! I never really felt great there. It was something that I had to get used to. But you know, Roy Jones was there!

‘He loves chickens, so he has two giant chickens on his gate. As soon as you get there, open the door, cock-a-doodle-doo, chickens. He’s got peacocks there, dogs barking.’

Some might question that love – Jones Jr. has previously been a vocal defender of cock-fighting, which is now illegal in all 50 US states. He insists he has quit it. 

‘Roy would be there with his sort of golf cart, driving around, always smiling, “what’s up, Fes?” with a big old smile.

‘His training is crazy, chasing chickens, very different. Very tactical, technical kind of boxing coach, he spends a lot of time on drills to make sure that we do technique right.

‘Roy is very private about his particular drills, but sometimes we would do 30-plus rounds of these drills, drenched in the Florida heat with your clothes see-through. As you’re punching, the sweat will be dripping here, there, everywhere.

‘But it’s fantastic work and it’s very unique, Roy Jones’ method. It’s very hard work, and by the end of it you’re very tired, and then you can hear the chickens!’

‘Roy knew I was not going to be the next Canelo [Alvarez]. I was a different kind of situation. Roy always knew how to handle me and how to talk to me as well, how to keep me motivated and keep me on side. But trust me, when Roy raises his voice, he sends shivers down everyone’s spine!

‘We’ve been friends ever since, pretty much talking every day. We’ve travelled together, been to Dubai and the UK. When he comes to the UK, I help him out with some things. I actually took him to my hometown club’s stadium! It was beautiful to see how he liked my home town arena and he’s a Huddersfield Town fan now as well! 

'Roy always knew how to handle me and how to talk to me as well... but when he raises his voice, he sends shivers down everyone's spine!'

‘Roy always knew how to handle me and how to talk to me as well… but when he raises his voice, he sends shivers down everyone’s spine!’

The sound of chickens was one of the defining memories from Batista's intermittent four years at Jones Jr.'s camp

The sound of chickens was one of the defining memories from Batista’s intermittent four years at Jones Jr.’s camp

‘We’ve had so many good memories, but the Huddersfield Town day was more special. In Huddersfield, we don’t get many superstars coming and it doesn’t get a lot of recognition. It was a special moment to see him on the pitch.’

The culmination of all this effort is Saturday night in front of the flashing cameras of DAZN, streaming to more than 200 countries worldwide. Misfits Boxing, the promotion founded by the constantly escalating internet personality that is KSI, is a powder keg of popularity and derision.

The first Misfits event fight night in August 2022 at the O2 Arena garnered 33-million views on DAZN, a top-five all-time boxing event on the streaming service. But it has also been decried as a freak show of desperate influencers and has been marred by misogyny. Ahead of their fight, Dillon Danis launched abhorrent attacks on Logan Paul’s fiancée Nina Agdal, sharing half-naked images and private videos of her online.

Agdal alleged Danis targeted her with ‘despicable’ posts more than 250 times since the bout was announced and that she suffered humiliation, emotional distress and reputational harm. A restraining order was eventually granted.

Last week, Misfits Boxing reportedly had its licences suspended by the Professional Boxing Association ‘in the interest of boxer safety’ and will be using a new commission moving forward. 

Can Batista’s positive message co-exist alongside a promotion which generates and embraces controversy? Even his own build-up talk with Ben Williams has at times veered into vitriol. 

The Misfits boxing promotion has attracted ire for its controversy but Batista says he wants to plant a seed of 'unity, love, and acceptance'

The Misfits boxing promotion has attracted ire for its controversy but Batista says he wants to plant a seed of ‘unity, love, and acceptance’ 

‘I want to plant that seed of unity, love and acceptance in minds around the world and watch it grow into beautiful things. That’s what I want to use this platform for. I will be fighting in front of millions of people,’ Batista tells Mail Sport.

‘I still am traumatised [from racist bullying]. I used to be ashamed of being brown and looking the way I look. Now I celebrate it. I can’t wait to let people know they didn’t break me – in fact it was a blessing in disguise.

‘I discovered Lady Gaga, discovered inspiration, discovered what dream-chasing truly was and now I’m living my dream.

‘My legacy? I want to make the world a kinder place.’

You don’t get many bigger platforms than Saturday night on DAZN. If spreading light further in the world is the goal, a boulevard of opportunity awaits between those gloves.

Fes Batista takes on Ben Williams at X Series 012 on Saturday night, live around the world on DAZN. Tickets are still available at www.MisfitsBoxing.com

For confidential support call Samaritans on 116123 or visit www.samaritans.org