Home News Mail Sport joins Hamzah Sheeraz on pilgrimage in Mecca for Ramadan, as...

Mail Sport joins Hamzah Sheeraz on pilgrimage in Mecca for Ramadan, as the rising star opens up on his sense of 'responsibility' as a Muslim boxer, why he never thinks about losing and his world title ambitions

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With 19 wins in 19 professional fights, it is little wonder why Frank Warren has long identified Hamzah Sheeraz as a future world champion.

For Warren, the 24-year-old from Ilford is ‘a product of modern Britain, in many ways similar to those in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, who do the country proud – a shining example of how sport can unify communities and the nation as a whole.’

Last month, Sheeraz demolished Liam Williams in one round to defend his Commonwealth and WBC Silver titles and the likelihood is that if the middleweight carries on in the same manner, it won’t be long before he has that world title.

As Mail Sport spends the day with Sheeraz, as two out of millions of worshippers who have descended on the holy city of Mecca for Ramadan, there is an understanding into the making of one of the brightest talents in boxing.

‘Inshallah, I’ll be a World Champion by the end of this year,’ he insists. ‘You heard it here first. This is the year of world titles. This is the year where Hamzah Sheeraz becomes a household name.’

Mail Sport joined Hamzah Sheeraz (pictured) for a pilgrimage in Mecca for Ramadan

Mail Sport joined Hamzah Sheeraz (pictured) for a pilgrimage in Mecca for Ramadan

Mail Sport's Aadam Patel (right) poses for a picture with Sheeraz in Mecca

Mail Sport’s Aadam Patel (right) poses for a picture with Sheeraz in Mecca

Sheeraz is a rising star in boxing and has won all 19 of his professional bouts

Sheeraz is a rising star in boxing and has won all 19 of his professional bouts

His promoter, Frank Warren (left) believes he is destined to become a world champion

His promoter, Frank Warren (left) believes he is destined to become a world champion

It is here in the spiritual centre of Islam, where Sheeraz has come with his inner circle before each of his last three fights to perform the Umrah pilgrimage.

‘I remember the last time I came here. I got injured in America preparing for the Williams fight and I felt like I let everyone down,’ he says. ‘Mentally, I was gone so we came out here. It’s the only place where I felt real peace. That put me back where I needed to be.’

That fight was rescheduled for February and when Sheeraz won emphatically, Warren said ‘a star was born’ and that his jab reminded him of a certain Tommy Hearns.

With his next bout provisionally scheduled for June in Riyadh, this is Sheeraz’s sanctuary before training camp in Los Angeles. Just days before we meet, he was in the Saudi capital for Anthony Joshua’s fight with Francis Ngannou alongside stars including Jose Mourinho and Ronaldo but here we sit on the glistening white marble floor of the Grand Mosque bare-footed, with shaved heads and just two pieces of white cloth covering us as part of the worshipping rituals.

‘Honestly, I’ve won all those fights but nothing compares to this feeling. It makes me euphoric. Look at us all wearing the same thing,’ he says, gazing ahead as thousands upon thousands circulate the Kaaba (The House of God). It’s an awe-inspiring scene, regardless of faith.

‘There’s no hierarchy at all here – just respect and love. Everyone is the same. How we’re dressed here is how we’re dressed when we’re buried (Islamically). That’s what I love and that’s what gives me perspective,’ Sheeraz adds.

Sheeraz wants to become a world champion and a household name, but says nothing compares to the feeling of him sharing 'respect and love' with his fellow Muslims in Mecca

Sheeraz wants to become a world champion and a household name, but says nothing compares to the feeling of him sharing ‘respect and love’ with his fellow Muslims in Mecca

Sheeraz is happy to be treated no differently than anyone else as he embraces his community

Sheeraz is happy to be treated no differently than anyone else as he embraces his community

Sheeraz believes he has a duty and responsibility to represent his community

Sheeraz believes he has a duty and responsibility to represent his community

It’s a level of perspective that has driven him to not even consider the prospect of losing. He talks about how he believes he was chosen to fight. Both his grandad and uncle were boxers and unbeknown to many are his connections with Amir Khan’s family through their parents’ roots in Punjab.

‘I’m a top cricketer but I found it boring,’ he says. ‘I felt like I was chosen by God to be a boxer and I’m dedicating my life to it because others have invested way too much time into it for me to settle with not winning,’ he insists.

That is what eats at him yet inspires him. That pressure to deliver for those closest to him. On the whole, he insists that it is a driving force, however.

‘The pressure is unreal but I’ve always believed. I’ve never thought about losing,’ he says. ‘If God forbid that I was ever to lose, I’d feel like I’ve let everyone who’s believed in me down. And even those who doubted me. My fear comes from the consequences of what would happen outside the ring and how it would set us back in our journey to the top. I’ve never even thought about not getting my hand raised (after a fight). It’s a feeling that I don’t want. I work way too hard to come out second best,’ he insists.

The call for the sunset prayer begins to officially signal the start of Ramadan and we spend the next few hours praying and jostling amongst the masses in circulation of the Kaaba. It helps when you’ve got a professional boxer alongside you.

During a little break to fuel up for the night ahead before the first fast, we discover that a draw at Anfield means that Arsenal go top of the Premier League. For Sheeraz, a lifelong Arsenal fan, a trip to meet Mikel Arteta at Colney is planned soon. He dreams of fighting one day at the Emirates and even walked out with a ‘Saka’ Arsenal shirt for a fight after the Euro 2020 final. He talks about his love for all sports and how he could easily have been a cricketer with his father, Kamran, playing for Gloucestershire.

Sheeraz is a huge Arsenal fan and dreams of fighting at the Emirates Stadium one day

Sheeraz is a huge Arsenal fan and dreams of fighting at the Emirates Stadium one day

The clock goes past midnight and Sheeraz and his entourage head out into the streets of Mecca to feed the poor as they prepare for the first fast of Ramadan, which begins at sunrise. Muslims regard it as a month of giving and in the space of 15 minutes, over 1,500 meals are distributed to people from around the world.

‘This gives me pure happiness,’ he says. ‘I just want good energy around me. Khabib (Nurmagomedov) always says that people who aren’t Muslims don’t read the Quran. They read our actions and it’s not about forcing religion on anyone. You’ve just got to be the best person that you can be. With my platform comes duty and ultimately that duty means responsibility,’ Sheeraz adds.

After each obligatory prayer here, there is a funeral prayer for those who have died in the area and for Sheeraz, that signals another reminder of what he wants his legacy to be.

‘We’re all chasing money and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t matter but I know I won’t take most of it with me,’ says Sheeraz. ‘I see the glitz and glamour in London and places like Dubai and the attraction of a certain lifestyle but praying keeps me focused on what matters. I’m not bothered about material things. A world title will merely be a tangible reward – a token I can use to inspire others to show that there’s a story behind that belt. All that’s missing now is the opportunity because I know I will show up when it arrives.’

With hours to go before Sheeraz heads back to London, we perform another pilgrimage together before sunrise as a group, with his father, friends and management. The positivity and love for one another within the group is infectious. ‘These guys are all with me in the hard times so it’s only fair they get me in the good times,’ he stresses.

Sheeraz posed for a photo with light-heavyweight contender Dan Azeez (left)

Sheeraz posed for a photo with light-heavyweight contender Dan Azeez (left)

Sheeraz got a £2 haircut and was left with cuts on his head, as he joked that he doesn't get 'special treatment' in Mecca

The barber shops located outside the Mosque charge pilgrims Ten Riyals (£2) for a haircut

Sheeraz got a £2 haircut and was left with cuts on his head, as he joked that he doesn’t get ‘special treatment’ in Mecca

As we reach the final ritual which involves shaving the head, Sheeraz bumps into fellow British boxer Dan Azeez. It is a meeting of chance amongst the millions, and such is the joy on his face at seeing Azeez, who is ten years older than him, that Sheeraz asks for a picture.

We enter one of the hundreds of barber shops located outside the Mosque that charge pilgrims Ten Riyals (£2) for a haircut and Sheeraz emerges with more cuts on his head than the rest.

‘No one gets any special treatment here,’ he laughs.

If Sheeraz’s prayers come true, you wonder if that barber will ever realise that he shaved (and cut) the head of a future world champion.