ULTIMATE BOXXER could produce the latest chaper in the ultimate rags-to-riches story on Friday night if Mikael Lawal follows the script.
Boxing has a warped way of taking the most desperate and deprived boys and turning them into millionaire superstars and the 24-year-old Lagos-born Shepherds Bush grafter might be one of the most deserving of all.
5 Mikael Lawal begged for food on the streets of Lagos as a child, but can now complete his heartbreaking rags-to-riches taleCredit: ©Stella Pictures Limited www.stellapictures.co.uk +447813 022858
5 Lawal will compete for £50,000 in the Ultimate Boxxer 4 tournament on FridayCredit: �Stella Pictures Limited www.stellapictures.co.uk +447813 022858
The happy-go-lucky 13-year-old had his world shattered when his doting mum died in front of his eyes and his relationships with both his biological and step-father both broke down in the tragic fall-out.
In a whirlwind of heartache and rejection, London-raised Lawal found himself homeless on the harsh streets of Nigeria, begging for scraps of food, until rescued by the British Commission and returned back to the UK to rebuild his shattered life.
Like so many of boxing's beautiful yet marginalised success stories, a gym, in this case the brilliant Stonebridge Boxing Club in Wembley, stepped in to save his life.
And Friday's shootout competition, with a life-changing £16,000 available to the winner, is hopefully the next happy chapter in Lethal Lawal's hitherto harrowing tale.
Before my mum passed away I had no worries whatsoever, as a kid I had so many plans
On the fourth floor of the packed SBC sweatbox, where kids and adults of all levels train to better themselves, softly-spoken Lawal told SunSport: "Before my mum passed away I had no worries whatsoever, as a kid I had so many plans.
"I just assumed, like all of my friends, that I would have a car to drive at 18, probably own my house at 20 but the reality has been so much different.
"Things can hurt some people mentally more than they can hurt you physically. I struggle more with mental pain, I can handle physical pain, I can fight my way out of trouble.
"When I was homeless in Nigeria, it was weird, I was so sad and in a terrible situation but there were other people there, in the same desperate situation, so I did not really feel alone.
"Believe it or not we used to have some laughs and found a strange form of happiness."
THE RULE OF LAW
The agony that piled upon Lawal during such a formative part of his life made him granite tough, cruiserweight champions like Oleksandr Usyk and Lawrence Okolie gladly pay for his sparring services.
But the psychological strain of being a professional fighter, with two young daughters and a weekend job as a personal trainer, weigh heavy on his tattooed shoulders.
At the end of a gruelling and expensive six-month camp after three fights failed to materialise, Lawal said: "In a strange way, when you are here, with rent to pay and mounting worries, you can start feeling trapped.
"That can affect you mentally and leave you depressed.
"Even boxers go through life and, if it is not going well, then you are still going to struggle.
"You can be a boxer and still lose your house or have no money coming in, lots can get on top of you and then you still have to train and spar and fight."
I remember as a teenager I was trying to better myself and get a job. I would print off hundreds of CVs, find a suit and tie, not even have money to eat that day and go into Central London to hand out CVs
5 Lawal's mum died in front of his eyes when he was 13Credit: �Stella Pictures Limited www.stellapictures.co.uk +447813 022858
5 Lawal has been former cruiserweight champion Oleksandr Usyk's sparring partner in the pastCredit: PA:Press Association
Heavy-handed Lawal has boxed on some impressive cards, for a 9-0 novice, like the World Boxing Super Series final between Callum Smith and George Groves in Saudi Arabia last September.
And a win in the eight-man Manchester competition will puff up his CV with three more wins and make him much more difficult to ignore than the struggling teen who was snubbed hundreds of time for just a fighting chance.
He said: "Being poor here is very different to tougher parts of the world but, I feel, here it can be more systematic.
"You might not be put down, but you are definitely kept down.
"I remember as a teenager I was trying to better myself and get a job.
"I would print off hundreds of CVs, find a suit and tie, not even have money to eat that day and go into Central London to hand out CVs.
"I tried so hard but nothing ever came out of that. I got one or two interviews but the second I walked in I felt like I had no chance. Boxing is what saved me."
In 2019, Lawal has made just £800 from boxing. That is the reality of a young fighter still dedicating his life and soul to the game but well outside of the major shows and titles.
Naturally uneasy with the bragging and trash-talking too many fighters now use to synthetically progress their career, Lawal is ready to earn an easier life after so many harsh, but not musical, lessons.
He said: "Winning this would help with a few nice little things. I just had my birthday and wasn't able to celebrate really so I might be able to do something nice.
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“I keep trying to stop myself from visualising myself winning the competition because I need to get it done.
“But I have a dream to work toward, I would love to buy a nice house in the countryside with two dogs and maybe even a piano… not that I can even play it!
"But mainly, I just want to look after my family".
WHAT IS ULTIMATE BOXXER?
ULTIMATE BOXXER 4 is a knock-out style tournament held at the Manchester Altrincham Ice Arenam this Friday.
Eight cruiserweights will be given a chance to make a name for themselves in front of a national audience – along with a huge portion of the £50,000 prize money.
London-based Mikael Lawal is the overwhelming favourite to win the tournament, priced as low as 1/10 with MansionBet.
BT Sport will broadcast the event in the UK and Ireland, with coverage beginning at 7:45pm.
5 Lawal has made just £800 from boxing this yearCredit: �Stella Pictures Limited www.stellapictures.co.uk +447813 022858