Arthur Abraham: A World Champion Boxer, But Every Bit a Typical Young Man

Every time the Olympics roll around, as I watch athletes and nations contend for top medals, I always ask my dad, "Dad, what sports are we Armenia’s good at?" And my dad starts listing the usual: wrestling, weightlifting, chess (never mind whether that’s a sport or not). Oh, and boxing, don’t forget boxing, my dad replies, embedding the short list in my brain. And so I was little surprised, though plenty excited, to see IBF middleweight champion Arthur Abraham splurged across the covers and pages of many a German newspaper recently, and to learn that Germany’s new boxing hero is, in fact, Armenian. True to my dad’s knowledge, there are a good handful of up-and-coming young Armenia’s in the boxing world today, but Arthur Abraham, born Avetik Abrahamyan, is undoubtedly the most successful. As for all the publicity he recently garnered, that was over his latest title bout, which took place on September 23 in Wetzlar, Germany. In the toughest fight of his career, Abraham defeated Colombia’s Edison Miranda by points in a unanimous decision, despite having his jaw broken at the hands of his challenger in the fifth round. Disobeying the ring doctor’s recommendation to discontinue the fight, Abraham displayed great mental stamina by fighting on, despite being unable to close his mouth. Papers reported that Abraham lost more than a liter of blood, as it endlessly streamed down his mouth until the final round. The popular German daily Bild proclaimed, "Abraham is the toughest world champion we’ve ever had," and the magazine Box Sport called it the "battle of the year." The media followed Abraham’s stay in the hospital as he had titanium plates set in to correct his jaw, and boxing websites put the self-crowned "King Arthur" on a pedestal, claiming the fight got fans to talk about boxing with a passion again. Since then Abraham has recovered, and is now busier than ever, granting interviews and making appearances. Since I happened to be in Germany, and very eager to meet him, I contacted his press officer, Heiko Mallwitz, at Sauerland Event, the company that promotes and manages Abraham. The next week I hopped on a train to Berlin and waited in a small conference room at his training grounds to interview Arthur Abraham. He came in, and upon learning that we were compatriots, smiled a warm, broad smile. His down-to-earth manner made our exchanges below (which I have translated from Armenian to English) less of an interview, and more of a conversation. Arevik Taymizyan: First let’s talk about what everybody’s been talking about. How did you manage to continue fighting with a twice-broken jaw? Arthur Abraham: It’s boxing, things like that are bound to happen. He broke my jaw, but so what? What should I have done, given up? I don’t climb unto the ring to lose; I get up there only to win. There is no defeat in my mind. In the ring you either live or die, but you don’t fall to your knees. That’s my philosophy in life, too. But in all my career I’ve had no injury and have never spent any time in a hospital. This was the first. AT: So giving up never crossed your mind? What was going through your mind as you kept up the struggle with Miranda? AA: No, I never thought of giving up, not for one second and not even half a second. The only thing going through my mind was to knock him out in order to quickly end the fight and the pain I was in. But it wasn’t that easy, Miranda’s a strong fighter, and the pain in my jaw would intensify with every punch I threw. AT: What was perhaps most astonishing in that fight was your determination and mental strength to keep fighting. In your opinion, how important is mental preparation compared to physical strength in boxing? AA: There is no professional boxer who’s not physically strong, but in the ring he who wins is he who is mentally prepared. I would say it’s 80 percent mental to 20 percent physical. Maybe even 90 to 10 percent. AT: You have now defended your title as IBF middleweight champ three times. Is this the peak of your career, or just the beginning? AA: This is the very beginning. At this point I’ve only moved up one step. I’m only 26, if I’m going to think of this as the peak of my career then I might as well stop boxing now. Being a successful boxer was my childhood my dream, and I was confident I would succeed early on. You can ask my friends, I always told them I was going to be world champion. AT: Speaking of your youth, at what point did you decide that you wanted to become a boxer? AA: I became interested in boxing when I was young, after watching it on TV and seeing all the successes that great boxers, like Mike Tyson, had. Tyson is, in my mind, the greatest boxer of all time. I didn’t just want to box after seeing his fights, but boxing itself developed inside me as I watched him fight. AT: You were born in Yerevan. How did you end up in Germany? AA: I moved to Germany with my family when I was 15. In Germany my brother and I went to inquire about where we could learn to box, and we started at a boxing camp here. When I was 19 my family and I went back, and I did my two years of military service in Armenia. I also became champion there. I realized early on that I was talented, but my talent needed nurturing. In Armenia I wouldn’t have the support to get into professional boxing, so I came back to Germany. Here I became German’super middleweight champion Sven Ottke’s sparring partner, but his trainer, Ulli Wegner, saw that I could fight, so they offered me my own contract and Ulli became my trainer. AT: In 2003 you signed that pro contract with Sauerland Event, your current manager and promoter. What difficulties did you have in adapting to life in Germany? AA: Difficulties with the language, communicating with people, finding friends. Now the only difficulty is that I miss Armenia when I’m here. It’s been ten years I’ve been living here, I am well adjusted and I feel good here in Germany. But my home will always be Armenia. AT: What do you miss most about Armenia when you’re here? And how often do you get a chance to go there? AA: I go twice a year, for two to three weeks at a time. I’ll be there again in two weeks. What I miss most is my hometown of Charbakh, and eating barbecue with my friends (laughs). AT: I’m assuming you’re as well-known in Armenia as you are in Germany. What kind of reception do you get when you go back home? AA: You know how hospitable our people are, everyone wants to invite you to his home and welcome you. But I can’t visit everyone, if I did then I’d spend my entire time going from house to house! (laughs) AT: You recently received German citizenship and are now fighting under the German flag. Would it not have been possible to fight under the Armenian flag? AA: I am Armenian, but it is Germany that has allowed me to become who I am, and so they wanted me to have German nationality. I have both passports. I would want to fight under the Armenian flag, but that wouldn’t be possible. I’m not the kind of person to forget or deny that I’ve had all this success in large part thanks to Germany. At the same time I cannot forget that I am Armenian. So in my mind I fight for both countriesfifty-fifty. AT: It’s evident that you are a patriotic Armenian. So why did you change your name from Avetik Abrahamyan to Arthur Abraham? AA: That’s just my stage name, it’s easier for people to remember it and to pronounce it. Germans couldn’t pronounce Abrahamyan, so we changed it to the more international Abraham. AT: I’m sure your parents still call you Avo. Where are your parents now, in Germany or in Armenia? AA: They live in Armenia, but they visit me here often. My dad is here now, he’ll be staying with me for three months. AT: And your mom? Is she able to watch your fights? AA: She watches a little, and then she stops. She can’t bear watching the entire match, you know how a mother’s heart is. For this last fight, she was here in Germany. I’m told she watched only up to the fourth round. Even now she has no idea that my jaw was broken. Of course she saw all the bloody pictures in the papers, but we just told her I had cuts. She’s proud of me, but she’s also sad. She wishes I would have chosen a different sport, but it’s too late now. Anyway all sports can be dangerous. AT: Let’s talk about your younger brother Alex, who’s also a boxer. AA: We’re always together, 24 hours a day. We became interested in boxing together, and even now we do everything together. The only time we’re apart is when we sleep, then we’re in different rooms (laughs). Alex is also fighting to become world champion, I think he’s ranked 12th or 13th in the world now. But we try to schedule our fights so we’re not interfering with one another. AT: At your last fight he seemed very worried, and maybe upset that the fight wasn’t stopped. AA: Yeah, he took it really hard, he was very shaken. But this is boxing, it’s not chess. I have a hard time watching him fight too. We’re brothers, naturally we worry about each other. AT: You both fight in the same class, and you both want to be world champions. If it would come down to it, would you fight each other? AA: No, never. We’re brothers, how could we fight against each other? Never. Even in training we don’t fight each other. AT: At your last bout, right before the fight started, you looked into the camera and said, in Armenian, "Mom, I love you, I’m doing this for you." Do you always pass on some sort of message before your fights? AA: Yes, there are fights I dedicate to the victims of the Armenian genocide, others I dedicate to the martyrs of the Karabagh conflict. I try to think of something different to say before each match. AT: I have heard you are friends with Vic Darchinyan, another IBF champion who recently had a bout in Las Vegas. AA: Yes, he’s a great boxer, and a good man. There have been good Armenian boxers before, but now there are even more, fighting in France, in Germany, in the US Our people are talented at boxing. And a lot of us know each other. AT: You are currently undefeated, with a record of 22 wins, of which 17 knockouts. Where do you see yourself in the next five years? AA: In boxing. I don’t have enough time now, but when I do have it, I plan on opening a boxing school in Armenia, with good trainers from both Armenia and Germany, and with the best arrangements to give talented youth the possibility to excel in this sport. AT: So you’re currently taking a three-month break before starting training again. What’s after that? You have now earned your right to take on WBA and WBC world champion Jermain Taylor. Are there any plans to fight him? How about any fights in the US? AA: I’m ready to fight Taylor, we have contacted their team and proposed a fight, but so far they have refused. But I’m ready to fight him, it’s Taylor who’s not ready to fight me. As for America, I’m trying to slowly make my way there now. I was just there for the Valuev fight in Chicago, and I did some interviews and met some people. I think I will have a fight there by next summer. For now I don’t know yet who I’m fighting next, but I’m not even concerned about that. My opponents should be concerned. After we concluded the interview, Arthur inquired about me, and upon learning that I had come to Berlin by train, he offered to drop me back off at the station. We walked out to the parking lot and got into his shiny metallic blue Mercedes, in which he had Armenian music playing. On our way out through the gates, a security guy stopped and asked Arthur to take a picture. Apparently this happens all too often. But Arthur happily obliged, and even offered to give him an autographed picture the next time around. He then zigzagged through Berlin traffic as though the streets were his. "So, any plans to have children, get married?" I asked. "Yes," he replied. "That’s one of the reasons why I’m going to Armenia’soon." And should he have children, will he allow them to box? "Only one will fight." he said "I want to have three boys: one will be world champion, another will be president, and the third one, he can be whatever he wants to be, he can be a laborer if he wants."

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