Former Times boxer aims to emulate world champion James DeGale

Zak Chelli is set for his professional debut on February 24

Zak Chelli is set for his professional debut on February 24 - Credit: Archant

Zak Chelli has sparred with two world champions ahead of his professional debut – and the teenager will settle for no less than following in their footsteps.

The 19-year-old Times ABC prospect, who has signed a promotional deal with Frank Warren, is due to enter the paid ranks later this month at York Hall.

Chelli, who won two national amateur titles and narrowly missed out on a third, warmed up for his debut by sparring IBF world super-middleweight champion James DeGale and the newly-crowned IBO title holder Chris Eubank Jr.

And he is particularly keen to emulate DeGale – who, like Chelli, started out at Dale Youth ABC in west London and became a double national champion – in the future.

“I remember James DeGale coming down to Dale Youth once after he won the British title and it was great to help him prepare for his recent fight [against Badou Jack],” Chelli told the Gazette.

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“When we sparred I caught him cleanly with some power punches and I feel it’s definitely a possibility for me to be a world champion one day. I want to do it by the time I’m 22 or 23.

“There was some temptation to qualify for the 2020 Olympics – but I felt I might as well be the best I can as a professional. I’m still young and turning pro now will give me a great boost.

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“I think I needed to grow a bit more to get that extra kilo and a half and move up to super-middleweight, but now I feel more powerful. If I can take over this division I might build up to a heavier weight later on.”

Chelli, who is due to begin a course in business management later this year at the University of Surrey, is currently balancing his studies with three hours of training each day.

He trains in a converted gym at the family home, under the watchful eye of his father Zak Sr, who boxed as a professional at light-heavyweight during the 1990s.

“My dad’s known Frank Warren from years back and I’d been sending him videos of me sparring,” added Chelli. “Then I heard he’d signed a TV deal with BT Sport, which was another good reason to join him.

“Frank’s the best promoter in Europe, he’s really excited for me and that’s shown by the fact he’s already booked my second fight for Leeds in May.

“I still go to Times at the weekend and I get good sparring there. My brother [Yahia], who’s in his second year at Portsmouth, comes down to spar with me sometimes as well.”

For information about tickets to see Chelli in action on Friday February 24, against an opponent yet to be announced, contact Times head coach David Ryan on 07427 589 323.

Islington middleweight Billy Underwood makes his professional debut on Saturday as part of a Dove Box Promotions show at York Hall.

Underwood, who won a London title in the National Association of Boys and Girls’ Clubs Championship during his amateur days with Lion ABC, takes on Polish opponent Marcin Cybulski over four rounds.

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