Legendary John Conteh inspires his namesake at Islington Boxing Club
- Credit: Archant
As one of the iconic figures in British boxing history, former world light-heavyweight champion John Conteh has been an inspiration to numerous fighters.
Even 35 years after he hung up his gloves, the mention of Conteh’s name triggers misty-eyed memories from those who saw the Commonwealth Games gold medallist go on to win a world title in the mid-1970s and become a TV sporting celebrity.
And his name – albeit indirectly – has also motivated one young man to try and make his own way in the sport at Islington BC.
Light-middleweight prospect Lamin Conteh, who has won six of his first eight fights since joining the Hazellville Road club last year, admits the surname he shares with the ex-champion was one of the reasons behind his decision to take up boxing in the first place.
“When I was growing up, I used to get asked that a lot – was I related to John Conteh?” the 24-year-old told the Gazette.
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“As it happens, I’m not related to him, but my dad does know him – he lived nearby. I had to go and look him up and find out who this guy was and I discovered that he was a fantastic boxer in his day.
“After that, he was someone I did look up to, partly because of the name but also as I saw what he could do and him meeting Muhammad Ali and stuff like that. It did inspire me more to get involved in boxing.
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“It’s gone well so far. I’m just looking to get in the gym and train and get more experience. Then hopefully I can take it up a level – maybe at the ABAs or something like that.”
The younger Conteh has yet to meet his namesake – although he did get to rub shoulders with another boxer who won a Commonwealth Games gold medal earlier this year.
Following his successful debut season, Conteh was awarded the Courtney Fry Cup – presented annually by the man who remains the last Islington fighter to win a senior ABA title.
And his form has continued of late, overcoming Eltham’s Ohio Kane on a unanimous decision last month to round off Islington’s first open show of the season in style.
“I take my time because, when you run in, you make mistakes and you can get hurt doing that,” said Conteh. “So you’ve got to really think about what you’re doing.
“In the first minute of the first round I was a bit shaky, but then I started to get my timing and pick up his timing as well. That’s what happens when you don’t rush – you can see things more clearly.”
Conteh, who is scheduled to box again later this month, was originally a promising footballer – featuring as a striker or winger at non-league level – but there has been a distinct shift in his sporting priorities during recent times.
“I was really fast and I used to play all the time and train a lot,” he recalled. “Because I had that dedication to training inside and outside the gym, when I moved to north London and saw there was a boxing club in Islington, I thought I should check it out.
“After I did some training courses I started to see my body was changing and, when I went to play football, my performance was even better. You get hooked on the training, really.
“I took boxing way more seriously and carried on with it. I still kick a ball around with some of the guys now, but that’s about it.”