The indomitable Portsmouth 'dream chaser' who's making world boxing history after witnessing the bloody horror of genocide in Sudan

Ahmed Adenas is a fighter who knows no fear when he steps into the boxing ring.

Monday, 9th September 2019, 8:00 am
Ahmed Adenas is going to the World Championbships Picture: Ian Hargreaves (270819-7)

Fear for the Heart of Portsmouth boxer is literally running for his life from rampaging militia who’ve raped children and bludgeoned infants to death. 

Terror for this champion is witnessing the slaughter of his loved ones amid the genocide which continues to sweep across his homeland.

Despair for this very special young man is being separated from his family and starving for weeks on end as he fought for survival - not only for himself, but also his younger sibling.

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Ahmed Adenas with his coach Q Shillingford Picture: Ian Hargreaves (270819-12)

Adenas and his brother, Walid, both hail from Darfur in Sudan, where one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts continues to rage. The latest UN figures on the war makes for the most sobering reading with the death toll estimated to be as high as 500,000 since it began in 2003, and as many as 3m lives impacted by a regime whose forces use tactics ranging from chemical weapons to the most harrowing forms of torture on its innocent people.

These were the horrors witnessed by the 23-year-old before he sought asylum on these shores at the end of 2011, after initially seeking refuge in Chad following his village, Janan, being burned to the ground.

‘He’s seen traumatising atrocities,’ explained Adenas’ coach, Q Shillingford, whose club offered a route into settling the community when arriving in Portsmouth without being able to speak a word of English.

‘He and his brother don’t usually talk about it too much. They lost a lot of friends and family.

Ahmed Adenas has reached boxing's World Championships Picture: Ian Hargreaves (270819-14)

‘They had nowhere to live and they were at a refugee site. Then they had to stay in an empty ruin they found. There was no electricity or water.

‘They had to fight to live, so the fear of going into a boxing ring is the last thing on Ahmed's mind.

'When they had to run it wasn't for training, they had to run so they didn’t get killed.

‘He understands about survival so when he has those tough moments in the ring he’s more than ready.

Q Shillingford with Ahmed Adenas at Heart Of Portsmouth Boxing Academy. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (270819-13)

‘When you have experienced danger like he has, a boxing contest is nothing.’

His boxing voyage of discovery is one which has seen Adenas overcome very different struggles to simply make it into the ring.

After facing opposition from Sudanese community leaders struggling to align the values of self-discipline, dedication and control which underpin the noble art in the face of the sport’s apparent violence, some convincing was needed on what it had to offer.

Then followed the more slapstick elements of his education, as a session on the pads was misconstrued as an invite to rain blows on his coaches, while the basic boxing tools such as a jab proved incomprehensible to a stranger not only to the sport, but every element of his new life.

But out of those modest origins, a fighting heart and iron will which knew darker challenges saw a boxer of promise emerge. Three years later, Adenas was a national novice champion.

It was a success engineered in part by the Southsea man’s compatriot, Sami Elslamanabi, a Heart of Portsmouth coach who brought Adenas to the club. 

That success was viewed as quite something, but from the moment the welterweight saw the legendary figure of the sport’s biggest icon gazing down from the gym’s sweat-soaked walls the dream has been to emulate the Greatest in Muhammad Ali.

While most humoured a seemingly twee notion, Adenas spoke earnestly of people across the planet hearing his name and making his people and those who embraced him proud.

His home may have been razed by flames, but a different fire burns in the eyes of an indefatigable force of nature. One of ambition, one of belief and one which has now carried him to boxing’s World Championships.

‘My time in Sudan time was tough for me,’ Adenas revealed, as he opened up over the horrors he witnessed and endured.  ‘Everything in life has been tough.

‘My life has been on the line. I have been putting my life on the line, so I know you have to be ready for whatever you face.

‘It was a hard time for me, yes, but it wasn’t just a hard time for me - but everyone.

‘We came to Portsmouth and after two weeks here we went to the boxing gym. We didn’t even know what a jab was!

'I saw a picture on the wall of Muhammad Ali and said then I wanted the same - I wanted to become a world champion.

‘People didn’t believe me when I said I wanted to box in the World Championships, but I knew I could achieve it.

‘Every day was hard but, step by step, I have been able to move forward - and now the World Championship.

‘Me and my brother work hard and deserve this life.’

The scale of Adenas’ achievement in travelling to Russia to compete with the sport's finest boxers next week is laid bare as he becomes not only the first man from Portsmouth to compete on such a platform, but the first Sudanese boxer to ever do so.

The former Portsmouth College and Highbury College student is proud to represent his adopted home on the world stage, but is also acutely aware of his position as a symbol of hope for those who’ve felt the pain of atrocities.

‘I’m so proud,’ he added, ahead of travelling to Yekaterinburg for the competition which begins today.

‘I will be the first international boxer to represent my country. I’m making history.

‘I want to make the country and millions of people proud. I want to make them happy.

‘I have been working hard and pushing myself. 

'The main thing is to work and you have to follow your dreams. I have a big dream - and I’m a dream chaser.

'I'm a Pompey boy now, too, so I'm going to make my home city proud, my country proud and the people proud.'

For all of Adenas’ awe-inspiring achievements, his ability to look ahead with optimism in the face of the barbarism he’s suffered could well be his greatest success.

An indomitable spirit has allowed an inspiration to not hunt for vengeance but move forward unbowed as a beacon of light.

Now he goes in search of a movie-script climax to his humbling tale as a huge underdog. But really, of course, this lesson to us all has already won.

‘What I went through was hard but that is now the past,’ Adenas said, his voice true and unwavering.

‘We are taking steps forward in our life and that now is the World Championship for me.

‘I want to talk about positive things to encourage people - especially the next generation.

‘I want them to know my story and see you can do it. We bring hope. 

‘I have trained hard for this competition. I’m ready to go and get it. Tell the boxers I’m coming for them in Russia!'


Darfur Facts

Darfur is a region in western Sudan – roughly the size of France – which has been devastated by an ongoing war which began in 2003. 

The region is home to a population of six million Muslim people from 100 tribes, mainly nomads and farmers. 

Rebel groups took up arms against the Sudanese government, who responded with a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs. 

Figures vary but reports put the numbers killed at 500,000 with up to 3m impacted and displaced by the atrocities.

The UK has the oldest Sudanese community in the developed world. Portsmouth has one of the biggest Sudanese communities in the country, along with the likes of London, Brighton, Edinburgh and Glasgow.