How young is too young to start by boxing? – Kenyan top boxer Shaffi Bakari narrates to Capital FM Sport his turbulent but fruitful journey to stardom which started in 2002.
“The first time I set foot onto a boxing gym was in 2002 when I accompanied my friends to a session of senior boxers,” Bakari, now a police officer recalls with nostalgia.
Around the same time he was among the kids in his neighborhood, who had long dispensed with their toys and outdoor games and was busy trying his hand on hooks and jabs at the age of 9. He was then a boxing-crazy Class One pupil at Khadija Primary School in Mombasa’s sprawling Kisauni area.
“My love for the game started around age 5-6 years, the days I would go to Kisauni gym for the simple reason to catch a glimpse of those shadowboxing, sparring and relentlessly pounding the punching bag. I found the sport quite interesting though quite tough when caught unawares,” he revealed to Capital Sport.
“Over the years, boxing has taught me that in life you have to always stay alert, then make rational decisions as quickly as possible,” the Africa Games silver medallist said of his life lessons in the game of boxing.
“I am happy that I was able to realise my potential in sports as a very young boy and landed a job in the National Police Service while also a young man.”
Kenyan top boxer Shaffi Bakari in training
“Some people would rather wait until they are 12 or so. Some parents also discourage the Idea to seeing little 7 or 8-year-old boys in the gym getting hit up by 18+ year olds. Some parents would truly not stand that kind of scenario, so age factor in boxing has many challenges. They would rather you develop and get a chance later,” Bakari narrates.
“On my part, I started school somewhat late because my parents could not afford to take me to school. So, the only other escape route from difficult situations was sport. Boxing has also taught me to be a disciplined person in life and the one thing I would never do is to intimidate or bully my friends in school in the name of boxing.”
Bakari attributes his ring success to Coach Leamy Katibi, a sibling of former Kenya international Evans Ashira Oure (The African Warrior).
“Coach Katibi is the man who inspired me to do boxing. Leamy comes from a family line of Kenya’s finest boxers. He taught me how to punch, get me moving around using my feet, etc. I could not do much with weights at that age, and would not also do much sparring, just shadow boxing. As a kid I was always active regardless if I’m training or not.”
Bakari started boxing as a Class One in 2002. At the time, He would just do light training and shadow boxing. But it was not until late 2009 that he started training and participating in class events like the National League.
“In 2009 Mombasa hosted the season-closing leg of the Kenya National League, so this turned out to be a favorable platform to prove myself under the watchful eye of coach Katibi who also made up a group of coaches who trained us in Africa’s Tokyo Olympic Qualifiers in Dakar Senegal earlier in the year. Because Kisauni has produced many quality boxers, boxing was one of the main preoccupations of enthusiastic youth. As a result, there were many boys in our neighborhood who aspired to follow in the footsteps of our predecessors.”
Shaffi Bakari (Center) with Hit-Squad Coaches Musa Benjamin (Left) and David Munuhe (Right)
Bakari’s formative years in boxing were nevertheless not a bed of roses. But the career policeman is glad he’s a force to reckon with in the sport.
“Given our humble family background, I had to contend with quite a lot of challenge. I grew up training without boxing shoes. Lack of training equipment was also a major challenge. Also raising bus fare to enable us to go for matches was a major problem. But all these problems did not in any way deter us. There is always no gain without pain. I knew that good things were only achievable after hardship. So, we all took it in our stride.”
In 2011, he was called up to the national team for the junior Commonwealth Championship in the Isle of Man in England under current national senior Coach Musa Benjamin.
“Mwaka huo huo nilikua nimeitwa na team ya Jeshi kuichezea na hapo ndipo nilijua ndondi inaweza nipa maisha mazuri. (The same year I was called up to join the Army team and that’s honestly the time instance I realized that boxing could truly transform lives).”
“I’m always so thankful to my bosses at the Police Service for giving me the opportunity to further my career and chase my dreams in boxing. They have given me an enabling environment to play and train adequately. At the moment I am training on my own and with my own program. My coach Musa and his deputy David Munuhe have been guiding me on the much-needed technical finesse as I work-out on my own.
But COVID-19 has really affected our plans given the fact that the Final World Qualifiers in Paris had to called off. It’s not only us who are affected but the entire country and the whole world. So, my training has been distracted just as we were planning to go for the elusive Olympic slot.
I agree that setback will only make one stronger. So, this means that my hopes for Tokyo 2020 dream next year is still alive and I have the confidence that I will qualify for the Olympics. I had high hopes given good preparations under our leaders but what God plans no man is able to overturn.”
Shaffi Bakari in past competitions
Asked what lessons he has learnt from his elusive Olympic dream in Senegal, Bakari went on: “I have come to learn that being a champion is easy but maintaining the status is another tough thing because the one who won in Senegal, was the first to be eliminated from in Morocco All African Games preliminaries.”
So how does Shaffi spend his free time?
“I spend much time watching movies with my family. I also go swimming. But the most important thing is spending time with the family. I also enjoy the Mombasa cuisine so much. We call them mapochopocho in our coasterian jargon so biryani, pilau and most of the dishes from the coast would do. Rice and potato soup is good,” says the father of two boys.
For Bakari its boxing for life. “Boxing has greatly enriched my life and helped in caring for my family’s welfare. First and foremost, respect is the biggest thing in life. Secondly love what you do and work hard for as nothing good comes easy, so we have to put God first in everything.”
“Also knowing how to relate to all and sundry as wishing your friends well is key in life,” continued Bakari.
Bakari admires champ Mayweather
“Mayweather ila kwa sai bondia nnae penda sana ni Lomachenko ako na skills za hali ya juu na yuko fast.”
“I want to continue living my life like a champion so that this beautiful game could. I met Nick Okoth when I relocated to Nairobi and had a stint with Kenya Defence Forces team. Nick really encouraged me and treated me as a brother. I admired I loved how Nick and Gicharu (Benson) boxed.
Shaffi later joined the National Team ‘Hit Squad’ and became a mainstay.
Shaffi Bakari Bio Data
Name: Shaffi Bakari Hassan
Date of Birth: 05/07/1993
Current Weight Division: Flyweight
Lives in: Nairobi
Previous Club: Kisauni Boxing Club
Current Club: Chafua Chafua (Police Team)
Club Coach(es): Sir David Munuhe, John Waweru and George “Forman” Onyango
Kenya Junior Team Debut: Commonwealth Youth Games 2011 in the Isle of Man England under the tutelage of Coach Musa Benjamin
Senior Kenya Team Debut: Africa Championships in Congo Brazzaville
Favorite sports: Football and boxing
Hobbies: Chilling with my family, watching movies and swimming
Short term goal: To qualify for his maiden Olympic Games for Tokyo 2020
Long term goal: To win an Olympic medal
Kenya Open Champion 2019, and winner of 1st, 2nd and 3rd leg league champion
Africa Championship Congo Brazzaville BRONZE
Made All Africa Games debut in Morocco
Represented Kenya at the AIBA World Boxing Championship held at the Alsterdorfer Sporthalle in Hamburg, Germany from 25 August to 2 September 2017.
Participated in the Indian Open in New Delhi 2018
Participated in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia
All Africa Games flyweight silver medalist in Rabat Morocco in 2019