Photography by Ciaran O’Fathaigh.
“Health, wealth and then legacy,” is Ace Adam’s mantra. It’s one of the many life lessons instilled in him by his coach, Coach Eyez, whose teachings are influenced by the work ethic and wisdom of his Caribbean parents. As well as being taught by Robin Walker; the leading historian in the field of ancient and medieval African history, who also taught Akala; author of ‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire.’
We asked Eyez what initially drew him to Ace when they first met at the Balham boxing club in 2012, to which he responded: “it was his kind-hearted personality, his self-discipline, his athletic ability and his attitude of wanting to be the best.” When describing the young fighter, he says; “he is a warrior in the ring. He’s got that heart; you can’t give that to someone.”
We met the 25-year-old, Catford bred and newly professional boxer at the Sting ABC gym in Croydon’s town centre. The gym’s off-white walls are adorned with painted portraits of renowned boxers, some with signed autographs beside them. Inside, Lightning Ace is warming up for his Sunday morning training session; skipping followed by pad work.
It’s 8am and Coach Eyez is speaking passionately about Anthony Joshua’s losing fight against Andy Ruiz. His vigilance and dedication to the sport are undeniable. He unpacks each round meticulously; pinpointing where Joshua made his mistakes and how he could’ve turned the game around. It’s clear his knowledge comes not only from observation, but from having been in the ring himself for 20 years. As Eyez speaks, he travels between punching bags, shifting his attention from person to person, as if to include us all in the conversation.
Ace’s childhood friend and marketing manager, Rickardo McKenzie, is playing music by the braggadocious rap king, Biggie Smalls, from a Bluetooth speaker in the corner of the room. Meanwhile, Ace is quiet and focused. Smiling every so often in response to the conversation, never straying from the ropes.
There is a brotherhood between the three men. The gym is Ace’s second home and his team are his extended family; his relaxed demeanour says as much. Boxing is more than a sport to him; it’s a life-changing practice. In this interview, we delve further into exactly what that means.
So Ace, how did you get into boxing?
Boxing has always been instilled in me. My grandfather, Lloyd Barnett, was a professional heavyweight boxer. As for me, I had a little incident when I was younger, these boys tried to take my phone and I broke my hand. My uncle introduced me to boxing as a way to learn self-defence and that’s where everything started. Before boxing, I was doing athletics. I was doing the 100-metre sprint and was really into in that.
Do you feel like this has impacted the way you approach things in life, outside of sport?
Yes, it’s all about discipline, respect and focus. You can only rely on yourself when you get in the ring. The preparation and the discipline that goes into it; not going out with friends, not drinking or eating fast food. Just staying dedicated to the craft of boxing resonated with me.
What have been the most defining moments in your career so far?
I would say getting into the Queensbury Boxing League, that was a defining moment for me. People really got to know who I was on a bigger scale. Also, winning the Novice championships with a hurt hand.
In my last fight at the Queensbury Boxing League in November, I got knocked down but I got back up and won. That showed character, it was a big defining moment for me.
When you became a professional boxer, what did that moment feel like for you?
It felt surreal. It was the result of all the hard work I’ve put in since I started as an amateur in 2011. I had my first amateur fight in 2012.
You’re a light heavyweight, right? It looks like the British light heavyweight division, with the likes of Anthony Yard, is looking really interesting at the moment.
I’m actually coming down into the super middleweight now, but I’ve shared the ring with the likes of Buatsi and he’s a tremendous talent. I actually met Anthony Yard on Wednesday. It’s crazy and what I like about it is how they have changed their lives. Anthony Yard came from Forest Gate in East London and has made a big success of himself. Buatsi went to university and got his degree, now he’s boxing. They’re both tremendous talents. We did have a big upset from Anthony Joshua though.
That was my next question! What are your thoughts on that?
He will bounce back but it was just like Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas, I don’t know if his mind was fully concentrating on the fight itself. Social media has taken over and you can get too indulged in it. It’s important to stay focused. He’s changed Andy Ruiz’s life forever.
How would you describe your style and do you incorporate anyone else's style into your own?
I am very athletic so I use that to the best of my ability but no, I’m going to make my own style.
I do take a lot of notes from Lomachenko, outside of boxing he does a lot of mental stimulation like Rubix cubes, that’s a big part of it. It’s all about your mentality when you’re in the ring. My coach is great at that, stimulating the mind, making sure you understand what you’re doing and that you’re not just acting out of instinct.
What are you most proud of achieving?
To be honest, just staying focused and not being the stereotype from Catford. There’s this stigma of people from Catford. So I’m proud of being able to show children that there is a better way of living life. It doesn’t have to be in boxing, it could be in education. If you stay focused, you can achieve something and establish yourself.
What would you like to achieve in the next year?
To be an undefeated professional fighter, that’s it. Also, being in line to fight for the British title belt.
So you’ve grown up in Catford, what makes the area is special to you? And if someone was to ask you about Catford, what would you tell them?
I would tell them about the big cat. Chilling with my friends after school; we would go to McDonald’s or to the shops on Downham Way before catching the 284. We would go to People’s Day at Mountsfield Park. In those days we ate chicken and chips from Morley’s. Then yard shops like Uptown came in on Sandhurst Road, and we would go there.
I love Catford because everywhere I’ve been or worked, people will say ‘you’re from Catford? That such a dangerous place.’ I’d respond ‘no that’s just where I’ve grown up and it gives you character.’
From your perspective, how has Catford changed over time?
I think things have changed dramatically. The crime rate wasn’t as high as it is now. Obviously, social media and technology weren’t as magnified as they are now, so we hear a lot more about the violence now than we did growing up.
If a young person growing up in Catford came to you for advice, what would you say to them?
To always stay focused and remember that hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard. You always have to put one hundred per cent into what you do, you can’t half step. If you half step, you won’t get what you truly want from life.
What advice would you give to your younger self? Would it be the same thing?
To have a plan. I feel like I glided through life at times; things came along and I just dealt with them as they came. I’m definitely planning a lot more now.
Do you have any fears or concerns about the future?
No. I think you only have fears and concerns that you put into your own mind. If you have a clear mind and a plan, and you keep focused and consistent with that plan you should have no problem.
How do you find balancing your day job as a Care Supervisor with your boxing career?
Because I’m a Care Supervisor and I’m helping people in that way, people look at me and think I’m not a boxer. It’s not until some of the people I work with see me on TV and they’re like ‘wow, it’s a whole different side of you.’
Is caring for others and giving back important to you?
Yes, that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, give back to my community.
What are some of the life lessons you’ve learnt from working in care?
You should always take opportunities and grab them with both hands. Life can change in a second. It’s important to take life seriously because time is something that we can never get back. I don’t want to live with regrets.
Your schedule must be pretty full on, what does a week in your life look like?
So I run at about 4 or 5 in the morning. I come back, have breakfast and then it’s straight to work. After work training consists of boxing, swimming and athletics. I do this throughout the week. Sunday mornings I’m at the gym. Then it starts all over again.
What kind of music do you listen to? What gets your head in the game?
I like old school R&B, slow jams if I’m driving. I like Tupac, Biggie and Nipsey Hussle. I love music with a message.
What’s your diet like?
I am pescetarian so I don’t eat meat. It was very hard for me because I come from a Caribbean family, but I had to commit. I’ve started looking into Dr Sebi, his work is brilliant.
Did you learn about Dr Sebi through Nipsey?
I knew about Dr Sebi before Nipsey, Nipsey magnified his story as well as other things such as financial literacy, how to conduct yourself as a man and how to start a business. Sebi talked about health and Nipsey spoke about wealth. I really love Nipsey’s work and music.
Who are the fighters that you find exciting and enjoy watching the most?
I like old school fighters like Andre Ward and Roy Jones, although they’re no longer active. I like their mindset. Right now, I like Anthony Yard and Buatsi. The UK is doing very well; a lot of fresh fighters are coming up.
Final question, what do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be known as a person who never gave up. A person who was inspiring. Showing people that you can do whatever you put your mind to. It doesn’t matter if you get set back. I want to be a legend in the sport. A people person; remembered for my character as well as what I do in the ring.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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