Brotherhood and religion, community and gaming, ‘Hitman’ is the new virtuous face of the British and Pakistani ringside

“I was quite young when I put on the gloves for the first time. My younger brother Adam started at age 4, and for a long time I just watched him. Then I decided to try, I was about 12 years old. I remember begging my father and the coach, and out of nowhere I found myself sparring…. Everyone was shocked, because I’d never boxed, yet I could perfectly replicate what I’d seen during those years. I think it was due to the visualization process. From that moment on, boxing became my everything.”

The ring is a catalytic pole. Inside the four ropes can be concentrated the most disparate factors. Blood ties and religion, gaming and solidarity, Olympic medals and cultural heritage – this is the kaleidoscopic mosaic that makes up the boxing and human identity of Hassan Azim. ‘Hitman’ is his nickname, 5-0-0 is his record as a professional after a long and successful amateur trafile, which culminated in a youth Olympic bronze medal. At 22, Hassan is breaking into big boxing. He’s doing it with the right mix of bravado and awareness, above all he’s doing it without forgetting his roots, divided between Pakistan and the English town of Slough. Because knockouts, this young interpreter of the noble art immediately points out, are meaningless if they fail to inspire and to give something back to mankind.

“I was born in Pakistan and came to England after a few months. Slough is my town, it’s where I grew up surrounded by so many different cultures. It has a wonderful community, everyone supports me and my brother, everyone looks up to us with respect and admiration. I’m honored to have a large fan base both in my native country and on English soil. I’ve always cultivated human relationships, because they’ve helped me and continue to do so: they defined the man I was, they define the man I am, and they’ll define the man I’ll be. At the same time I like to help. My parents always asked me what I wanted to do with my life, and I always had a clear idea in my head: I want to make the right contribution to shape a better world, the future world. My religion, Islam, teaches me about discipline, respecting one and another. The word Islam means peace. Now I’ve a platform and a network that allow me to launch events, communicate and promote the work of the nonprofit organization I founded with my brother. I’m a blessed man and I’ve to share this privilege.”

The Team Azim Trust is more than a nonprofit organization, it’s the sublimation of a bond that transcends the simple concept of family: the bond between Hassan and his brother Adam. Both raised by boxing, both rising phenomena, both role models in the making, these brothers share almost everything: workouts, sacrifices, successes, and, above all, ideals.

“It’s not about money and fame. It’s about something more important. With Team Azim Trust we want to help young people in need and their families. Adam and I are always willing to share our testimonies and ideas with those who want to listen. A few days ago, for example, we gave a speech about quality of life in front of hundreds of Slough residents. We also work with the city police; we recently proposed ideas to limit the use of guns and knives among the younger generations. Our family has worked hard to allow us to get here. We have overcome tough times together. Adam has been by my side since day one, he’s my best friend, my blood, my partner in the ring. Our bond has never broken and never will. We’ve always motivated and helped each other, now we want to do the same thing with other people.”

Only you can work toward your goals, only you can wake up every morning to practice. This is Hassin’s mantra. This is the teaching imparted to him by Anthony Joshua. The Anglo-Pakistani welterweight tells us about a pivotal teenage encounter with the two-time world champion and a dialogue that has never ceased to scan his daily life. From Joshua to Amir Khan, via Thomas Hearns and religious readings: the illustrious quotes of this 22-year-old are pieces of his personality and speak a consistent language, the language of dedication.

“Khan was my first inspiration, I remember watching him on TV…. He guided and opened doors for me and my brother through his achievements and words. My biggest sources of inspiration have always been him and Muhammad Ali. Ali will always be a giant both as a boxer and as a man. I try to be influenced by everyone I consider role models. It was amazing to meet Joshua, I was a teenager and found myself stretching alongside him, I asked him for advice on how to stay focused and his answer still resonates in my head, in my actions. ‘Tommy’ Hearns, on the other hand, is the former boxer with whom I share the nickname ‘Hitman.’ We have very similar fighting styles and I think ‘Hitman’ fits my attitude and my style in and out of the ring – I feel it’s tailor-made. But I’m only 22 years old and I know that I’ve to stay grounded, I’ve to continue to respect boxing and increase my knowledge. I also know that God has given me a gift and I don’t want to waste it. Adam and I had nothing and we were blessed. That’s why I stop and pray before and after every fight, that’s why I stay humble and work hard, that’s why no one has to take that away from me.”

And hard work happens even away from the ring. Hassan finds in an extremely contemporary world, the gaming world, the perfect ally to train his mind in moments of physical rest. If for George Foreman boxing was a special type of jazz, for this Berkshire talent the ring is a rational battlefield where strategies and quick decisions, perhaps accrued with a joystick in hand, can be essential tools for bending any opponent’s legs.

“Gaming for me is synonymous with meditation. I’ve been a gamer since I was a kid. I’m not a party person, I prefer to spend time with friends and solve games that stimulate our minds. For this reason I also love chess. When I play, I’ve the same feeling as a workout: my body is static, but my mind is whirling around strategies and tactics. I think this passion helps me in the ring and allows me to make quick and effective decisions. The hand-eye coordination and quick reactions times of Call of Duty can also be a useful for boxing…”

After a reasoned and solid approach to professionalism, Hassan can now afford to dream big. His dream has the traits of a world title: a summit he wants to reach step by step, round by round, starting with his next fight set for Feb. 11 at London’s OVO Wembley Arena. 2023 will be the first in a series of decisive years for this boxer with an ancient heart and modern pace: years he’ll face with the certainties of a consistent past and the unknowns of a meticulously planned future.

“When I entered the ring to fight my first professional match, I was not afraid; I knew who I was. I’d won more than 80 amateur fights and experienced the biggest thrill of my life, the bronze medal at the Youth Olympics. It’s impossible to forget when I received the call for those Games, I was so proud to represent Great Britain and I’d fought so hard to earn that call…. I knocked out the best boxer in the whole Asian area to get the medal. I wanted to get on that podium, I knew I could do it. I don’t want to rush at this point in my career, I hope to win a first title this year and then, following the right path and not forcing the pace, I want to win a world belt. It’s incredible to be in this position at only 22 years old, I know I’m privileged and I don’t want to waste this opportunity. I don’t want to waste it for myself and I don’t want to waste it for others.”

Photo Credits:@Dave Imms
@Hassan Azim
Text by: Gianmarco Pacione