The dream of representing Somalia at this summer’s Olympics is still alive for Ramla Ali, although she still faces an anxious wait to see if she will get the chance to box in Tokyo.
Ali has her second professional fight when she takes on Bec Connelly at Wembley on Saturday, but the Vogue cover model is ready to put her professional career on hold is she is handed an Olympic spot.
The 31-year-old was born in the war-torn African nation but came to London as a child refugee and is attempting to be the first boxer to represent Somalia at an Olympics. She failed to earn her spot via the African qualifying event in Senegal in February last year – when she lost a split decision in the quarter-finals to Tunisia’s Khouloud Ep Moulahi – and feared her chance was gone when the world qualifying event, for all boxers who did not make it to Tokyo via the continental qualifying events, was scrapped.
But the IOC’s boxing task force has announced that the quota places that would have been on offer at the world qualifier will now be distributed based on rankings. In the pre-qualification rankings, Ali was the highest rated African featherweight not to qualify at the event, raising hopes that she will be in Tokyo.
“The dream has always been to go to Tokyo and know that they have cancelled the world qualifiers I am just hoping that I get good news,” Ali said. “Hopefully, I get the call. I do want to go.”
If she does get the call, Ali says she will put the professional career on hold and try to compete in a couple of amateur tournaments. As well as wearing headguards in the amateur code, female boxers compete over three-minute rounds compared to two-minute rounds as professionals and switching between the two isn’t necessarily straightforward.
“Pros and amateurs are so different – the rounds, the minutes, the pace,” Ali said. “I want to get this fight out of the way on Saturday, maybe do one more, then go back to doing some amateur tournaments. I want to try to get at least two tournaments under my belt before starting the Olympic prep and then going out to Tokyo to try and get some preparation with the national team. Hopefully, everything falls into place.”
It is nearly five months since Ali made her professional debut with a one-sided points win over Eva Hubmayer on the Oleksandr Usyk-Derek Chisora undercard and she is likely to face a tougher challenge on her return to Wembley. Connolly has only won three of her 11 bouts, but has shared a ring with Terri Harper, Natasha Jonas, Rachel Ball and Ellie Scotney.
“It has been so hard training during the lockdown.” Ali said. “A lot of the gyms are locked and it is so difficult getting sparring. Even a lot of the tracks, where I do my conditioning work, are closed. You have to get creative with your training.
“My original opponent tested positive for COVID and Bec kindly stepped up. She has been saying she wants to fight me for some while, so I thought ‘why not?’ I’m hoping it is a good step up, but I know I will win.”
Ron Lewis is a senior writer for BoxingScene. He was Boxing Correspondent for The Times, where he worked from 2001-2019 - covering four Olympic Games and numerous world title fights across the globe. He has written about boxing for a wide variety of publications worldwide since the 1980s.