“The Kid” sure has grown up in a hurry.
Sadam “World Kid” Ali, the Brooklyn-born boxer who made history by becoming the first-ever Arab-American pugilist to represent the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, is flourishing as a professional, even if he’s still one of the best-kept secrets in the sport.
That figures to change beginning June 2, when the 22-year-old two-time New York Golden Gloves champion headlines his own fight card at Brooklyn’s Aviator Sports Complex.
“I’m very excited,” Ali said during Tuesday’s press conference to promote the event at Atlantic Avenue’s Yemen Café, where his tight-knit family based team and fellow fighters met with a modest throng of media types.
“This is my first main event and my first promotion,” added Ali, who hasn’t fought since scoring a technical knockout of Germany’s Boris Berg in Poland on Sept. 10, 2011. “I’m ready. I’ve been training four to five months.”
The welterweight with the million-dollar smile and Brooklyn swagger has been dreaming of headlining his own card since he first started firing his mitts into a speed bag at the age of eight, slowly developing his skills at the Bed-Stuy Boxing Club.
Ali captured National Golden Glove titles as a featherweight at 17 and lightweight at 18. He lost in the Olympic semifinals before turning pro with a first-round knockout of Ricky Thompson in January of 2009.
In the three years since his pro debut, Ali has fought on ESPN and scored several victories on the undercards of big-time pay-per-view bouts.
But his first foray into headlining promises to provide the break he needs to catapult himself into the boxing’s elite class of up-and-coming fighters – even if he has to promote and sell the fight himself.
“I’m a free agent at this point,” admitted Ali, who listed Muhammad Ali, Prince Naseem Hamed and Floyd Mayweather as his boxing role models. “It’s hard to get fights. In the future, I would sign with the right promoter.”
While his family hails from Yemen, Ali feels that his first bout in our fair borough is a true homecoming. His team even hinted that he may be in line for a future bout at the state-of-the-art Barclays Center, which will likely host its first night of boxing in October, with recently re-crowned WBA welterweight champion Paulie Malignaggi of Bensonhurst defending his title.
“It’s amazing [to be fighting in Brooklyn for the first time]” Ali gushed. “Because this is where I’m from. To have it here in the heart of Brooklyn is great.”
Of course, the pressures of promoting the fight, which Ali readily admits he isn’t doing alone, could present distractions from the task at hand, which is to dispense with Franklin Gonzalez (15-9, 10 KOs) as impressively as possible on the night of June 2.
Without a clear-cut victory in the ring, Ali knows he won’t lure the necessary interest to get him a big-money fight in the immediate future.
“I’m good under pressure,” he insisted. “I don’t crack. This is good pressure.”
Thus far, Ali has risen to every challenge during his career as a pro, winning all 14 of his previous bouts, including eight by way of knockout. All of those victories came in the shadow of other headliners, however, making this his coming out party of sorts.
Though he admitted to watching film of Gonzalez, a veteran of 24 bouts who promises to pose Ali’s biggest obstacle to date in the squared circle, during his preparation for next month’s fight, “World Kid” also feels he’s ready to give a statement-making performance.
“I’m ready for eight [rounds], but that’s not how long it’s going to go,” he boasted. “I’m not gonna end it too soon, but I’m gonna use my speed and power. I have to look good. I have to make new fans. I’m the main event and this is my first show.”
It certainly won't be his last.
Brooklyn native Juan Dominguez (10-0, 7 KOs), Raul Lopez (6-1-1, 3 KOs) of the Bronx, Zachary Ochoa, Dinmukhamad Niyazov, Ryan Rumaya, Steven Gamache, Armin Mrkanovic and Jennifer Santiago, making her pro debut, will also be on the card.
The Bensonhurst native recently starred in his first feature, “Omerta: Act of Silence,” which was directed by fellow 31-year-old Bensonhurst native Craig Syracusa, a graduate of Park Slope’s Bishop Ford High School.
Malignaggi, who is as animated and loquacious in front of a microphone as he is in the ring, plays an repentant ex-con mob underling, who turns to the church in his time of crisis.
“It was amazing,” Syracusa said of directing Malignaggi. “He was able to tap into his personal relationships and what happened to him in the past. It was hard for everybody to believe that this tough guy could cry on command.
“He’s one of the best actors that I’ve ever worked with,” added Syracusa, who has directed numerous small features and documentaries and is currently working at The NET, a Catholic cable network.
“Everybody was beyond impressed with his acting ability,” Syracusa noted. “I joke with him that we’re going to be the next Scorcese-DeNiro combo. I think it’s because of how he grew up. He’s not afraid to cry. He has a huge future whether it’s in boxing or acting.”
Syracusa is hoping to cross-promote the film’s eventual release – he told the Eagle on Wednesday that it was “95 percent done” – with Malignaggi’s proposed October title defense at the Barclays Center.
“It’s gotten a lot of attention from a lot of different distribution companies,” said Syracusa. “Our intentions and hopes are to use his next fight to promote the film.”
Syracusa, who also shot and directed a Malignaggi-based documentary titled “The Magic Man” several years ago, admitted that his producers were at first skeptical of Malignaggi’s acting ability and drawing power.
That skepticism grew in the wake of what many predicted would be a career-ending loss for Malignaggi to Amir Khan at Madison Square Garden in May of 2010.
But the 31-year-old has bounced back to win his last four bouts, including two via knockout. Don’t bet against him eventually scoring a TKO on the big screen.