“It’s a beautiful coincidence that I share my name with one of the most legendary icons in the history of boxing, and that is reason enough for me to believe that the sport is my destiny,” says Ali, whose American namesake is considered one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time.
The Muhammad Alis: the USA's former world heavyweight champion (left) and Great Britain's Nanjing 2014 hopeful
The British flyweight, known as Mo to his teammates, admits that he has to cope with a lot of interest that comes with his famous name and chosen sport.
“People expect a lot from me because of my name. They start comparing me to the great Muhammad ALI. But slowly, I have proved myself and it doesn’t bother me any more,” explains the 18-year-old boxer. “People have begun to notice me for my accomplishments.”
The young Briton’s biggest inspiration and role model is in fact Amir Khan (GBR), two-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist, who burst onto the scene at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
“Khan is the reason I picked up the gloves in the first place. I’ve grown up watching him on television. I saw him win the silver in 2004 at the age of 17, and if I can be even half as good as him, I will be happy,” he explains.
It only helps that Ali trains under Khan’s former amateur coach Mick Jelley at the Bury Amateur Boxing Club in north-west England.
“It’s definitely an advantage. At the club, they know how to bring out the best in me,” says Ali.
He is ready to face his toughest opponent in Nanjing, the reigning junior world champion Shakur Stevenson (USA), who remains undefeated in 14 international fights.
The British fighter had to settle for the silver medal when Stevenson beat him in the final of the men’s flyweight event at the International Boxing Association (AIBA) World Youth Championships in Bulgaria in April 2014.
“I remember that fight. It was intense and rough, but I’m not intimidated by his record. Every fight is a new fight. I’ve been training hard for the gold, and I’ll try my best to take it,” says Ali.
He is also not writing off local favourite Lyu Ping (CHN), who won the bronze medal in the same event at the AIBA World Youth Championships.
“I know I have to be careful with him because of his home ground advantage. The crowd will be on his side and that can be a big booster,” he adds.
The boxing competition takes place at Nanjing’s International Expo Centre between August 23 and 27.