Shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year in 2020, Ruqsana Begum’s Born Fighter speaks of her achievements which, had it not been for the adversities she overcame outside the ring, may never have come to fruition.
Now, with three arduous years having passed, the “Warrior Princess” continues to fight for the preservation of her professional boxing career.
Upon discovering that she was no longer permitted to fight in the UK, Begum chose not to neglect her world title ambitions. Rather, she sourced opportunities overseas and, being a Bangladeshi woman, flew over to the South Asian nation to win her first 10-round contest.
“[Bangladesh] was a homecoming for me but, at the same time, I realised that I was not the home-girl”, Begum revealed.
In boxing, the home-fighter will often have a significant advantage over their opponent. Even something as small as being in the red corner will give the judges a preconceived idea of who is likely to win the fight.
It may be due to their higher-perceived market value, or perhaps a more comfortable relationship with a promoter; but regardless, the away-fighter will always need to block-out any pre-fight narratives that may affect their performance.
“In England, I always had to go above-and-beyond to win clearly. It has almost become the norm for me to know that I have to outshine my counterparts by outworking them,” Begum said.
“I know that these things happen in boxing, but I stayed focused and true to myself.”
Being at a disadvantage in this country stemmed from other issues, though. In a Channel 4 News report that was aired last month, Begum accused the British Boxing Board of Control of being racist.
The board, which sanctions all professional bouts in this country, suspended Begum’s licence after she wore leggings for her fight at the York Hall in 2021.
“Nowhere does it say that a boxer cannot wear leggings, it just says that they have to be smart and clean when entering the ring”, she explained.
“They reprimanded me as soon as I stepped into the ring. I could see that the referee [Keiran McKann] was heavily influenced by the incident. He kept shouting my name – Begum Stop, Begum Stop!”
As a Muslim boxer, Begum has often considered whether her religion and sporting participation can co-exist. In her book she mentions coming to terms with the fact that people portray Islam in different ways and, in turn, leant to understand that God would not judge her based on what she wears.
So, her decision to wear leggings was ultimately out of respect for her family and friends who came to watch her fight. But the board did not reference this incident when they suspended her.
Instead, they cited two regulations that did not apply to Begum; one of which regarding her welfare from a medical standpoint.
“Before you get a professional licence you have to go through a thorough medical check, and then prior to the fight you have to fill out a medical form. So there should not have been an issue because I had passed all of the procedures,” Begum explained.
Whilst it is difficult to justify the board’s decision making, Begum’s long-term battle with ME – chronic fatigue syndrome – may indicate why she was suspended on medical grounds.
“Yes, I did have ME around 2012/13,” she continued. “But as soon as I signed with David Haye I noticed a shift in my body.
“Whether it was my training, mind-set or recovery, I was able to manage it and now I feel really fit and healthy.”
It is important to highlight that she was able to taper her symptoms, primarily through energy management and lifestyle changes, to a point where it was never an issue with regards to her career.
Begum then added that, having accused the board of being racist in a written-letter, she was surprised to discover that there was no internal investigation into the incident.
“[The board] were hoping that I would retire, and it was not until I relinquished my licence when they finally replied to my emails – asking if I had retired,” Begum revealed.
“People on the board are of a certain age and background where they do not realise that boxing is more diverse now, and they need to be able to represent women and people of colour.
“My experience has taught me that I need to shed light on this so that it does not happen to someone else.”
Albeit damaging, and largely avoidable, these experiences have helped to build Begum’s character over time.
Still, without a valid explanation as to why her licence was suspended, she continues to pursue her aspirations abroad and, as a result, has won her last three bouts.
“[getting into boxing] I was so excited. I felt that I could be a role model and an inspiration to so many young girls from all backgrounds and social classes,” Begum said.
“My goal is to become a world champion. Of course I would love to fight in England so that my supporters and the ladies class I teach would be able to see me, but now I have to fight abroad.”
Prevented from competing in iconic venues such as the York Hall, barely a stone’s throw away from the flat she grew up in, it is fair to say that Begum has found her new reality a difficult one to accept.
But hopefully her advocacy for greater representation will not go unnoticed. As with boxing being such a multicultural sport, there is certainly scope for improvement when considering that just one of the 14 board directors in this country is non-white – and all of them are male.