Muhammad Ali: The UK's First Diabetic Boxer

Siobhan Harris

Disclosures

February 08, 2020

Muhammad Ali is making history as the first British professional boxer who has type 1 diabetes.

It's not been an easy journey for the 26 year old. It wasn't until 2018 that he was finally allowed to fight as a professional following a battle against the British Boxing Board of Control.

   

 

Ali from Rochdale was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was 5-years-old. He got interested in boxing when he was 12 and had an impressive amateur career, including winning the Haringey Box Cup in 2013.

In case you are wondering, Muhammad Ali is his real name. His parents weren't boxing fans wanting to name him after the former world heavyweight champion – they just picked a common UK name.

Ali applied for a professional boxing licence in 2015 but was rejected because he has type 1 diabetes. Eventually he got it after a 3-year long campaign. His team was able to provide key documentation proving that his condition wouldn't disrupt his ability to box. It set a precedent for other boxers with controlled type 1 diabetes to get their licences.

To date Ali has competed in six professional fights.

He has also taken on the role as an ambassador for Diabetes UK and speaks about his journey and tells how having type 1 diabetes doesn't mean you can't take part in exercise or sport even at an elite level.

Diabetes UK says it's delighted to work with him as an ambassador.

   

 

"Muhammad Ali has run the Manchester 10k for us; he's discussed our support minutes after winning fights and promoted Diabetes UK's work in interviews and filmed for us in his community of Rochdale," a charity spokesperson said.

Medscape UK asked Muhammad Ali about his journey to become a professional.

Q&A

Congratulations on your latest win how does it feel to be competing professionally?

Thank you. It feels absolutely amazing. As a team, it had taken us nearly 3 years of battling to obtain my licence to compete. It feels good to be told by so many people around the world that I have inspired them not just to compete in boxing but overall not to give up on achieving their dreams

How did you feel when you had your licence rejected because of your type 1 diabetes?

I had passed all of my medicals but because I am diabetic, the boxing board denied my licence without any medical reason given. I felt alienated and left out.

   

 

Who helped you eventually achieve your aim?

My manager Asad Shamim helped me massively. He spoke to me on a regular basis asking me about my boxing career. For example, he asked me for regular updates on the progress of my training

When my licence got rejected by the board, he assessed the situation and contacted professionals such as doctors, legal team and the media.

On the 31st March 2018 during Anthony Joshua and Joseph Parker’s fight we held a peaceful protest regarding my battle with the Boxing Board. After a 3-year battle going back and forth with the Board, and with helpful letters from [the doctor of Sir Steve Redgrave] Dr Ian Gallen and Diabetes UK telling them I was able to fight, we obtained a licence in the end.

What challenges do you have as a type 1 diabetic and a professional sportsperson?

Having diabetes is a challenge which I try being positive about by controlling my diet in a better manner. I’m in regular contact with my specialist so that I can better myself as a diabetic.

You are now working with Diabetes UK to promote exercise as a helpful part of managing diabetes. Why is that important to you?

It’s important to me because I want to help, show and motivate others with diabetes that exercise does help control your diabetes in a better way. For me personally if I help inspire or motivate another person with diabetes to better themselves it would be a huge achievement greater than winning a boxing world title! 

Editor's Note, 14th February 2020:  This article has been updated to include background on Muhammad Ali's name, which coincidentally is the same as the famous American boxer.

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