Small hall boxing’s economic realities are harsh – and the dream of fighting full-time is often an elusive one. This means that most fighters at this level supplement ring earnings with other employment.
Many boxers work in the building trade, or as doormen, while the fitness boom of the last decade has seen others qualify as personal trainers. For participants in what has always been a working-class sport, these are viewed as viable options.
Yet Ramez Mahmood, from Ilford in north-east London, has followed a different path. The former Southern Area light-featherweight champion works full-time in a secondary school, teaching maths to 11- to 18-year-olds, including GCSE and A-level classes.
Currently in the midst of exam season in his day job, his boxing ambitions also have an important date on the horizon with his 15th professional bout scheduled for 23 July, just after the end of term.
“It’s funny how things have worked out,” he says, in conversation with BBC Sport, while taking a break from grading assessments.
“The boxing came first for me – I started at 13. I’m of Pakistani heritage and was excited to watch Amir Khan in the 2004 Olympics. It was a big deal in my family. Seeing him win the silver medal ignited my interest.
“I followed Khan’s career and when he beat Willie Limond, to win the Commonwealth title in 2007, I was so inspired that I went out and joined the Gator Amateur Boxing Club, here in Ilford, that same week.
“I boxed with them until I was 21 and reached the national semi-finals a couple of times, but more than anything I just enjoyed it so much.”
Mahmood’s initial plan was to become a pro boxer but he soon realized he needed another career to pay the bills while he pursued his boxing dreams.
“I graduated with a degree in maths, and what I really wanted to do was go pro as a boxer, but I knew it would be tough financially,” he says.
“I would need to sell tons of tickets or be lucky with sponsors to make a living. I looked at options and saw an advertisement for a schools’ direct salary scheme, which meant I could train on the job to be a teacher and get paid for it at the same time.
“It gave me the chance of earning a proper salary, so I thought, why not?”
That decision meant that Mahmood soon found himself needing to balance the workload of being a teacher, including meetings, paperwork and piles of marking, with his boxing training. This proved to be a significant challenge.
The young fighter had joined the teaching profession in an era when increasing numbers were leaving, many citing stress and excessive workload as contributing factors.
Faced with this sink-or-swim reality, Mahmood introduced an exacting routine in order to cope. He’s maintained it ever since.
“I get up at 5am and go to the gym around 5.30 to do a couple of hours’ training before school. Then I spend the day in the classroom, before going back to the gym after work,” he explains.
“At the weekends, I do all my marking, planning and admin. I did that for a year, just to see that I could manage the training alongside teaching full-time and when I was sure I could make it work, I finally turned pro and made my debut in 2016.”
A succession of wins followed, including Southern Area title success in 2019.
By this point Mahmood had adopted the nickname ‘The Mathemagician’ and had become used to weaving the two absurd sides of his life together.
The softly spoken teacher would undergo a Clark Kent-style transformation, shedding his shirt and tie, to spar and sweat in the gym, then trade punches under the lights in venues like York Hall every few months.
“In a way, I think the boxing actually helps with the teaching,” he reflects.
“The training keeps my stress levels low, which is important, although I’m knackered by the end of Friday. It’s improved my relationships with pupils, as well.
“They generally find it exciting that I’m a fighter, while the ones who display challenging behavior tend to respect me. I resonate with them because they know what I do outside of school.
“I love to bring boxing into the lessons whenever I can, [for example] we’re doing area and perimeter and so I can get them to work out the measurements of a boxing ring.”
Most of Mahmood’s colleagues are supportive and many buy tickets to his shows but there are those who are less keen.
“I like to think that I challenge the stereotypes in that regard and hopefully they see me, and the way I am in school, and they know that not all boxers are thugs or whatever,” he says.
Mahmood’s boxing career is currently in a crucial period. Two defeats in 2020 and 2021 saw him lose his area title and fail in a bid to capture the English championship.
He beat Marcus Hodgson in March to pick up his first win for two years and is keen to maintain momentum. But, in a sport where many fall into the trap of going on too long, the 28-year-old is happy to accept that his time is limited.
“I definitely want to win further titles, the English, the British, the Commonwealth, as far as I can go. But I also don’t want to be one of those guys that carries on deep into their 30s. You can end up in trouble like that,” he admits.
“At the end of the day, I love the sport, but it isn’t forever, and I’ll still be a teacher when I hang up my gloves.”