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Sadam Ali inspired by boyhood hero Naseem Hamed as he looks forward to Johan Perez fight

Sadam Ali was a wide-eyed eight-year-old when his father took him to Madison Square Garden to see the Naseem Hamed-Kevin Kelley bout on Dec. 19, 1997. Although he didn't realize it at the time, it was a night that would change his life.

"We would always watch Hamed fights on TV," said Ali. "He looked so happy and made it so exciting. To me it wasn't just two people punching each other in the face. It was art and made me want to do it."

Welterweight contender Sadam Ali, right, has recovered from his lone professional loss with wins over Saul Corral (pictured) and Jorge Silva. Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
A few days after witnessing the exhilarating match -- both fighters were knocked down three times before Hamed stopped Kelley in the fourth round -- Sadam's father, David Ali, took his son to the gym.

"That's how it all began," said Ali, who fights Johan Perez this Saturday in a scheduled 10-round welterweight match at the Casino El Sol in Tucson, Arizona (ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes at 9 p.m. ET).

Like his boyhood hero Hamed, Ali is of Yemeni heritage. His father immigrated to the United States when he was a boy, and the family settled in Brooklyn. Ali had a stellar amateur career, which included a win over Terence Crawford, and the youngster peaked in 2008 when he became the first Arab-American to represent the United States at the Olympics.

Despite his impressive amateur record, Ali turned pro under his own banner, World Kid Promotions, rather than signing with a major promoter.

"I wanted to show that I wasn't just an ordinary fighter," said Ali. "Also, a lot of boxers get involved in a contract that goes bad, that doesn't really work for them. My dad and I didn't want to rush into that kind of situation.

"It was rough. We had to do it all on our own, but it worked out. We had a small team with us, but it was really just the two of us. I would have rather just stuck to fighting, but I couldn't depend on anybody putting me on their card. There was no TV exposure. It was about getting my name out there, being seen here and there and gaining experience."

Finally, after four and a half years of going at it alone, Ali signed with Golden Boy Promotions in June of 2013.

"I've always felt comfortable with Golden Boy," Ali said, "and that's what's important to me."

Ali's most impressive performance to date was a ninth-round TKO of Luis Carlos Abregu on November 9, 2014. Abregu had lost just once in 37 previous pro bouts and had never been stopped.

"That was my big coming-out fight," said Ali. "A lot of people doubted me and said I'd get knocked out. It was on HBO (on the Sergey Kovalev-Bernard Hopkins card). It was great and really helped me."

Ali followed the fight up with a rousing 10-round decision over Francisco Santana, which led to a match against Jessie Vargas for a vacant welterweight title in April 2015. It was a fast-paced and exciting bout, but Vargas's punching power proved too much for Ali to handle: The pugilist of Yemini descent was stopped in the ninth round after suffering two knockdowns.

"I felt I could have won that fight, but it just wasn't my time," Ali said. "No excuses, Vargas caught me cold with a really good shot."

Since then, the 28-year-old Ali bounced back with a pair of tune-up wins over Saul Corral and Jorge Silva to bring his record up to 24-1 (14 KOs).

When asked if he thought he could eventually become as rich and famous as Hamed, Ali sounded cautiously optimistic.

"I feel like I can, but it all comes down to me."

The beginning of the rest of Ali's career starts Saturday when he faces Perez, a 34-year-old native of Caracas, Venezuela. It will be Perez's sixth fight in the United States. He is 3-2 in the previous five.

Perez's most impressive win was a unanimous decision over the previously undefeated Yoshihiro Kamegai in June of 2013. Perez out-boxed the Japanese slugger throughout, and scored repeatedly with jabs and right hands.

Prior to the Kamegai victory, Perez won decisions over faded former-titleholders Paul Spadafora and Steve Forbes. Going into the Ali fight, Perez's record stands at 22-3-1 (15 KOs) and 1 no-contest.

"We know Sadam Ali is a great fighter and this is a very difficult fight," said Perez's trainer, Jorge Zerpa. "But Johan has a lot more experience and at this point, his mentality is much better than when he lost. He knows he has the skills and potential to win this fight."

The co-feature is a 10-round welterweight bout between the Bronx's Eddie "E-Boy" Gomez and Alejandro Barrera from Mexico City.

In his most recent fight (which took place on April 20, 2017), the 24-year-old Gomez won an eight-round decision over Dennis Dauti to bring his overall record to 20-2 (11 KOs).

Barrera, the former Mexican super welterweight champion, is fighting for the first time since Errol Spence Jr. knocked him out in November of 2015. Barrera, 30, took the Gomez fight on two weeks' notice. His record is 28-3 (17 KOs).

The TV swing bout features super bantamweights Pablo Rubio and David Perez. Rubio, from Los Angeles, is 9-0 (3 KOs), while Houston's Perez is 8-1 (4 KOs).

Source: http://www.espn.com/boxing/story/_/id/20173505/boxing-sadam-ali-looks-take-another-step-forward-johan-perez-saturday-golden-boy-boxing-espn-main-event

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