Meet the Punching Preacher
How can a ‘man of God’ make a living hurting people? Stuart Weir checks out the boxing pastor Derrick Osaze.
Derrick Osaze has two jobs. He is a professional boxer and an ordained pastor in his church in Nottingham. The ‘Punching Preacher’ has won all ten of his professional fights so far. He says of the name: ‘It’s not a nickname I picked for myself. It’s one I tried to reject at all times. I was ordained last year in March. So I guess I’d embrace the nickname now because it’s the truth, I do punch and I do preach.’ Sorted decided to ask him if he felt there was any conflict between loving his neighbour and punching his lights out. We will return to that later…
Osaze, who grew up in a Roman Catholic home in South London, was often in trouble. He was a sporty kid playing football, rugby and basketball. He takes up the story: ‘I had issues dealing with anger management and I was getting into trouble at school. I had been excluded from school about 16 times and was on the verge of being kicked out permanently. I’d grown up watching boxing and was always open to try new things, and a friend suggested going to the boxing club. Boxing came at just the right time.’
A passion and a lifestyle
He says of boxing: ‘It started as something to keep me out of trouble, became a hobby, then a passion and a lifestyle. The biggest thing I learned from boxing was self-control and self-discipline. It’s about being able to control yourself in sticking to a game plan. Overall, it just made me a calmer individual. All the excess energy that I had, I put into boxing.’
Boxing helped him turn his life around. The boy who was constantly in trouble in school went on to university, where he gained two degrees. He explains that people think you go to a boxing gym to learn how to fight and how to defend yourself, ‘but it’s not always about that. Discipline is the main thing you learn and also self-control – being disciplined in your diet, being disciplined in your training schedule and I think that’s a transferable skill, which helped me in other areas of my life, such as education.’
Osaze had about 20 amateur fights and won a couple of national titles. He was in an England training squad as well as being invited to try to qualify for the 2016 Olympics with Nigeria as he has dual citizenship. An injury and pressure of work for his Master’s made him pass on the opportunity. Then, in 2017, he decided to turn professional. He says of this period: ‘My amateur career was short but a good apprenticeship,’
Despite his parents’ faith and attending a Catholic school, he did not really take faith very seriously. At university, he ‘realized that my faith and going to church was something that I did just because I felt it was the right thing to do. But if you’d asked me why I went to church or why I believed in God, I couldn’t honestly answer. Then one day I realized that an element of my life was missing. So I made a decision to go back to church and take my faith in God seriously.’ This led eventually to him getting involved in and being ordained in God’s Vineyard Church in Nottingham.
The Ultimate Boxxer III
Osaze had his first professional fight in December 2017. After six straight wins, he was invited to take part in the Ultimate Boxxer III, at the O2 in the middleweight division. This was a televised eight man contest with three fights (of three three- f minute rounds) in succession. He won it. It was a significant step forward: ‘Winning the Ultimate Boxxer III is the highlight of my career so far. It is quite a challenge facing three different boxers in one evening. Some of the other boxers had a lot more experience than me; people said it was too early for me. But my coaches had confidence in me. I see that is my greatest achievement because I wasn’t a favourite, but I went in and won it.’
One of the challenges of his life is fitting it all in. He admits ‘the week can be very manic.’ First of all, there is training: ‘They say that if you are a boxer, you become a middle-distance runner. I can clock up 10-20 miles per week. I do a lot of sparring, bag work, pads, a lot of technical work and drills, circuits, conditioning, swimming sometimes. I do two sessions a week with a strength coach. Coming up to a fight, I can be in the gym two or three times a day (even four). Then I have loads of meetings in the church. I am very systematic and organized and I live out of my calendar.’
One man, two guvnors
Another secret is having two sets of understanding bosses: ‘My coaches and the guys at the gym are very understanding about my involvement in the church and what I do. If I can’t make a particular training session and have to make it up later, they understand why. And at the church, there isn’t an expectation for me to be at every meeting because they know the demands of my boxing. So many times the pastor has told me to go home! It’s great to have a support network on both sides’.
After his degree in business management, he did an MSc in sports psychology which is very relevant to his own career. His dissertation was on the extent to which emotions affect the boxer. His findings showed that 47% went into the ring feeling anxious. Osaze describes himself as ‘a happy go lucky person, very chilled out’ and he has noticed that his best performances come when he’s ‘calm, enjoying myself and chilled out. That helps a lot because now I don’t try to force myself to come across in a different way – like being quiet and looking serious.’ He is very ambitious as a boxer but also sees boxing as a way to serve God; ‘I feel that God took me on a journey through boxing and on a journey through my faith as well. Boxing was part of my life and I suppose that the two just met head on. I want to go all the away. Ultimately I want to be world champion. But I feel that God led me to boxing and I feel there’s much more to come out of my career than just boxing achievements.
‘I also want to use my achievements and platform to help the next generation. God is using me to connect up the dots between two very different industries. The church world can be a very closed-off community, sometimes not open to sport. And there’s a lot of people in sport who don’t know the church or who have certain views of the church or of Christianity. So I think it’s amazing be able to link the two.’
So, to return to the earlier question, is punching someone compatible with his Christian faith? ‘I don’t see a conflict. We read in the Bible: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) and “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Exodus 14:14 says “The LORD will fight for you.” I firmly believe that every time I’m in the ring, I train as hard as I can and I can pray for protection but I also believe that it is God who fights on my behalf. In 1 Corinthians 9:26 Paul used an analogy of boxing: “Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.”’
‘Boxing is a martial art and when I go into the ring, my objective is to hit and not be hit – and to win. My objective is not to hurt my opponent. Before I go into the ring – and even before I spar – I pray for myself and for the welfare of my opponent, that we both get out of it safely. It’s not personal. Your intention is not to hurt anyone. No boxer would want an opponent to sustain a serious injury so that they couldn’t box any more or enjoy a certain quality of life. My aim is to win and not to hurt. That is why in boxing you have tactics and game plans,’
That said, though, boxers do die in the ring? ‘Yes, but there are loads of athletes who get killed in other sports. There are risks with everything. Every time I get in my car or on a train or in a plane, that is a risk. Every time I get in the ring, it’s a risk. Every time you go on the football pitch, it’s a risk. We don’t look for the negatives and we don’t think about the worst. Of course, with boxing, because of its nature, when certain tragedies, which are very rare, occur, they are going to be exploited by the media, by people who are calling for sports like boxing to be banned. I think that in the media not enough is said about the positives of boxing.’ Osaze believes that boxing should be part of the PE curriculum because of the way it teaches young men and women self-discipline, respect and how to exercise self-control.
Black Lives Matter
Earlier this summer, Derrick Osaze was very vocal in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign. He explains: ‘I think that a lot of people in the UK and the US. have been oblivious to what has been going on for a number of years, a number of centuries even. Racism still exists and has been packaged in different forms. No one wants to come out as a racist or be accused of being a racist, so it is more undercover these days, but I think that the covert racism that I and other black people have faced is a lot worse.
‘I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a level of anger, exhaustion and frustration about the whole situation. I feel I have a platform, albeit quite a small platform, which I need to use to educate, raise awareness and share my point of view, but also to do it in a way that honours and reflects the image of Christ.’
Derrick Osaze is a man with a mission. Don’t be surprised if you hear a lot more about him in the coming days.