Caoimhin Agyarko is getting into the legacy-building business and just six fights into his professional career, the middleweight prospect has already carved out his goal of becoming Ireland’s first black world champion.
Born in Croydon to his Irish mother and Ghanaian father, Agyarko moved to Belfast at the age of seven where he discovered the sport that would take over his life. It was also there where he was almost robbed of it.
Three years ago, then a talented amateur, he stopped into McDonalds with his girlfriend during a night out in Belfast city centre. That night he was the victim of a savage attack that left him needing emergency surgery, stabbed in the neck after being targeted by a gang of nearly 30 people. The cut missed a vital artery by an inch.
Five months later he was back in the ring adding to a list of stellar amateur accomplishments that would soon catch the eye of Frank Warren and Queensberry Promotions, whom he signed a professional deal with in 2018. Undefeated after six fights, the 23-year-old’s path continues on Friday night when he takes on Jez Smith in what will be his first televised fight from the BT Sport Studios in Stratford as boxing continues to roll on behind closed doors.
The trauma of what happened on that night in 2017 is unlikely to ever fully leave him and the story is likely to be a footnote in his career whatever he goes on to accomplish, a constant question in interviews such as these. But the Agyarko recognises it as a pivotal moment in his life, one that has helped provide him with purpose in his mission to reach the top.
“I remember bits and pieces,” Agyarko told Standard Sport, recalling that night. “I remembered how it started but I don’t remember being stabbed. I didn’t feel it at the time, I just remember being attacked. It is something that has affected my career and affected my life but I’ve taken the positives from it.
“I feel at the time I could have went two ways. One of those was taking the route of letting it affect me, letting it affect my boxing career, not training anymore and seeking revenge. Or I could take the route of continuing to pursue my boxing career and not let it overcome my life. It was an eye opener for me – it told me that anything I wanted to achieve in life, I needed to set out and give it my all because you really don’t know what can happen in life. I was an inch from death.
He continued: “It has shaped my life and me into a better person with a stronger mindset. Of course I would have avoided it if I could have but I’m thankful that I’ve come out the other side, I’m still alive and have taken the positives from it and have pushed on with what I want to do with my boxing career.”
Agyarko, now based at the iBox Gym in Bromley, is one of a clutch of young middleweights in Great Britain and Ireland looking to establish themselves in a division thriving at domestic level. Prior to the Smith fight being agreed, ‘Black Thunder’ was briefly left sweating over whether an opponent could be found in time for Friday night with two would-be opponents pulling out and further five turning down the fight – including two former British champions.
It suggests Agyarko is a man being avoided. “I think I am one of the most talented fighters in the division domestically and I feel like I will be a fight that people will try to avoid or be very worried about taking,” he said. “I don’t want to say I'm a feared fighter, because I haven’t really proven myself yet. But from what people know about me, it’s not a fight they want to take straight away. Unless there is something on the line.”
Stoke sensation Nathan Heaney and Battersea’s Denzel Bentley are among the other promising names in that group alongside Agyarko.
“The difference between me and a lot of other people is I know how to adapt in a fight. For me, it’s not skill, it’s not speed, it’s not power, it’s how you use your mind in there. Yes, I would say I’ve got a lot of skill, power and speed, but my best attribute is how I figure an opponent out and how I adapt in the fight. I think that is what separates me. I’m a universal fighter.
“It just depends on what my opponent brings on the night. But after a round or two I will figure them out and beat them.”
Agyarko hopes to move 7-0 on Friday and in the process, widen his fanbase in front of a television audience still pining for action after boxing’s four-month lockdown. While only 23, he has a route to the top already mapped out – one that includes him winning a world title and leaving boxing before his 30th birthday.
“I want to enjoy my career, I want to learn with every fight, I want to take the right fights at the right time and when I’m ready to take that step up and take the risk, I will be prepared for that.
“I've always said I want to be a world champion before I’m 27 or 28. I’m giving myself four or five years. I don’t want to be in the sport a very long time.
"I want to achieve what I want to achieve, make as much money as possible and get out and be retired by the time I’m 30. I’ve given myself a seven-year plan and within that plan I think I will definitely achieve what I’ve set out to achieve and that’s become the first black Irish world champion.”