Ohara Davies could be just another commuter, anonymous in a late afternoon crowd at Stratford railway station. Except there’s nothing anonymous about Davies, one of Britain’s hottest boxing properties.
It isn’t long before a friendly supporter notices him and steps forward, enthusiastically shaking his hand. “Good to meet you!” says the fan.
The boxer nods and smiles, taking the adoration in his stride. “Yeah,” he says. “Nice to meet you too.”
Davies couldn’t be more laid back or relaxed; he has the future literally in his hands after being hailed as one of the most promising boxers in the country, with 18 out of 18 wins as an amateur and 8 out of 8 since going pro last year.
I move to a coffee shop with the boxer, but we’re not here to talk about boxing. Instead, the 23 year old from Hackney wants to talk about his efforts to help youngsters avoid a life of crime, gangs and drugs – and about how he climbed out of a life of hopelessness and criminality.
He’s come a long way since the days – only a few years ago – when, in his own words, he was always running from the law, dodging bullets and rival gang members.
“I’m lucky I came out of it alive and well,” he says. “I didn’t come out of it to box – boxing took me out of it.
“We got shot at every now and then and to us it was normal really. But you are probably thinking, ‘Wow that must have been a really traumatic experience.’ But we didn’t know any better. It was like, ‘Cool, I’ve been stabbed so I’ve got to get the other guy back’.
“What I think promoted it was the shows we watched, the music we listened to; yeah, we were surrounded by negative influences.”
These days, Davies fights for a better cause.
In October, the pro-fighter took to Twitter to express heartbreak over the loss of a dear friend, Moses Fadairo, a 25 year old father of twin baby boys, who was shot dead in Hackney. Two men have been charged in connection with his death.
“R.I.P to my friend Moses,” the tweet read. “Totally heart-breaking, the streets need to change and Hackney needs to change.”
It was an incident that left Davies feeling the need to speak out to youngsters in his community, and to encourage them to turn their backs on crime and violence.
“Moses was a nice, happy guy, and I know they say this about anyone who dies, but he was a positive person,” says Davies. “Life goes on I guess; we just have to be focused and positive and use him as an example to the youths to just not get involved.”
Five years ago, Davies discovered boxing at his local youth club. But with a lack of funding, it was forced to close. This didn’t stop Davies; with his growing interest in the sport, he was able to contact one of the coaches and receive personal training.
“There is nothing for our youth,” he says. “These so-called ‘trendy people’ are moving into the area. I got into boxing and that was out of luck but there aren’t any opportunities for many young people in Hackney.
“When I first got done for class A [drugs], I think I was 15 years old. They put me on probation but my youth worker was someone who doesn’t know anything about the life I lived. I wasn’t able to relate to my youth worker – she didn’t know what I was going through; she couldn’t help me.
“The council should be contacting people who were involved in such crimes and have bettered themselves – and they should create more projects [for young people].”
Since Davies has been boxing, his focus has been on helping the youths of Hackney in changing what he calls: “The Hackney mind-set”.
“When I was in the hood, I wasn’t focused on anything,” he says. “Then I realised the cure for it wasn’t the boxing, it was the focus. And as soon as I found that one thing and focused on it, it really did change my whole lifestyle.”
“You know what the Hackney youth always say – ‘That’s Ohara Davies. He’s a boxer, he’s doing good, I saw him on the TV’, so they see my achievements but don’t say to themselves, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’
“So when I am around them and they are admiring my achievements, I try to tell them that I have been in the same position where [they] are coming from. So if I can do it you can do it, I think that’s the ‘Hackney mind-set.’ Most of them don’t believe in themselves.
“But if I knew back then what I know now, I could have been a multi-millionaire. But everyone has a journey.”