Said El Harrak packed his bags for America at the age of 14. He boarded the plane from his hometown of London, England under the pretenses that he was taking a temporary vacation.
Unbeknownst to young Said, his stepfather had accepted work in Santa Clarita, CA, and the whole family was relocating permanently to the Golden State. His mother knew that he would not want to leave home under any other circumstances so she omitted the long-time commitment part of the equation. "Now that I look back I thank God she did it," says "The Messenger".
It was here that El Harrak was first introduced to the sport of boxing. His thick British accent and unique style of dress made him a frequent target of bullies. At the age of 15, his mother enrolled him in a boxing gym and he hasn't looked back. El Harrak had 58 amateur fights, 50 of them wins,
along with a California Golden Gloves title. Due to his lack of US citizenship he was ineligible to participate in the National Golden Gloves tournaments. He was offered a spot on the 2008 Olympic boxing squad for Morocco, his parents' home country. The opportunity came with a catch, though. "It was on the agreement that I move and train there for a year. I turned it down, signed my management contract and went pro last May on the Andre Dirrell-Anthony Hanshaw card."
So far it looks like he made the right decision. Since signing with Mike Criscio, who also manages light-heavyweight champ Chad Dawson and junior-middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo, El Harrak has registered a 3-0 (1 KO) record. "He's got a lot of dedication," Criscio says. "He works extremely hard and that makes him special. There's not a lot of guys that are like that. He's one of my guys that stand out among the lot." In addition to having the same manager, El Harrak and Dawson share the same trainer as well, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. They train at the same gym, Johnny Tocco's in Las Vegas. They don't spar but they do their roadwork together, even making the occasional five-mile incline trek up Mount Charleston.
While El Harrak doesn't spar with Dawson, he does find time to spar with a number of other top fighters, including Zab Judah, Joel Casamayor, Antonio Margarito, Ricky Hatton, Manny Pacquiao and Laila Ali, whom he says has a surprisingly hard jab. "I just look around and realize how blessed I am to be surrounded by great champions and great teammates. In the heat of sparring it's competitive in nature but it's all love afterward. It's like Eddie says, 'We don't lighten up, we light 'em up.'"
El Harrak still holds onto his British citizenship, giving his identity a tinge of ambiguity. Even his accent is confusing, alternating from cockney to something you'd hear in a Brooklyn pizzeria from sentence to sentence. Building a fan base for a fighter with as many ethnic identities presents it's own challenges: Challenges that El Harrak has no concern for. "I can't sit here and worry about what other people think of me. I was born and raised in England and am proud to be an English citizen. I don't want the fans to like me because I'm British, I don't like to separate myself. I want the fans to like me because of the way I fight and the type of person I am. "I hope to appeal to the world, not just to the British or Moroccans. You can be Hispanic, you can be white, I want you to be my fan."
Perhaps the best career advice he has received came from "Bad Chad". "Dawson told me, 'Said, you're a good fighter and you could develop into a great fighter. To make it to the tops you gotta look past the little things people say and stay focused on your goals.'"
PUNCH OUT AT THE PALMS!
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