Fight for Peace produces champions. Both in Brazil, where several of the boxers have become national champions, and in the UK, where a group of muay thai participants are now professionals. Sports-wise, Fight for Peace does not just offer boxing and martial arts classes to young people, it also has the coaching capacity and infrastructure to help them become elite athletes. But another crucial part to this process is the togetherness and mutual support of the fellow competitors that can arise from training together in a positive environment.
Fight for Peace London participants Reinaldo dos Santos and David Sa are the perfect example of such champion solidarity. Reinaldo, 23, won his first professional belt as a muay thai competitor last month. The Angola native joined Fight for Peace shortly after it opened in 2007, in the London Borough of Newham, taking his first steps in ‘the art of eight limbs’ under Head Coach and World Class Muay Thai Heavyweight, Daniel Sam. At around the same time, David Sa, 24, also joined the Academy to learn muay thai.
“We started at around the same time, although, to be honest, I used to not really like Reinaldo – he seemed so cocky because he was always dancing around. But then we started building this relationship through training and I saw what a humble, nice guy he is. He’s like a brother to me now,” said David, who was the first of the two to turn professional, in 2010, and who has won three titles so far in his fledgling career.
Each fighter helps the other prepare for competition, with Head Coach Daniel coordinating. Reinaldo helps David get fighting fit, and vice versa. And getting ready for this latest tournament, Reinaldo could once again count on the tough love of his friend:
“David came back from holiday when there was around three weeks to go. I met him at the train station one day and said ‘what are you doing here?’ – ‘I’ve come to train you’ he said. I was like ‘ah man’ cos then I knew it would be tough.”
Not that Reinaldo is complaining, however. “It’s good, because he understands most of my training, my technique. He knows when I’m making excuses so we don’t do that with each other anymore!” David agrees, adding that by being friends, they can motivate one another even more, and each wants the other to succeed: “I push him so hard that he hates me in that precise moment. But the reason I do it is because I know he can give more, he can push even further. I know his potential.”
But doesn’t this tough regime and constant mental strain cause friction between the two? Not so, according to David: “One time recently in training I said to him “keep going” and he said “nah David, you’re so annoying” but I said “I don’t care, keep going, press-ups, run” but the reason I do it is for his own good.” And there is a trust between them, which means that instructions given – in training or during competition – are never doubted: “I just let go,” says Reinaldo. “I let David and Daniel teach. I go through the pain and trust in them 100%. It’s the same when I’m in the ring: they are my eyes and I listen to every word they say.”
Above all, the two young men support one another. During Reinaldo’s bouts at the Contender Promotions tournament in Middlesbrough this November, David was a constant source of encouragement: “In the final bout, between each round he kept telling me ‘you’re winning! You’ve got this!’” said Reinaldo. “And that gave me great confidence going into the final round. Then I threw a right cross and my opponent just dropped onto his back. I couldn’t believe it but his eyes were rolling, he wasn’t getting back up. Daniel jumped into the ring and lifted me off the ground – I was the champ!”
Seven years of dedication and Reinaldo had his first belt – it was a momentous achievement. David and Coach Daniel had been with him at every step of the journey. “It was so good because it has been the three of us for so long. This (Fight for Peace) is home; it’s where everything started… Daniel, David and me.”