Whether he’s battling the best boxers in the world or creating a clothing brand for the future, teenager Karol Itauma is a poster boy for the dual career generation.
Fashion and fighting go hand in hand. That’s the conclusive verdict of 17-year-old Karol Itauma and the gloves are off where the talented boxer is concerned: twin targets of a place at Tokyo 2020 and an established clothing brand seem far from ambitious given a breakthrough year at home and abroad.
The Kent-based sixth former has just returned from Argentina with a gold medal following a thrilling bout against hot favourite Ruslan Kolesnikov in the light heavyweight final at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.
And that success comes hot on the heels of his first steps into the fashion world where an eye-catching collaboration with brother Samuel resulted in a series of must-have tee-shirts flying off the shelves.
“Creating and having my own clothing brand is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Itauma. “Late last year I sat down with my brother and we made the idea a reality. With the first batch of tee-shirts achieving success, I’m excited about the future releases and the growth of the brand. Through my school, Greenacre Academy, I’m lucky to have the expertise and guidance of my business mentor, Nikki King OBE, to fall back on.
“But my boxing is equally important. Fashion and fighting are a natural fit. Just look at Anthony Joshua – I’ve just seen him doing an advert for JD Sports where he models Under Armor and he proves the point. Boxing and big brands have always gone hand in hand.”
For now Itauma is best known for the former. His victory against Kolesnikov sent shockwaves across the boxing world and ensured there’ll be a target on the back of the talented teenager when he returns to the global stage in 2019.
“The toughest challenge in Argentina was the final bout,” he added. “I faced the reigning world number one who is an incredible boxer.
I had to be switched on from the first bell and leave everything in the ring – which I did. I’m grateful and blessed.
“The Youth Olympic Games experience was incredible as it allowed me to meet athletes from all corners of the world who I wouldn’t have met in the UK. Every part of it was an incredible experience – ranging from the training facilities to the impressive venues. It was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
Karol Itauma poses with his gold medal during the victory ceremony at the Youth Olympic Games (Credit: Jonathan Nackstrand for OIS/IOC)
It’s an experience that Itauma dreamed of as a wide-eyed kid watching Joshua, Andre Ward and Floyd Mayweather make their mark worldwide. And an ambition that he realised thanks to a focused work ethic and the support of teaching staff, coaches and close family.
“I remember sitting in my maths class in year 11 and talking to my close friend about how I wanted to go the Olympics,” added Itauma. “A few years later, to actually compete in an Olympic event and win gold was unreal.
“Boxing has changed me as an individual. It can give young people hope and it gets them investing their time in a positive cause – as well as keeping fit.
“For those who get angry, it releases this feeling and teaches discipline. Conversely, for those who lack confidence, it will increase their self-confidence.”
Earlier this year Itauma was identified as an aspiring athlete worthy of Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) support and his commitment to a dual career approach made the Chatham boxer a perfect candidate to receive specialist backing.
“Education is important to me and I take mine seriously,” he added. “In my view, having a good education enables an individual to become articulate and conduct themselves in the right way. It gives you the knowledge to put across your views clearly and helps you to understand the views of other people.
“Of course combining education and boxing can be difficult at times but then I believe that nothing worth fighting for comes easy. I tend to work around my school hours – I wake up before school and do a session and then squeeze one in after school in the afternoon. I normally manage another training session in the evening. I am lucky to have the full support of Greenacre and the coaches at St Mary’s boxing club.”
TASS will work alongside Itauma’s tutors and coaches to ensure he accesses the very best in physical and mental support – allowing one of Britain’s most exciting boxing talents to realise his enormous talent and remain on the road to Tokyo 2020.
“I’m looking forward to becoming part of the TASS family,” he added. “I’m particularly interested in physiotherapy and nutrition. I’d like to explore both of these areas and I’m sure that expertise in both can help me to develop as a boxer.”
TASS is a Sport England funded partnership between talented athletes, education institutions and national governing bodies of sport. They work together to bring the best out of our country’s most exciting young talents.
The TASS scheme helps athletes in education – aged 16-plus – to get the very best from their sporting and academic careers without having to choose between the two. For more information visit www.tass.gov.uk
Top Image: Karol Itauma celebrates victory against Youssef Ali Karar Ali Moussa at the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games (Credit: Ian Walton for OIS/IOC)