French boxer Souleymane Cissokho trains in California ahead of a big boxing night in Arlington, Texas, where he will face Great Britain’s Kieron Conway.
Cissokho hopes to reach higher rankings in the light-middleweight category, telling AFP, "I don’t forget that my goal is to become a world champion. So I need to box, I need to get belts. This is an incredible exposure, in front of 70,000 people, this is a much-anticipated fight
"I have one goal, to become world champion, and for that, you have to go for the belts, you have to box," super-welter Souleymane Cissokho told AFP as he prepares to take "a new step" on that road on Saturday against England's Kieron Conway.
To meet the Frenchman, for his last training session before leaving for Arlington (Texas) where the fight will take place, is to find oneself in the industrial area of Hayward, a city located in the southeast of the San Francisco bay. At the sight of this white hangar among many others, it is difficult to imagine a room inside, until the sound of punches in a punching bag and the typical exhalation of the boxer in full effort resound through the wall.
Cissokho goes from workshop to workshop. A mixture of fatigue and excitement concludes his Monday morning. He knows he is in the home stretch of a very important appointment.
"There is an intercontinental WBA belt at stake, it puts you in the top 15 in the world. Once in that ranking, you can make a world championship. It can go very fast. There I will have incredible exposure in front of about 70,000 people. So I'm going for it 100%," smiles this elegant man, both in and out of the ring.
And for good reason: blocked by contractual problems and Covid, the 2019 French champion had not boxed for 18 months when he was finally able to put on his gloves on 13 March, to beat the Mexican Daniel Echeverria. His 12th victory in as many fights.
- Debut at 14 -
"The pandemic was not easy, it led to five fight cancellations. He is also a member of a group of people who have been in the fight for years and who have had a lot of success in the fight against the pandemic.
In solidarity with "other boxers who are struggling", he has taken the opportunity to launch an application project, "so that they can benefit from a little pay". "When I come to train here, I pay my sparring partners a lot of money. Why not do it in France?" he says, and in recent years he has also set up an association, "Secteur sport éducation", to help young people.
Souleymane has his heart set on France, where he arrived from Dakar at the age of four when his father, a financial advisor, was transferred to Paris.
He was the captain of the "solid team" that defended France's chances at the Rio Olympics in 2016, winning a bronze medal. The conclusion of this "incredible" collective adventure was also that of a first phase in boxing, a sport started "late" at 14.
"It was a change from football, I was immediately hooked. I quickly trained very hard, I went running late at night, I did rope work in my cellar. When I do something, I do it hard. And this work paid off: a year and a half later, I became French cadet champion", he continues.
- Opening myself up to many things".
What did his parents think? They didn't immediately "like it" when I told them, but after this first title, they saw that it was starting to get serious. My father didn't want me to put aside my studies. He told me 'you can continue boxing, but I want you to continue doing well at school'.
Souleymane managed to reconcile the two and should soon complete a Master 2 in sports law at the Sorbonne. A direction he chose when he turned professional after Rio. "I had a lot of offers. I was entering the sports business... I signed up for this course to find out how contracts are managed, all that sort of thing so that I wouldn't be cheated.
"The dissertation is almost finished, but I've taken a step back because the career is going up. The diploma will be like a second world championship for me, after the one I want to win in boxing," he promises.
At 29 years old, Cissokho doesn't hold back on anything. Like when he took part in a show in September 2020 at the Seine Musicale, "La boxeuse amoureuse", created by the star dancer Marie-Agnès Gillot with the author of the eponymous song Arthur H.
"I had a pressure comparable to that which I can have when I get into the ring and when at the end the public applauded us I had tears in my eyes. Of course, I am a boxer, an ambassador of my sport. But what I want is to open myself up to many things.