Michael Shapland interviews Naveed Kabir, LSE Boxer and Fight Night Champion

Success is a process of small victories; overcoming past hurdles to perform in the big challenges we face. Interviewing Naveed Kabir, 3rd year student and LSE boxer, reinforced this for me. Speaking to the Fight Night champion it was clear that a winning mentality is not about brash showings of Hollywood-esque bravado but braving the basics until winning comes naturally.

Naveed started combat sports early with Kung Fu at secondary school and subsequently Chinese kickboxing, in which he became British champion in 2012. He then began MMA in his second year of sixth form, but ended up specializing in boxing when arriving at LSE to study BSc Maths and Econ. And specialize he did. His November 2015 debut victory against a Swiss competitor was built on by a March 2016 win vs UCL, and followed by a pulsating performance against an Imperial opponent, on LSE’s own turf.

Having joined the LSE boxing club, I was keen to learn about how to raise my game and the steely resolve needed for boxing prowess. Boxing is a sport often associated with trash talk and egotism, but when talking about his fights the emphasis Naveed placed was on the diligence and determination required for victory, not the damage he inflicted on his challengers.

Last Sunday I witnessed that winning frame firsthand. At the end of our session we watched Naveed face off in sparring against another of LSE boxing’s pro’s- Shamzad Shah, a general course student from the States. Ferocity. Focus. Willpower. It was Coach Lewis’ idea and wrapped-up the session perfectly. Coach Lewis also started us off on body sparring. This added to the overall feeling that the session was a turning point- our group becoming ever more aware of the endurance the sport entails:

Last weekend, during our Sunday session, I finally started getting what boxing was all about. I always thought I was a big man with my swings, but when it came down to body sparring, it was completely different.

Last Sunday was tough. Especially the warm up. The warm up really hits me when he (Coach Lewis) makes you sprint.

Yeah, my final partner was Sham as well so that was tough; he was just dominating me. What was it like sparring against him at the end?

It was really fun man. It was the first time I sparred in three months- I missed it. He was really good as well.

I remember talking to Sham a couple weeks ago- and it was really interesting. He told me how he used to box in the States and how he got concussed a couple times. He was saying how it’s a mental battle as well as a physical one. Did you find that also during your Fight Night experiences?

What Sham said is correct. It’s completely different. The first fight I had when I first came to LSE was November 2015. For the month before there wasn’t a lecture where I could concentrate. Any time there was silence my thoughts would immediately go to the fight. This was both good and really bad. If I thought bad things then I went into deep thought and then it became inevitable that the outcome would be wrong. So most of the time I was worried and had to actively censor out my thoughts: am I thinking negatively? Am I thinking positively?

And then- how to not always overthink. I realized that every time I would go into deep thought, it was about the exact same thing- losing. That was problematic because, if the thing I was thinking was bad, then the outcome would be bad too. It felt like I was almost trapped. If I didn’t fight it would have not stopped. Only after the fight where I won, all of that went away.

That release.

Exactly. The second fight was against UCL- March 2016. This time I had footage of my opponent before the fight, so this was a really different experience. I could analyse the footage a lot. I could plan. My competitor was very, very good in the footage. I had to ensure that I’m confident. But if I’m fully seeing his skill level firsthand it was like ‘This is how good he is. If he does hit you, it will hurt badly’. It was almost as if, if I didn’t see it I would have felt more confident, but it was good for me in the end cause I got to he was and I trained hard-

So was the first one more stressful in that you couldn’t see the footage- it was that unseen aspect-

Yeah it was that unknown that would worry me. The second one- there was no unknown but that in itself created great worry. But in the end I won both, and for the second it was very helpful that I got to see the footage because I was able to construct a game plan to win.

That must have given you a big boost as well: two wins under your belt, the pattern emerging, the wins coming-

Definitely. I realised that if I put in the work then I could win. But I also realized, how different training and fighting was. So before I ever fought, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish between them. But when you fight, it’s completely different. You don’t hear anything at all- the crowd cheering, your coach shouting instructions. You get tired after the very first minute- no matter how much cardio you’ve done. Its that adrenaline rush. You become in the zone. You just let loose.

What I also realized was that I learned a lot of things in the lead up to these fights. I only used some of them; the ones that I drilled consistently- the very basics. Jab-head. Jab-body. Right hand-body. The things I was really good at. It all just became automatic. Everything else just faded away, and I think it’s a shame because I learned so many good things and a lot of head movement that I incorporated into sparring. In the moment it was just too elaborate. And it wasn’t that I thought this to myself- where I was like- ‘ok so I’ll just stick to the basics’. Because you don’t feel comfortable- you don’t see the shots coming at the pace you’d perceive them in training.

That’s why, for the second fight- there were six main moves that I picked and drilled consistently. Ones that I could use in reaction to my opponents style, which I new from the footage. You would never see me throw anything different in sparring. That’s the main thing- you don’t use everything you learn- you only use what you’re really comfortable with.

I found it fascinating what you said about your thoughts dragging you away before the first fight. I noticed this too during body sparring. First, when the swings were coming I started overthinking. That pulled me out of the moment. So I started slipping more. It was only when I cleared my mind, blocked out those thoughts, that I saw myself improving. So would you say there’s a big  mental aspect to your training as well; to not let anything else in the periphery come in and block your mindset?

The biggest thing for me Michael was reacting to what people would ask me before the fight. ‘Are you going to win? This question is very dangerous. First of all because I’m lying if I told you I knew right? But I’d always make sure to say- ‘Yes. Yes I am’. Now, again, this is dangerous because if I say ‘yes’, I have to believe it when I say it. If for one time I say ‘no I don’t think I’m going to win’, then there’s no point in me attending the fight. It’s finished.

Especially as I was living in halls and everyone knew I was doing the fight. I’m not gonna lie; of course there were always doubts. But I had to program myself to think ‘Yeah you are going to win. That’s why you’re fighting. The only reason you are training so hard is because you want to win and you’re going to win.’ After a while when I began to accept that, that’s when I’d become way more comfortable with answering the question. You would be able to see the difference in reaction and think ‘oh okay so Naveed definitely thinks he’s going to win’.

Is the mental side significant? Almost just as significant as the training. It was the uni aspect also. I’m studying at LSE- so I need to find the time to practice. The build up to fighting was always hard because of the pressure that I put myself under. I would think- what are the consequences of not just winning, but losing also. Some might say ‘in the long run losing doesn’t matter’- but in my mind it always mattered that little bit more.

That reminds me of this really fascinating video I saw about Conor McGregor, about how he visualizes fights and that’s why he’s able to so accurately predict his victories. Do you do something of that nature- not only envisioning the repercussions of your fights but also what may occur within the fight itself?

100%. I’ve been influenced a lot by McGregor and other fighters. I watch their interviews; to see how they behave, to see who wins, and how the winners behave. I got some great advice from our former club captain Cameron about visualisation. He told me to visualize all the bad things that could happen in the fight. That was an eye opener. I would visualize myself getting put in the corner, hit once or twice. But dealing with it, because I’m not scared of anything: if he throws the biggest right hand and I block it- it’s fine. If he bombards me with punches and I somehow turn him with a left hook- it’s fine. It’s only when you cannot react to these things that it’s bad.

But that’s not to say visualization outside the fight isn’t important. I also pictured how I’d feel afterwards. I’d think about calling my dad and telling him I’d won. I’d think about getting to put this picture on Instagram with my hand raised. I’d get to tell my academic adviser that I won. You see- it’s a bit of a ‘fake it until you make it’ mentality- where I was pretending I’d won already- because I really wanted to win. But yeah, overall- visualization helped immensely with my victories.

That balance of the realism in that you accept you’ll be put into tight corners, but then the release of knowing that when you do win, all of this good stuff will happen so you can celebrate.

Yeah exactly.

So, fight Night 2018. Thoughts? Predictions?

Well I have a possible opportunity to do boxing nationals this February too. So if I do that- I won’t be doing Fight Night- if that doesn’t happen then I’ll definitely be doing Fight Night again. The main obstacle is finding the opponent. So I don’t reckon we’ll get UCL or Imperial to come this time- we’ll have to try and find another uni. But if I do perform- I can promise no different from any of the other fights. I will do whatever’s necessary. When the time comes I will do whatever it takes.

 

Takeaways from the Talk 

Boxing is a unique sport. The highly individual contests involved can result in dizzying highs or crashing lows. But excelling in boxing is no different from any other field. The mindset Naveed displays can be applied to any other area of expertise, be it athletic, academic, artistic…all one needs to do is hone the skills that are key components of acquiring a will to win:

Confidence

Confidence often proves an elusive trait. But boiled down it is simply the belief in your ability to do something. Naveed speaks of a ‘fake it until you make it’ mentality; and this is applicable to any area of life. No one starts out naturally gifted in a particular field. It is the minute steps one takes on a journey of achievement that build up to big wins, all while embracing the frame that one will succeed. When speaking Naveed avoids hesitation: ‘100%’ , ‘I promise’, ‘I will’. Indecision is the enemy of confidence. Those who concretely achieve their goals do so through action, not dreaming about the task they will perform next Tuesday, and the rewards they will reap in some far-off future.

Mindfulness

Just like Naveed before his first fight, we have all experienced moments where overpowering thoughts take us away from the present. Concentration is the first victim of this occurrence. As we become less focused our incongruence with the external- lectures, socializing, performing in extra-curricular activities- increases. This only adds to our negative thinking. Mindfulness, an awareness of the present moment and our own thoughts, propels us in the opposite direction. Naveed’s deep thought went away because he won his fight. When we realize the cause of our negative thinking, we become more able to ameliorate the thinking itself and in turn succeed.

Automaticity

We are best at the things we do so well our focus on them is unconscious. That is why we are all very good breathers and blinkers. One can excel in a new field only through constant practice and repetition. This is why Naveed used the very basics in his fight- the moves he drilled most consistently. Similarly, that elaborate point we rehearse for a written exam often fades away when the true moment comes. Naveed adapted his strategy for his new opponent which shifted his automaticity; a winning mentality is one of constant adaptation, where we shift our learned skill-sets to face further, more trying, challenges.  

Visualization

Often we are faced with a difficulty when readying yourself for big challenges like public speaking, or stage performance, where the event itself can nowhere near be replicated whilst preparing. One way to overcome this hurdle is to visualize the event happening. The minute details. Walking up to stage. Adjusting the microphone. The dangers you will face. The joy you’ll feel in overcoming those dangers. Whilst overthinking muddies your perception of a future challenge and often puts your very success in that challenge at risk, visualization provides one with a coherent strategy to tackle anything head on

 

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