‘I was stabbed – boxing saved me from street life’

‘I was stabbed – boxing saved me from street life’

The scar that runs down Richard Riakporhe’s chest is horrifying.

Thick, unmistakably grisly, and cascading from below his collarbone to just above his stomach directly down the centre of his torso, it is a permanent reminder of a former life.

Riakporhe is stood at the scene of the crime, confronted by the horror again. This is the first time he has returned in the 16 years since.

“I nearly lost my life right here,” he sighs.

“I got stabbed over a mobile phone. I could have lost my life for around £100,” Riakporhe can hardly believe how he used to live as he explains it now.

He tells Sky Sports about the stabbing: “I remember like it was yesterday.

“I came out of a party and a guy storms out asking for my phone.

“‘Give me your phone!’

“I didn’t even have a phone. But, because of pride and ego, I said no.

“I got stabbed for that. The next thing I knew? I was in an ambulance, with an oxygen mask on.

“I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t get my words out. There was blood. Everybody was panicking.

“At that time, I wasn’t active on the streets and didn’t deserve to be stabbed.

“But because of my environment I found myself fighting for my life.

“I’m still here and it’s for a reason.”

Riakporhe grew up on the Aylesbury Estate in south-east London
Image: Riakporhe grew up on the Aylesbury Estate in south-east London

Boxing gave Riakporhe an escape route from the life which was almost brutally ended on the spot that he now stands.

If he wins the hardest fight of his career against Olanrewaju Durodola tonight, live on Sky Sports, he will take home the WBC silver belt and earn a future shot at the world cruiserweight championship.

But he is already a major success story from the Aylesbury Estate in south-east London, an area of high-rise buildings defined by its social deprivation.

Sixty years ago a local councillor described it as “a concrete jungle not fit for people to live in” and, in 1997, Prime Minister Tony Blair stood in the Aylesbury Estate and spoke about “forgotten people”.

Today the area remains notorious for its gang-infested crime.

Riakporhe remembers gathering around a yellow board where, every day, the latest details about local misdemeanours would be posted.

One day, somebody was thrown from a balcony several storeys high. Another day, he recalls sneaking beyond a police cordon to discover somebody had been shot.

“It was a real challenge because, to have some respect in the area, you had to get involved,” Riakporhe explains.

“I wanted people to salute me as I walked down the streets. That’s when I got involved in crime. I made decisions which I have learned from.

“I got led astray by a few friends from the area. A few bad decisions left me on a downward spiral of destruction.

“I looked out of the window and would see cars speeding, then people jumping out and sprinting off. Police cars right behind them. Sirens. Every single day.

“I became conditioned and thought it was normal.”

Riakporhe lived with his brother and mother who wouldn’t let them go out because “she was conscious of the area”. At 14, Riakporhe started spending time outside. He loved football and wanted to play for Crystal Palace until the street life gripped him.

He would play-fight his brother until the violence escalated and one incident overstepped the mark. They swore never to battle again.

At 15, he was stabbed.

Riakporhe was stabbed but escaped the street life
Image: Riakporhe was stabbed but escaped the street life

It is only when hearing somebody speak who had Riakporhe’s world view as a child and a teenager that you can begin understanding the challenges faced by those who grow up in similar environments and find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“Being from this area we could only think on a certain level,” he says.

“I was used to seeing people who were involved in crime. But they had all of the attention – they attracted women, they had power, they had respect.

“I thought: ‘This is the way to go’.

“If I aspire to be like somebody, this is who I wanted to be like.

“Only now do I understand that it was a trivial way of thinking.

“At the time I thought it was the pinnacle of life.

“I thought I’d make it only when I had the cars and the clothes because materialistic things were a big thing to me, back then.

“Independent studying, reading, elevating my thinking changed my behaviour and my decision-making.”

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Richard Riakporhe refused a handshake with Olanrewaju Durodola

Riakporhe became studious (he now has a degree in marketing communications and advertising) and found boxing. After the gym, he was too tired to get into mischief.

“I went to uni and explained the norms of where I grew up,” he smiles. “It was like a movie to other people!

“I analysed my life and wanted to do better, to achieve more.

“I was ambitious and knew there was more to life than being around the streets.

“If not for boxing? Who knows where I would have ended up.

“I lacked skill but my coaches told me: ‘Just knock this guy out’. Once I imposed my will on my opponents they would dissolve. Not everybody has that kind of will. Where does it derive from? From where I grew up.”

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Richard Riakporhe wants to secure a WBC title fight ahead of Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez’s exciting arrival

The Aylesbury Estate runs through Riakporhe’s blood and, in the form of a stab wound, is forever imprinted on his chest.

“We found joy here, as crazy as that may sound,” he says while looking around the area which forged him.

“I appreciate life more, having come from this.”

Many of the greatest fighters ever grew up in socially deprived areas across the world and never lost the hunger to better themselves.

“Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler – these guys came from absolutely nothing,” Riakporhe snarls. “It made them grind and develop grit inside the ring.

“Being from this area made me the fighter I am today.

“I have nothing to lose because I came from nothing.”

Sky Sports Boxing schedule

November 20 – BOXXER in London
Richard Riakporhe vs Olanrewaju Durodola
Natasha Jonas
Florian Marku vs Jorick Luisetto
Hosea Burton vs Dan Azeez – British light-heavyweight title
Mikael Lawal

November 20 – Top Rank in Las Vegas
Terence Crawford vs Shawn Porter – WBO welterweight title

December 11 – BOXXER in Cardiff
Chris Eubank Jr vs Liam Williams
Claressa Shields vs Ema Kozin

December 11 – Top Rank in New York
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Richard Commey
Jared Anderson vs Oleksandr Teslenko
Nico Ali Walsh
Xander Zayas

December 17 – Top Rank in Montreal
Artur Beterbiev vs Marcus Browne – IBF and WBC light-heavyweight titles

February 26 – Top Rank in Glasgow
Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall – undisputed super-lightweight title

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