•At the tender age of 9 when most of his age-mates played childhood games in the neighbourhood, Shaffi had long dispensed with toys and embraced boxing.
•Shaffi attributes his success in the ring to coach Lemmy ‘Cobra’ Katibi, a sibling of former Kenya international Evans Ashira Oure also known as the ‘The African Warrior’.
Shaffi Bakari’s love for the ‘sweet science’ of boxing began the moment he hit middle childhood.
Often, he would go to Kisauni Gym in Mombasa to catch a glimpse of senior pugilists shadowboxing, sparring and pounding away on the punching bag.
“I found the sport quite interesting though quite tough when one was caught napping.”
Boxing, he says, has taught him some key lessons in life.
“Over the course of time, boxing taught me that in life, you always have to stay alert, then make rational decisions as quickly as possible,” Shaffi explained.
He added: “I’m glad I was able to realise my potential in sport as a very young boy and ultimately landed a job with National Police Service while also a young man.”
Bakari narrated his turbulent but fruitful journey to stardom which started off in the year 2002 at a time he was still in Class One.
At the tender age of 9 when most of his age-mates played childhood games in the neighbourhood, Shaffi had long dispensed with toys and embraced boxing.
“The first time I entered a boxing gym was in 2002 when I accompanied my friends to a session of senior boxers,” he recalls.
Just when is it too young to start boxing?
Shaffi observes: “Some people would rather wait until they are 12 or so. Some parents also abhor the idea of seeing boys as young as 7 or 8 being hit by adults. Others would truly not stand that kind of scenerio seen in the gym, so age factor in boxing has many challenges. They would rather you develop and get a chance later.”
He was among the few boxing-crazy pupils who attended Khadija Primary School in Mombasa’s sprawling Kisauni area.
“On my part, I started school somehow late because of my parents’ financial limitations. So the only other escape route from the tough situation was sports. Boxing has also taught me to be a disciplined person in life and the one thing I would never do is to intimidate or bully my friends in school in the name of boxing.”
Shaffi attributes his success in the ring to coach Lemmy ‘Cobra’ Katibi, a sibling of former Kenya international Evans Ashira Oure also known as the ‘The African Warrior’.
“Coach Katibi is the man who inspired me to take up boxing. Lemmy comes from a family line of Kenya’s finest boxers. He taught me how to punch and get me moving around using my feet among other things.”
“I couldn’t do much with weights at that age and wouldn’t also do much sparring— just shadow boxing. As a kid, I was always active regardless of whether I was training or not. But again, it all depends on someone’s passion and focus.”
The closeness of the gym to the school he went to, might have ignited his interest in the game even further.
“At the time, many of us were going to the gym. This is because our school was just adjacent to the gym. So many kids got hooked up to the sport.”
As a Class One pupil, he only managed light training and shadow boxing. But it was not until late 2009 when he started training and participating in top class events like the National League.
“In 2009, Mombasa hosted the season-closing leg of the Kenya National League and so this turned out to be a favourable platform to prove myself under the watchful eye of coach Katibi.”
“Katibi was among a group of coaches who trained us for Africa’s Olympic Qualifiers in Dakar Senegal earlier in the year.
Because Kisauni has produced many quality boxers, boxing was one of the main pre-occupations of enthusiastic youth. “As a result, there were many boys in our neighbourhood who aspired to follow in the footsteps of our predecessors.”
Shaffi’s formative years in boxing were not a bed of roses. That notwithstanding, the career policeman is now glad he took up the sport and has become a force to reckon with.
“Given our humble family background, I had to contend with quite a lot of challenges. I grew up training without boxing shoes. Lack of training equipment was also a major challenge and so was raising bus fare to enable us go for matches.”
“All these problems didn’t in any way deter us. We just focused as we wanted to discover the formula to ascend to the top of the game. There is always no gain without pain. I knew that good things were only achievable after hardship. So we all took it in our stride.”
In 2011, Shaffi earned his first call up to the national team for the junior Commonwealth Championship in the Isle of Man in England under current national senior Coach Musa Benjamin.
“The same year, I was called up to join the Army team and honestly, that is the time I realised that boxing could truly transform lives.
“I’m always thankful to my bosses at the Police Service for giving me an enabling environment to further my career and chase after my dreams in boxing.”
“They have given me an enabling environment to train and compete adequately. At the moment, I am training on my own.
“My coach Musa and his deputy David Munuhe have been guiding me on the much-needed technical finesse as I work out on my own.
“Covid-19 has really affected our plans given the fact that the final World Qualifiers in Paris had to be called off.
“It’s not only us who are affected but the entire country and the whole world. So my training was distracted at the time we were planning to go for the elusive Olympic slot.
“I agree that setback will only make one stronger. This means that my hopes for Tokyo 2020 dream next year is still alive and I am confident that I will qualify for the Olympics. I had high hopes given good preparations under our leaders but what God plans, no man is able to overturn.”
Asked what lessons he has learnt from his elusive Olympic dream in Senegal, Shaffi went on: “I have come to learn that being a champion is easy but maintaining the status is another tough thing because the one who won in Senegal, was the first to be eliminated from the Morocco All African Games preliminaries.”
So how does Shaffi spend his free time: “I spend much of my time watching movies with my family. I also go swimming. But the most important thing is spending time with the family. I also enjoy the Mombasa cuisine so much. We call them ‘mapochopocho’ in our coasterian jargon and so biryani, pilau and most of the dishes from the coast would do. Rice and potato soup is good,” says the father of two boys.
For Bakari it’s boxing for life. “Boxing has greatly enriched my life and helped me become my family’s breadwinner. First and foremost, respect is the biggest thing in life. Secondly, love what you do and work hard for nothing good comes easy. We have to put God first in everything.”
Bakari admires unbeaten and undisputed champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. “I admire Mayweather Jr but the boxer I adore most for his ring skills is Vasyl Lomachenko of Ukraine because he is really fast.
He says in the latter years of his boxing career, Olympian Nick Okoth has been a pillar for him. “I met Nick Okoth when I relocated to Nairobi and had a stint with Kenya Defence Forces team. Nick really encouraged me and treated me as a brother. I have always admired how Nick and (Benson) Gicharu box. So I have picked quite some lessons from the two.”
Shaffi later joined the National Team Hit Squad and became a mainstay. “I’m glad I have been able to call the shots where my predecessors like Suleiman Bilali and Bernard Ngumba made a name,” he said.
In a bid to pursue the elusive Olympic dream, Shaffi moved a berth up to the flyweight division after International Olympic Committee (IOC) dropped his light-flyweight speciality.
IOC axed the light-flyweight (49kg) and lightweight (60kg) from Olympics weight program. His light-flyweight position at Police ‘Chafua Chafua’ team was then taken over by Martin Maina from Thika.
Shaffi, a constable in the National Police Service, joined Police team in 2015 after a short stint from Kenya Defence Forces team.
He played his boxing at the Kisauni Boxing Club and made his Commonwealth Games debut in Gold Coast as a light-flyweight and first competed in his new weight division (fly) during last year’s Kenya Open at Charter Hall Nairobi which he won.
The flyweight Champion pounded his way into the African Games boxing final in Rabat and became the first Kenyan to do so in boxing at the Africa Games since light flyweight Suleiman Bilali in 2007 Algiers when he outclassed Dawit Bekele (Ethiopia) 4-1 in their semi final contest.
Shaffi nevertheless lost to Rajab Otukile Mohammed from Botswana in the final to settle for Kenya’s solitary boxing silver medal at the games.
Name: Shaffi Bakari Hassan
Date of Birth: 05/07/1993
Current Weight Division: Flyweight
Lives in: Nairobi
Previous Club: Kisauni Boxing Club
Current Club: Chafua Chafua (Police Team)
Kenya Junior Team Debut: Commonwealth Youth Games 2011 in the Isle of Man England under the tutelage of Coach Musa Benjamin
Senior Kenya Team Debut: Africa Championships in Congo Brazzaville
Favorite sports: Football and boxing
Short term goal: To qualify for his maiden Olympic Games for Tokyo 2020
Long term goal: To win an Olympic medal
-Kenya Open Champion 2019, and winner of 1st, 2nd and 3rd leg league champion
-Africa Championship Congo Brazzaville bronze
-Happy to finally make his All Africa Games debut in Morocco
-Represented Kenya at the AIBA World Boxing Championship in Hamburg, Germany from August 25 toSeptember 2, 2017.
-Participated in the Indian Open in New Delhi 2018
-Participated in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast Australia