Date and place of birth: 21 January 1976, Kirkkonummi
Place of residence: Kirkkonummi
Education: Mechanic, Production Technology
Marital status & family: Single, one daughter
My first boxing idol was… Mike Tyson.
The most important thing in my life is… my daughter.
A wish waiting to come true for me is… a happy family.
Next time I’ll be in the ring will be… probably early autumn.
Amin Asikainen, Finland’s most successful professional boxer in decades is a thinking man’s athlete in a sport that normally makes your head hurt for other reasons.
THREE DAYS removed from a ring rendezvous with a professional pugilist, most of us would welcome visitors with a weak lift of the unbroken finger and a single-syllable word, jaw wires permitting speech. But Amin Asikainen’s welcome is a bit different from that. At an eatery’s outdoor table in his native Kirkkonummi, he replies to friendly greets from buddies walking by and accepts congratulations on his clear-cut win earlier in the week (vs. Dario Matorras, TKO in the 4th round), and talks about boxing and life, friendly and smoothly, three days after the match and three days before an operation on his right hand.
According to Amin, the son of a Finnish mother and Moroccan father, everyone is equally welcome to the boxing gym regardless of skin colour or religion. Amin has resided in Kirkkonummi all his life, and as regards to the Moroccan side of his family, he is fortunate in the sense that many of his paternal uncles also live in the area, in addition to his father.
Asikainen started boxing at the age of 12. He went with his friend Joni Turunen to hang around at the boxing practice of Joni’s big brother Toni. After just one week, the kids had boxing gloves in their hands. Later with coach Pekka Mäki, they got more intensely involved and both earned their first real merits by winning Finnish youth championships.
In his professional boxing career, Amin Asikainen became the EBU (European Boxing Union) Middleweight Champion in June 2006, successfully defended the title twice and held it altogether for about one year. Earlier as amateur, he won the men’s Finnish championship three times. But instead of reeling off the stats further, let’s talk to the man.
Amin, about four years ago you said that your best assets as a boxer were speed and quick reactions. As people slow down with age, both those two tend to suffer. Have you thought about how to compensate for it?
I feel my speed has not suffered at all so far, but reactions may have been part of why I lost the fight in the UK (vs. Macklin, 25 Sept 2009, TKO in 1st). I simply did not see the left hook to my jaw. In top form, I probably would have seen it. I could say I did not have a good feel for the match, I had not got into the match properly and that is why he was able to land it and knock me down.
When talking about reactions, how big is it for a boxer to optimally read the opponent?
A boxer really needs his reactions to work for him. When the other guy starts the sequence to come in with his left, I need to be able to block it with mine, and at the same time evade and think he might use his right next. I evade a little to my right and counter with my right. To make it work, the boxer needs to be one step ahead of his opponent. The ability to react quickly to the little moves has to do with the eye and a lot of sparring. Reactions can be trained by sparring with the coach wearing the pads and you rolling out your combinations. When the repetitions run into thousands, it will become like a gut reaction and you will have it in the match, too.
I have heard commendations on your reach and lower hook. How do you feel about them?
Well, I feel my left hook to the chin is one of my best weapons. And I use my reach to keep opponents back and in check. I’m a counter-puncher. When a shorter opponent tries to come in, I’ll back-pedal and counter with a punch.
In July 2009 you said that you see the peak of your career somewhere ahead. You once were the European champ. What would be the next top achievement once your right hand is okay?
I would like to go at it against a good European pro for eight rounds, and after that bout see how it felt and draw further conclusions. The level of Super Middleweight in Europe is not impossibly high, but a tough challenge nevertheless. If I got a couple of good matches in first, I could perhaps run for the European title. But I haven’t planned that far. After the most recent match, I would like to have something a bit more challenging in the autumn, and then go from there.
When you reigned as the European champion in 2006-07, you took on title challenges at a rather tight pace. Every one of those is a tough spot, right?
Yeah, they sure are. In my case, the build-up to a title bout means two to three tough matches, each of them tougher than the last one, within a one-year span. We have to take into account that I am 34 years old, and I’m asking myself whether the fire still burns bright enough, or should I be building my life on other foundations. I will always be involved in sports, coaching or otherwise. I still haven’t made up my mind on whether to just go for a few slightly lower-level matches and not for a championship title. But I do feel I want to have at least a few good matches. One aspect is that I have always gone clean. I’m not saying that some particular guys have enhanced their performance illegally, but in the pro circuit no tests are made in the off-season so a leeway exists, and going clean at 34, I see it as a big challenge.
Your career in boxing spans decades already. How has the sport developed during those years?
The amateur circuit changed a lot with the new point scoring system. First you got points easily but later only for hard hits in the head, and then they again started giving out points a bit easier. Now the scoring favours more genuine boxing, where you need to be active and not just guard. In professional boxing, the word is “be sharp and avoid mistakes,” where German boxers do well, for example.
You have an immense boxing knowledge. How do you feel about coaching in the future?
I have given tips to younger guys, but now I’m still focusing on my own training. When the time comes, I’ll definitely be interested in passing along what I know. That is a natural development.
Where has your coach best helped you?
When I won the title in Germany, my coach Pekka Mäki was a big help. He told me to keep cracking at it, throw in jabs with my left, and drown the guy in punches. He really gave me the extra edge. I would say the team’s contribution was at least one-third of it all.
You once dreamt of running a café, a restaurant or a sports shop. How does it all look now?
I’ve got a nice deal in the works where a big sports facility can use my name and know-how: a boxing school and defensive fighting training. For now, I’ll keep the details under the lid. And I’ve thought about running a little sports pub of my own. It will wait as long as my boxing career is active.
You like a good kebab. When Lordi won the Eurovision song contest for Finland, a kebab place in Rovaniemi came up with a special dish in his honour. Has any local restaurant here approached you in the same vein? If so, what would it entail?
There actually was talk with a local restaurant about a pizza named “Amin,” but it never materialised. If it came to fruition, that pizza would feature at least tuna and shrimps, my favourites, and then mussels and something else.
How about that salty liquorice and other treats?
After the practice, I sometimes like to buy a bottle of mineral water and a few “Vanhat Autot” (“old cars,” a Finnish salty liquorice brand).
Big matches call for big parties – or do they?
Usually after a match, I stay off all alcohol for a week or two. You know, in boxing, you take hits in the head, which in itself is pretty hard on the brain cells, and if you then hit the bottle, we’re talking double trouble. I do not drink often, say, 4-6 times a year, but when I do, it’ll be a few weeks after the match. Better to rest the head after being knocked about for 12 rounds. I’d like to think I can walk straight after my career.
What would you say to youth doing recreational drugs?
Back in the days of my youth, when we felt like partying we would knock back a few beers, and that was okay. I hope kids will not overdo it.
Many readers of SixDegrees are expatriates. Amin, you have seen the world, but have you ever considered living in some place else like Morocco, from where your father hails?
I enjoy hot weather and Morocco in the summer offers you 40 degrees Celsius, but it is cooler out there in the winter. Then again, the Finnish summer is beautiful and I would not want to miss it. A month per year in Morocco is nice, but I have it good here and I like it here.
Home and away counts in life, what about in boxing?
It makes a big difference. It can be tough before a roaring crowd if you are the other guy. In the home advantage sense, my best match was probably the bout versus Campos at Helsinki’s Kisahalli in February of 2008. Against this ex-world champion with 70 KOs, I suffered a broken bone and torn ligaments in my hand early on, but with the great crowd behind me, I was able to pull out a win in seven rounds.
Outside Finland, which country has the most knowledgeable boxing audience?
In Romania in the year 1997, I fought an Armenian guy in the European championship qualifiers and lost by a narrow margin, wrongly, I felt. But when I left the ring the crowd gave me a standing ovation and chanted “Finland.” Then I knew at least they got it right – Romania is a boxing country with tradition.
You are one of 48 boxers modelled as a character in the boxing game Fight Night Round 4. Have you tried it out yourself and how did you find it?
Yep, it is good fun; I’ve played that computer game with my daughter quite a bit. You know, I’m not too happy with my character in the game. But it’s great to be in that crowd, with Ali, Leonard and Tyson.