‘I Do Remember The Cold’ – Ellis Badr Barboza Recalls Perilous Path From Homelessness To The Home Of Martial Arts
For some, the cold brings up joyous memories of childhood winters spent sledding, enjoying canceled school days, or sipping hot cocoa – but not for Ellis Badr Barboza.
Barboza, who faces Thongpoon PK Saenchai in a 120-pound catchweight Muay Thai bout at ONE Fight Night 17: Kryklia vs. Roberts on Prime Video on December 8, distinctly remembers the context of his coldest memories, which even after nearly 15 years, he can’t seem to shake.
The 23-year-old Englishman spent his childhood in Birmingham, where at just 6 years old, his father kicked him and his mother out of the house and onto the streets.
“We were homeless quite a bit and moved around a lot. [My mom] was just working different jobs to make it happen.
“That was all through my childhood. I probably moved 10 times, maybe more, to different houses, spending nights in hostels or on sofas – even mattresses on the floor. I was very young, so I don’t remember too much. But I do remember the cold.”
Jonesing To Fit In
With neither steady income nor shelter, Barboza and his mother were forced to fend for themselves. They lived paycheck-to-paycheck, unable to afford what other children of Barboza’s age had taken for granted.
So, when bullies came his way, the Birmingham bruiser’s fight-or-flight system naturally kicked in, and the former prevailed.
“I was always seeing kids, like he’s got this and that, and I’d be thinking, ‘Why don’t I have that?’
“I didn’t have a father figure around, so I couldn’t go and tell him what was up. I did get [hassled] for not having the newest gear and not looking the freshest. But I had to fight and fend for myself.”
Igniting The Fighting Spirit
When Barboza was 11 years old, his luck began to turn. He discovered kickboxing and then boxing, but he never desired to compete in either sport.
The next year, though, a friend invited him to a Muay Thai class at Corefit UK taught by renowned striking coach Henry Cleminson.
The young Englishman gravitated toward Muay Thai and began to lay his foundations in the sport. After a while, he knew this would be his way to improve his and his mother’s circumstances. So from then on, the gym became the first stable home that he ever had.
“I ended up going in there for one session, and I just loved it way more. It was only when I went to Muay Thai that I started to take [training] seriously.
“My teen years, I was living in the gym. I would get two buses just so I could get to the gym no matter how far it was. I’d finish school and go straight through town to the gym. Then I’d get two buses back home and do the same thing every day because I loved it.”
Crossing The Border
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Barboza had the chance to go to Dubai with a friend.
At the last minute, however, his friend withdrew from the trip, leaving Barboza to go at it alone. Little did he know that a training vacation to the Middle East would unravel the next chapter of his life.
“I went to a gym out there and Jason Woodham saw me train and said they needed some fighters for a show. So I decided [to] stay and fight.
“He offered me a job in the gym, so I slept on some geezer’s sofa for three months until I got some money together. Then I started working in Dubai.
“It was a struggle. I had no money, but I managed to make it happen with my [Muay Thai Magic] brand and coaching people there. I made ends meet. I was living good in some aspects, and [it was] a huge step up from Birmingham.”
‘Everything I’ve Dreamed Of’
Today, Barboza is preparing for what will be the biggest fight of his life – his ONE Championship debut against a monster of a man in Thongpoon.
The fight in Bangkok, Thailand, won’t provide the same chilling temperatures that Barboza had to endure as a homeless child.
But as he’s waiting to walk out to the ring in Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, he’ll no doubt reflect on those early moments and remember the vision he laid out. Not only for himself, but for the woman who raised him.
“Living without much built an inner drive to want more. It was business at first, then fighting, which helped me in my teen years to truly express myself and get rid of anger.
“It pushed me toward being entrepreneurial because I always wanted to be the person to change the power dynamic in my family. To give us better and give us more. It’s still the objective now, to be able to have my mom retire and put my family in a better financial situation for the future.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Barboza. It has required a lot of hard work and introspection, and the outcome has been somewhat surreal.
However, as challenging as it was, he knows, in a way, that his greatest feat still lies ahead.
“It’s everything I’ve dreamed of, so it’s mad that we’re now here. But at the same time it just doesn’t feel normal. It’s unusual how you expect to feel accomplishing something sometimes [compared] to how you end up feeling in reality. This is where the real hard work will be.”