‘I’m lucky to be ALIVE. Boxing seems like a walk in the park’: Richard Riakporhe says the memory of a near-fatal stabbing keeps him ‘calm’ in the ring as he pushes for a world title… and calls out Lawrence Okolie for a British showdown at Selhurst Park
- Richard Riakporhe faces Fabio Turchi on Saturday night, live on Sky Sports
- The British cruiserweight says a near-death experience helps him to stay calm
- He was stabbed aged 15 and says boxing is a ‘walk in the park’ in comparison
- Riakporhe is targeting a world title fight and wants to face Lawrence Okolie
- He discussed how working with Anthony Joshua makes him hungrier than ever
Just two fights away from the world title shot he craves, Richard Riakporhe tells me the pressure to keep the wins coming is nothing compared to the trauma he has faced in his life.
Growing up on the Aylesbury Estate in south-east London, the British cruiserweight star was accustomed to a troubled upbringing and was moments away from death after being stabbed at the age of 15. He was leaving a party and was asked to hand over his mobile phone. He refused.
The fact he is here talking to me is truly nothing short of a miracle after being placed on an operating table, with his life in the hands of a surgeon – who had to cut through his sternum to stop his internal bleeding.
Richard Riakporhe believes boxing is a ‘walk in the park’ compared to his traumatic past
The British cruiserweight came close to death after being stabbed in the chest aged 15
‘I was very, very close [to dying] because [the knife] cut through an artery and they had to operate immediately,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘If they didn’t do it in time, I would have died. 100 per cent. Trust me, I’m lucky to be here talking about it.’
Riakporhe is whittling down the opponents until he finally gets his shot at a world title and next up is Fabio Turchi, who he will face at Wembley Arena this Saturday night on Sky Sports. A win makes him the No 2 contender with the IBF, so there can be no room for a setback, but the memory of his close brush with death helps dissolve his nerves in the ring.
‘Me being able to survive, it feels like boxing is a walk in the park,’ he says. ‘It’s a dangerous sport, but I’ve been through traumatic experiences. This is nothing compared to nearly losing your life.
‘It keeps me very calm in the ring. I’ve been through things and you have nothing to fear. What’s the point of being fearful? If you come through that, you can come through anything and that’s the mindset I have.
Riakporhe – who faces Fabio Turchi at Wembley Arena this weekend – says his experience keeps him calm in the ring
‘Going into boxing, I had more of a positive outlook on life. I knew if I got myself in the boxing ring, there’s less chance of [getting stabbed] again because I’ll be keeping myself out of trouble.’
To ensure the next generation of youngsters – and potential fighters – are steered from harm’s way, the 32-year-old set up the Richard Riakporhe Foundation to educate children about the dangers of knife crime.
He travels to schools and community centres around London to give them the ‘guidance’ he never had, and says one of his motivations to fight and speak to the press is so he can continue to be an example to his community.
‘I was one of the stray kids who needed that guidance. Maybe if I had that, then I could have got myself out of trouble in the past. Because I didn’t, it took me a bit longer to get to where I am now. I want to help kids because I’ve seen the impact of young people in and around these areas losing their lives and the effects on their family and their community.
The 32-year-old wants the next generation of kids to receive the guidance he never had
Riakporhe set up his own foundation to educate youngsters on the dangers of knife crime
‘If we can help one child get on the straight and narrow that’s a success – even if it’s 1 in 1000. That kid could get killed or do the killing. Life if precious and there’s so much talent in these areas.
‘You need to see someone who has come through something and is doing well so you have more of an impact when you do speak. That’s why it’s important for me to get this coverage and continue being successful so I can have more impact.’
Riakporhe works in the same training camp as Anthony Joshua – who is preparing for his rematch against Oleksandr Usyk in Saudia Arabia in August.
The two-time world champion is getting to work under new trainer Robert Garcia, who will also be in Riakporhe’s corner this weekend, and he says the two-time world champion is the perfect example to kids of someone who has endured difficult times and is now showing hunger to succeed.
‘That’s why I like being around AJ, he’s really motivational,’ he adds. ‘For him to still have that determination to come back to the gym even after what he’s achieved.
Riakporhe has been training alongside Anthony Joshua (L) and admits his hunger to keep achieving more success is rubbing off on him
‘I can’t tell you I will 100 per cent have that same hunger or enthusiasm if I had achieved everything and that financial security. But Joshua is still going and it’s rubbing off on me. If this guy can still come to the gym on Monday after what he’s achieved then I have no excuses. I need to step up the game.’
Speaking of Garcia – many boxing fans are wondering what to expect from the Mexican trainer and what he brings to the table to help Joshua overcome Usyk. Riakporhe says Garcia will be bringing ‘war’ to AJ’s camp after working alongside co-trainer Angel Fernandez.
‘The Mexican style and the mentality is very different, they go to war,’ he explains. ‘That would be an attribute to any fighter in any camp.
‘I think it was a good choice. Angel and Garcia work great together because there’s no egos – they’re just focused on getting the result.’
Joshua’s new trainer Robert Garcia (R) will also be in Riakporhe’s corner this Saturday, and he revealed the Mexican will bring ‘war’ to both their camps
Both coaches will be working on a game plan to get Riakporhe past Turchi on Saturday night – a fighter who has lost just one fight on a points decision.
Riakporhe – now affectionately known by his alter ego ‘The Midnight Train’ – is plotting a knockout that would see him become No 2 challenger to IBF world champion Mairis Briedis.
For now, he is resisting the temptation to think about potential world title fights. His promoter Ben Shalom is setting that up in the background and is speaking with the representatives of WBC belt holder Ilunga Makabu to see if a showdown can be sorted out after this.
Riakporhe has a refreshing confidence when he discusses his future. He talks about becoming world champion like it’s already written in a prophecy that he’s just waiting to come true. It’s this self belief that he believes sets him apart from his rival fighters in the division.
Riakporhe is confident he will be world champion soon – and he will be the No 2 challenger to the IBF belt should he overcome Turchi
He says confidence is ‘the bridge to success’ and that his mindset sets him aside from his rivals
‘You have to have confidence in yourself in sport,’ he tells me. ‘Confidence is the bridge to excellence. If you have that self belief, it shows in your performance. If you’re not, you’re hesitant and you’re just surviving. The wins have built my confidence and I’m very optimistic. We’re going to get the win, move on and then become a world champion.
While Riakporhe is moving closer to challenging feared Latvian fighter Briedis, the man he has really got his eye on is British rival Lawrence Okolie – who holds the WBO strap. The pair have exchanged words before and called each other out during the height of the pandemic, but a fight never materialised.
He feels a Battle of London can be set up next year, however, and the die-hard Crystal Palace fan wants to face him at his stomping ground – Selhurst Park. You can often hear the piercing cries of Palace fans at all his fights and Riakporhe admits he has been inundated with messages from them – and he wants them to fill out their home stadium to create an incredible British showdown.
‘There’s a lot of Palace fans coming this time too! They’re following the journey very closely, they believe I can do it. They have my back – they send me endless messages “we got you, we’ll be there for you, let’s get this win and do it at Selhurst”.
Riakporhe called out British rival Lawrence Okolie for a fight next year and wants to stage it at Selhurst Park – the home of his beloved Crystal Palace
‘I think we can make that happen next year [Okolie]. I know he will be up for it. We can definitely make it happen 100 per cent and it’s a fight that has to happen. That’s the biggest fight in the cruiserweight division. Someone is getting knocked out in that one, trust me. Both of us are power punchers, so someone has to lay down.
‘There was one time where I called him out when his fight fell through. I said give me more time and I’ll take the fight. They wanted me to take it in 10 days. My advisors said that would be foolish of me. Eddie Hearn realised that fight needs crowds and a big stadium because it will make a lot of money.
‘Maybe it’s a good thing it didn’t happen. We did go back and forth a bit on Twitter. I think I did [got the best of him] because I made the call out. He didn’t back down, it just didn’t work out.’
While the Okolie fight is an exciting one, this Midnight Train still hasn’t reached his destination yet and he’ll have to pass through a couple of stations before he arrives.
Known as ‘The Midnight Train’, Riakporhe has vowed to derail his opponent this weekend
Riakporhe explains how he was searching for a unique nickname when he made an appearance on talkSPORT. Presenters Jason Cundy and Andy Goldstein invited him onto their show ‘The Midnight Train to Madness’, and fans who had phoned in suggested the fighter should take it as his nickname.
‘It started growing on me,’ he admits. ‘There’s so many ways you can talk about it – “all aboard The Midnight Train”. When people see me, they say “oh yes, the midnight train”.
Riakporhe’s opponent this weekend Turchi has a rather menacing nickname himself. They call him the ‘Stone Crusher’.
The British heavyweight laughs when I remind him of that, and admits he is impressed by it – but not intimidated.
‘I’m sending that Stone Crusher back on a plane to wherever he’s from! He’s meeting The Midnight Train. He’s gonna get taken off the train because he’s not got a valid ticket!’
Richard Riakporhe vs Fabio Turchi is live this Saturday night on Sky Sports
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