Aziz is found at the platform of the Assisi station. He lifts a few kilos of muscles to say goodbye and from a distance it is clear that he is the European heavyweight champion. The boxing federation center is a couple of minutes away. The nationals live there, in permanent retirement, in a curious assonance of terms between religion and their life dedicated to boxing. Aziz Abbes Mouhiidine brought the title back to Italy after 24 years. The same ones he has. His father was Moroccan, his mother is from Irpinia. From the coffee table downtown, the tolling of church bells sounds no different than the gong that rings at ringside. The 60s are long gone, when L’Osservatore Romano defined boxing as “a murder with gloves”. Only from Paul VI onwards is there any trace of public meetings between a pope and a boxer. Aziz says his with Bergoglio is among his dearest memories. He talks about it in an hour and a half of chats that will be filled with spirituality.
Can you tell me why he fights in fluo yellow socks and shoes?
«It is a color that stands out even in the dark. In the ring I want to be seen as much as possible. I’m an egomaniac, perhaps. I don’t know if there is a boxer who isn’t. Entering a ring is like being on a stage. We are all daffodils, after Muhammad Ali».
How did you hear about Ali’s story?
“It was my father. He was his idol, he became mine too. One evening on Rete4 they showed the film with Will Smith, he calls me and says: come and see. A flash. With my mouth open I asked: are all these things true? I loved Ali for his inspiration in the ring, for his commitment to the African people, for Malcolm X, for the match in Kinshasa, for his refusal to go to Vietnam and not kill ».
Do sports champions have to be role models?
“All number ones should feel it as a need. Not just sportsmen. You become a leader when you are more than yourself. All of us, in our own small way, should try. I’m not Ali, but I know that I can talk to the kids I meet, I can be an encouragement to anyone looking for a way and revenge».
Who is he talking to?
«To the children who go to the gym, to those who ask me for a photo, to the students of a scientific high school where I recently went, kids who seemed undecided in the face of their next choices. Follow your call, I told him. Not 70 percent, 100. Give up the rest. This is how I pester my friends when they seem to make do with what they have, when they spend their days on a low wall. We have only this life.”
Are you sure you are 24?
«I feel I have more, I was certainly 15-16 when I realized that I had to commit myself and find a way. Maybe it’s true that Italy doesn’t do enough for its young people, so let us young people think about doing something for Italy, taking the country by the hand and making it improve».
Do you have a religious faith?
“Dad was Muslim, mom is Catholic, each has also been a little bit of the other. A great example, for me. At home it was Easter twice, Christmas twice. Dad prayed five times a day and there was never a disagreement about anything. It was he who accompanied my mother and grandparents on pilgrimage to Padre Pio. They made me freely choose my religion. I am a Christian, but I studied Islam first. It’s not how it’s often portrayed on television. The Koran does not say about mistreating women, it says the thirst for power”.
How did your parents meet?
“Dad’s story wasn’t a classic immigration story. He came from Morocco with a scholarship to the University of Perugia, he graduated in engineering. One summer he went on vacation to Salerno with a friend, my mother worked as an accountant at the lido where they used to swim. They met in 1997, I was born in 1998».
Have they asked you how do you reconcile Christ with boxing?
«Boxing is not made up of two who fight, but of two who fight to prevail in that instant, within a context of rules, respect and loyalty. The most beautiful thing comes at the end, when we hug each other. To celebrate the day of friendship, the international federation posted a photo taken after the world match between me and the Cuban La Cruz. He had bloodied me, but we were hugging each other. I hear the news calling certain attackers boxers, for news items. You are a boxer only inside the ropes of a ring».
What is life like in retreat?
“Tough. We take a break from time to time, two or three days at home, time to rinse clothes, change suitcases. I never get used to being away from my mother. Everything else – the table, the weight – are not sacrifices. In economics, one would say an investment in oneself. I prefer to call it self-cultivation. Nobody forces me. It’s the life I’ve chosen. It’s a privilege. When I go back to Montoro, I rest, I enjoy my friends, I pamper my mother and I abuse Francesco, the son of a cousin who is a sister to me. The puppets they give me at the awards are all for him».
Have you been to Morocco?
“Twice. The first one when I was 6, we stayed for two months, dad took me to meet my grandfather who has the same name as me. In Morocco it is not customary to pass on the name, unless the grandfather is dead. My mother liked the idea of calling me Abbes, she alone feared that my grandfather would take it badly. She didn’t take offense. The second time a year ago, after failing to qualify for the Olympics. I was broken. It was an idea of my girlfriend, Carlotta Paoletti, she is also in the national boxing team. Let’s go to Africa, she said, you’ll find your energy. It was wonderful to hear him propose, he was right, I regenerated. I was with my father’s brothers and sisters, with Said who is identical to him, they introduced me to half of Casablanca. I’m the perfect nephew: a boxer and a cop, a credit. It has been my salvation, things of the spirit are inexplicable. Like what happened in the ring four years ago at the Italian championship. Dad had been dead for 12 days. In the first round I was taking them and I heard a voice speaking in Arabic. I don’t speak Arabic and understand it very little. Then I heard my father from afar as he translated: don’t let yourself go, the victory is yours. I won”.
How do you react to an unjust verdict?
“You learn. You fall seven times and get up eight. There are times when those who play sports with the stopwatch are envious, where superiority is objective. My mother taught me that there is a solution to everything. She’s a force of nature, seeing how she dealt with dad’s illness gave me more energy. Dad wanted to be buried in Italy. Those who die in a foreign land want to go home. He asked to stay here, where he built his family. I know I’m leaving you, he told me.’
What does his name mean?
“Aziz means dear, Abbes is the name of an Arab prince. When I was a child, my mother called me Aziz when I made her angry and Abbes when I was nice to her. It’s been a long time now since she called me Aziz.’
How do you experience offenses against foreigners as an Italian?
«I feel them mine. The offense for a name that is not Italian, for the color of the skin, for a gender difference. Good and evil are found in all colors and in all nations. Black Lives Matter I get it. Man went to the moon and they don’t respect us on earth. I saw a nice photo on Instagram, three hearts side by side, that of a white, a black and an Asian. There were no differences. I wonder why a boy who was born in Italy, goes to school in Italy, grows up as an Italian, has to wait until he is 18 for citizenship. It’s a way to make you feel wrong.”
Aziz, what is the best day you imagine having to live?
“The day I get married in church. It’s an idea that excites me. The celebration of one’s love before God. Next year I’ll propose to Carlotta, and after the Paris Games, come on, we’ll get married».