Aziz is found at the platform of the Assisi station. He lifts a few pounds of muscle to say hello and you can tell from afar that he is the European heavyweight champion. The center of the boxing federation is a couple of minutes away. The nationals live there, in permanent retreat, 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 in the center, the tolling of church bells does not seem different from the gong that rings at ringside. The 1960s are far away, 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 that his relationship with Bergoglio is one of his fondest memories. He talks about it in an hour and a half of chat that will be full of spirituality.
Does he tell me why he fights in neon yellow socks and shoes?
“It’s a color that stands out even in the dark. In the ring I want to show myself as much as possible. I am self-centered, perhaps. I don’t know if there is a boxer who isn’t. Getting into a ring is like being on stage. We are all daffodils, after Muhammad Ali ».
How did you find out about Ali’s story?
“It was my father. He was an idol of him, he became mine too. One evening on Rete4 they were showing the film with Will Smith, he calls me and says: come and see. A shock. With my mouth open I asked: are these things all true? I loved Ali for his talent 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 speak to the guys I meet, I can be an encouragement for those looking for a way and a revenge ».
Who are you 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 about the next choices. Follow your call, I told him. Not 70 percent, 100 percent. Give up the rest. This is how I pester my friends when it seems to me that they 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, for sure I was 15-16 when I realized that I had to commit myself and look for a way. Perhaps it is true that Italy is not doing enough for its young people, so we young people will take care of doing something for Italy, of taking the country by the hand and making it better ».
Do you have a religious faith?
“Dad was a Muslim, Mom is a Catholic, each was also a little bit of the other. A great example for me. At home it was twice Easter, twice Christmas. Dad prayed five times a day and there was never a disagreement about anything. It was he who accompanied mother and grandparents on a pilgrimage to Padre Pio. They made me freely choose my religion. I am a Christian, but I studied Islam first. It is not as often described on television. The Koran does not say to mistreat women, it says the thirst for power ».
How did your parents meet?
“Dad’s 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 beach where they bathed. In 97 they met, in 98 I was born ».
Have they asked you how does Christ reconcile 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 best thing comes at the end when we hug. To celebrate friendship day, the international federation posted a photo taken after the world match between me and Cuban La Cruz. He had smashed me hard, but we were hugged. I hear the news calling certain aggressors boxers, for the news. You are a boxer only inside the ropes of a ring ».
How is life in retreat?
“Tough. We detach every now and then, two or three days at home, the time to rinse the clothes, change the suitcase. I never get used to being away from my mother. Everything else – the board, the weight – are not sacrifices. In economics it looks like an investment in oneself. I prefer to call it the cultivation of me. Nobody obliges me. It is the life that I have chosen. It is a privilege. When I go back to Montoro, I rest, I enjoy my friends, I pamper my mother and I overdo Francesco, the son of a cousin who is a sister to me. The puppets they give me at the awards are all for him ».
Was it in Morocco?
“Twice. The first at 6, we stayed two months, dad took me to meet his grandfather who is called like me. In Morocco there is no custom of passing on the name, unless the grandfather is dead. My mother liked the idea of calling me Abbes, she alone was afraid that her grandfather would take it badly. She was not offended. The second time a year ago, after failing to qualify for the Olympics. I was in pieces. 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 will find your energy. It was wonderful to hear him propose, he was right, I regenerated myself. I have been with my father’s brothers and sisters, with Said who is identical to him, they introduced me to half Casablanca. I am the perfect nephew: a boxer and a policeman, a source of pride. It was my salvation, things of the spirit are inexplicable. Like the one that happened in the ring four years ago in 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 I understand little. Then I heard my father from afar that he translated: do not let yourself go, the victory is yours. I won”.
How do you react to an unfair verdict?
“You learn. You fall seven times and get up eight. There are moments in which those who play sports with the stopwatch come to be envied, where superiority is objective. My mother taught me that there is a solution to everything. It’s a force of nature, seeing how she experienced 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 that I am 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 her when I was good at her. You haven’t called me Aziz for a long time now. ‘
How do you live 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 difference in gender. Good and evil are found in all colors and in all nations. Black Lives Matter I understand. Man went to the moon and they don’t respect us on earth. I saw on Instagram a beautiful photo, 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 18 years for citizenship. It’s a way to make you feel wrong. ‘
Aziz, what is the best day you imagine you have to live?
“The day I get married in church. It is an idea that excites me. The celebration of one’s love before God. Next year I make the proposal to Carlotta, and after the Paris Games, come on, we’re getting married ».
Aziz Abbes Mouhiidine, I’m talking about myself: “So I reconcile boxing and spirituality”