Born on July 7, 1995, Leyla Abdul has already made German boxing history.
The young Muslim was brought to this world by Lebanese parents who migrated to Germany for civic and economic reasons. Her father Hibrahim left Lebanon with his wife Munisa in the late 1980s, when the recently formed couple had enough of the civil war, which decimated their families. They needed a new start.
Germany turned out to be the promised land.
A highly qualified engineer from a family that had brainpower in ample supply, Hibrahim had no problem learning German and finding a job at a firm headquartered in Berlin. His wife Munisa was also keen to be accomplished, with a clear interest in fashion. She found work as a small and local clothing label that slowly grew within Germany.
Leyla’s upbringing took place in an interesting context to say the least. Her parents are deeply religious, but they fully embrace the freedom and tolerance of Berlin, passing on their mixed values to their daughter. The message is: get a good education, be faithful to Allah, dress modestly… and enjoy life. Smash barriers if you have to.
Thus, Leyla grew up with an appetite for ambition. Successful in school, falling in love with boxing changed plans which may have led to engineering or architecture.
At the tender age of 11, Leyla saw Regina Halmich give a spanking to Ria Ramnarine on television. She was inspired by the veteran champion’s work and made sure to see the last three fights of her career in person. This included the grande finale against Hagar Finer in Karlsruhe.
Between the Ramnarine and Finer fights, Leyla lobbied her parents to earn permission to join a boxing gym. It was quickly granted. Hibrahim and Munisa felt like their daughter needed to explore something, which she did.
Leyla never had the biggest punch, the best defense or the most speed. However, brainpower and a fearless attitude more than made up for it. Trained by a top amateur coach, she learned the unique combination of the philly shell stance and pressure tactics. This original approach to boxing totally worked. Leyla won 37 times and lost only 3 times in the amateur ranks.
However, Leyla had to wage war against boxing’s conservatism. With the help of a sports clothing startup called Sport Couture and a “pro bono” initiative by a lawyer, she staged a legal challenge against the hijab ban. They got it overturned, forcing boxing federations to accept hijabs in the ring.
This “political” move was covered by German mainstream media, making Leyla famous. As she racked up the wins, she also received sporting recognition.
Leyla turned pro with the support of a small Berlin-based promoter. She and her coach took on a different approach to scouting than most fighters by sparring with them to see who they could beat. Then Leyla went on to face the likes of Anna Schwartz and Akane Watanabe, before she hired Maxim Weiß as her coach.