Berlin’s Isigym Is Building More Than Boxing Champions Leave a comment


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Isigym, nestled between supermarkets and restaurants on Berlin’s busy Bülowstraße, is well-known in the boxing world. The gym has built Berlin champions, regularly sends competitors to international competitions, and firmly has it sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Olympics. But it’s not just a boxing gym.

Founder Izzet Mafratoglu is dedicated to changing the lives of the young people who come to him. Growing up in the same neighborhood, Mafratoglu was raised as a boxer, joining his uncle and 13 cousins in the sport. By age 10, he was crowned Berlin Champion, a title he claimed seven more times. Mafratoglu knows the sport deeply, and he also knows its potential for helping kids in precarious situations stay out of trouble.

“A lot of kids here grow up in bad households,” he explains. “Through boxing, we teach them discipline and how to become a better person. We check if their grades are okay; if they aren’t, we get them tutoring, and try to keep them on track — we need them to be good at school and good at boxing.”

During our interview, Mafratoglu remembers various success stories — one kid became an atomic physicist at 25, while others became police officers and doctors — it’s clear that he takes pride in helping everyone who walks through the gym’s door. “We are kind of like their parents; every time our students achieve their goals, they come to me and hug me,” he says. “Even after years have passed, they come back to visit us.”

“I will continue doing this work till I can’t anymore,” he continues. “When I started here, my hair was still black and beautiful, and now it’s gray, due to the hard work — but it was worth it.”

Hamza Bukriev, 21 (Multiple Boxing Champion)

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself

My name is Alexander but my new name is Hamza, since I converted to Islam in 2015. I’ve been boxing for 11 years. My dad sent me here and I haven’t stopped since. As well as boxing, I also work in the automobile industry.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

Boxing makes me more disciplined and motivated. Now, I have goals for everything and I achieve every goal.

What is the community like in the gym?

I love the team and most of them are my friends, like family.

Mohammed Yassin Ben Majdouba, 16

How long have you been boxing for?

I’ve been boxing for almost 2 years. When I was 6 years old, a friend of my dad said that I have a boxer’s nose — I had some cartilage missing, so I thought I should put my nose into work and start boxing.

I noticed how much I love boxing and thought that I want to turn it into something serious. I’m also not a team player and like to work alone — and I love to fight for something. I started training 5 times a week, two times a day.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

Back then I used to be so unorganized, I would only go to school and then back home. I had to repeat a class and I wasn’t doing the best. After I started boxing, I noticed how much better life is when you’re disciplined and have a goal. I also changed schools and dropped some friends that were not a good influence on me, and now only surround myself with people who support me.

How are you preparing for your first fight?

Hard training. There is always a voice telling me I could lose but I don’t doubt that I will win my first match. It’s all about hard training and believing in yourself.

Eric Adjakoh, 16

How long have you been boxing for?

I’ve been boxing for 3 years,  I started because my brothers had been boxing for years.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

I became more disciplined and quieter — I was all over the place before.

What is the community like in the gym?

We are all friends since we see each other everyday, there is no way around it.

Do you compete in boxing matches?

I’ve boxed at 16 competitions, won 13 of them, lost two of them and had one tie. I was supposed to compete at the German championship last weekend but unfortunately I broke my arm.

Thommy Tran, 19

How long have you been boxing for? Why did you join the gym?

I started early with sports. Most of my friends started doing it so I was really inspired by them. I started with Taekwondo and then moved to Boxing.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

I got to know a lot of great people. We all became great friends. I became super disciplined and it’s nice to have things to do after school.

Taoufik Chamdid, 17

How long have you been boxing for? Why did you want to start?

I’ve been boxing for three and a half years. I wanted to become a champion because Muhammed Ali inspired me.

Has boxing changed your life in any way? 

If I didn’t box, I would have probably chosen the wrong path in life.

AliKhan Bazlaev, 19

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself

I am AliKhan, 19 and from Chechnya and I moved here 6 years ago. My big brother started boxing first, so I joined him, around five years ago.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

It changed my life a lot, and made me a different person, I’m more disciplined now.

Can you tell me about your boxing matches?

I’ve already had 50 matches. Currently I’m losing weight for my next match.

Moussa Galanhane, 19

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

My name is Musa, I’m 19 and originally from Mozambique. Three years ago, a friend brought me to Isigym and I started boxing.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

I’m more disciplined. I’ve had a lot of boxing matches and I try to prepare as much as I can every time — it’s my number one focus.

Abdullah Abdul Majid, 17

How long have you been boxing for?

I’m from Afghanistan but I started boxing in Russia, when I was 7. I tried football for a bit, but I liked boxing more.

Has boxing changed your life in any way?

It motivated me a lot. But I was already disciplined through football.

What is the community like in the gym?

The community is amazing and everyone is really kind.

Can you tell me about your boxing matches?

I train a week before our matches and we plan every move with my trainer.

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