By Percy Lovell Crawford

World-ranked super bantamweight (122 pounds) Ra’eese Aleem learned a lot about himself as a fighter during his majority decision win against Eduardo Baez in late November. The victory moved Aleem to 19-0 with 12 knockouts, but admittedly, he was a fish out of water during much of the 10-round affair.

Aleem was coming off a 10-month layoff, which hurt him during his weight cut. The cut was so drastic, Aleem said he had no legs during his fight with Baez but dug deep and found a way to squeeze out a close decision win. Now, he’s determined to right that wrong, seeking the help of a dietitian to assure an easier cut, and a better performance in his next outing — which he hopes will be against unified champion Stephen Fulton.

Zenger recently caught up with Aleem, who explains why the Baez victory was just a “moral” win, why he feels he could beat Fulton, and much more.

Percy Crawford interviewed Ra’eese Aleem for Zenger.

Zenger: Congratulations on your recent win over Eduardo Baez. How do you feel about your performance now that you’ve had time to assess it?

Percy Crawford interviewed Ra’eese Aleem for Zenger. (Heidi Malone/Zenger)

Aleem: I learned a lot of things about myself in that fight. But it was just a moral victory. It wasn’t a feel-good victory. It was the worst I ever felt going into a fight, and it was a championship fight. It was bad. For the first time in my career, I felt the effects of cutting weight. That was tough to get through, but I found a way.

Zenger: Was the lesson learned there more physical, mental, or both?

Aleem: It was 100 percent physical, because I wasn’t able to use the tools that I’m used to using. My legs felt like I had blocks on them. I felt weak, tired, slow, sluggish. It was a combination, but mentally, I was 110 percent prepared. That’s what got me through the fight. I was on an emotional rollercoaster. I was livid at the end of the fight. I was pissed.

Zenger: Anything about Baez surprised you, or was it more of you than anything he was doing?

Aleem: The only thing that surprised me, I thought he would try to be on the inside a little bit more. Besides that, nothing really. He was a little bit awkward, just some of the angles he took when he threw some of his punches.

Zenger: Prior to that fight, you had seven consecutive knockouts. Hindsight, did it better serve you to go the distance and get those rounds in?

Aleem: Yeah … I think so. I showed grit. I showed people that I can get hit with my opponent’s best punches and still take three steps forward. I was dead in the water. In the fight I’m telling myself, “Find a way!” Everything that I did in training camp, everything that I worked on, that was scrapped. I couldn’t do none of that in the fight. It was a moral victory because I found a way when it felt like I was sinking. That’s what it’s all about.

Zenger: At the end of the day, you earned a win against a very durable opponent.

Aleem: Oh yeah! He’s a dog. He comes forward to fight. He came to win. He had a spring in his step. And it told me, at my worst, I can still beat you at your best. To me mentally, that says a lot.

Ra’eese Aleem following a hard-fought victory over Eduardo Baez in November. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Zenger: Is the key for you to get right back in the gym, or the other side, take a little bit of a break and regroup?

Aleem: I believe the key is to never have to cut weight like that again. I was up 24 hours. I was up Thursday from 8 a.m. and I didn’t go to sleep until 8:45 Friday night. I can’t sleep during the day. I already got things in motion to meet with a dietitian, so that I can cut the weight the proper way. That’s my priority. Everything else is there. Everything else is good. But I can’t kill myself to make weight again, not like that.

Zenger: I’m sure it’s an uneasy feeling when you feel stripped of your weapons during a fight.

Aleem: Man … I’m backstage hitting the mitts, and I was kind of huffing and puffing a little bit, but I figured once that bell ring, we’re warriors. We know what we signed up for. But he jabbed me to the body, and my mind was working faster than my body. I tried to jump back and jump back in, and my feet wouldn’t move. I was like, “What the hell?” It was weird, but I made it through.

Zenger: Your last three opponents’ records were 16–0, 11–1 and 20–1. Is the most logical movement a fight for a world title?

Aleem: Oh, 100 percent! We want the best of the best. I want to fight [Stephen] Fulton next. I’m not out here chasing a paycheck or anything like that. I’m out here wanting to fight the best knowing I can beat the best. I believe I can beat them.

Zenger: You fought on the undercard of the Fulton-Brandon Figueroa fight, which Fulton won. What did you think of that bout?

Aleem: In all honesty, I thought Figueroa won. I was pulling for Fulton. I thought Fulton would win. I thought it would be a cleaner, clearer win, because Figueroa gets hit with a lot of punches. But he put his body on Fulton; he pushed him from corner to corner. I don’t know what anybody else has to do to beat Fulton but drop him a few times or knock him out. That’s how it looked from my point of view. But hey, Fulton got the job done. He did look sharp with some of his punches compared to Figueroa. Figueroa would hit him, but it was a little bit sloppier.

Zenger: How do you see a fight between Ra’eese Aleem and Stephen Fulton playing out?

Aleem: I think it plays out similar to the Figueroa fight, but not really because Figueroa is longer and puts his body on you. I think I win that fight. I think it goes the distance, but I think I win the majority of the rounds because I would be looking to hurt him every step of the way.

Zenger: Realistically, when would be a good time to stage a Fulton-Aleem fight?

Aleem: February would be perfect, but realistically, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was March or maybe even April. Just depending on the situation. If they put it out there, and they decide they do want the fight, if Fulton thinks he can beat me, they send a contract, realistically, March or April.

Zenger: If not Fulton, do you have someone else in mind?

Aleem: I was originally supposed to fight Daniel Roman rather than Baez in November. I’d still want to fight him [Roman]. But I heard he is a mandatory [fight] for somebody else. It might have even been Fulton for the WBC. I want to fight somebody at the top. Any of the best fighters. That’s who I want. I was [Murodjon] Akhmadaliev mandatory and he ducked and dodged me for two years. Akhmadaliev, Fulton, Roman… anybody at the top. Send the contract.

Zenger: There seems to be something special brewing at Prince Ranch Boxing, where you train. What makes that gym the perfect fit for you and your progression as a fighter?

Aleem: It’s great! There are a bunch of great fighters in the stable, but also my managers, Greg Hanley and Prince Ranch Boxing have my back. Anything that I need that can help get me to that next level, they are all in. If I need to take care of my body a little bit better, get massages, or whatever, they back me. Knowing somebody truly has your best interest and have your back is a relief.

I previously did it the hard way with no help. And I got to this point to where now it’s different. I’m glad to be a part of it. I’m very fortunate. It’s every fighter’s dream to just focus on their craft and their sport, and not have to worry about a bunch of outside noise. Hopefully we get Fulton soon!

Edited by Matthew B. Hall and Stan Chrapowicki

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