LIKE many before him, Victor Nagbe used combat as a way to escape poverty and earn a living.
Born in Liberia, West Africa, he reached the pinnacle of his sport, plying his trade as a kickboxer, including fights across the world against the likes of iconic pair Buakaw Banchamek and Saenchai Sor Kingstar.
Despite taking up combat sports at just 18, Nagbe found his calling, progressing far beyond many expectations.
But it is in his latest career where Nagbe has generated the most interest, converting to boxing, where he makes his professional debut on March 23rd at The Timber Yard in Port Melbourne.
As the kickboxing convert admits, it’s the challenge of his latest fighting pursuit that provides motivation.
“I wanted another challenge in life, I felt like I’d done what I wanted to in a short period of time,” Nagbe told Aus-Boxing.
“With kickboxing, it was good money for the level I was fighting at, but the timing was right to move on. I’m young and I wanted a new challenge in boxing to drive me cause I lost that drive in kickboxing.
“I wasn’t as motivated as I am now. That’s what gives me the drive that makes me want to do it again, I have a new journey and I’ll push extra harder.”
Boxing has a rich history of combatants that have migrated from fighting pursuits involving extra limbs, with many finding success, including Sam Soliman, Paul Briggs and more recently, Daniel Dawson.
Understandably, Nagbe sees the former as an example of what can be achieved with a humble mindset.
“The person that I look up to in my situation is Sam Soliman,” he explained.
“I’ve worked a lot with him and he used to do kickboxing, like me, and he became a boxer with a lot of success. He’s very humble and gave me a lot of advice. It feels like he’s a good role model for me.
“I’m always the kid that’s trying to not get hit, I like to box on the outside. I’ll tell you now, I can adapt to any kind of style, but it depends on my opponent.
“If they want to brawl, I’ll be smart. But I can and will always adapt. Even with kickboxing, I’ve been a slow starter, the commentators would always say that I’d start slow and test the waters.
“I like testing the waters before jumping in, even with Muay Thai fights. I think having five round fights showed that, and I feel like boxing suits me in that aspect as well.”
Looking to make a statement of intent in his debut, the 25-year-old will face the unbeaten Jyl Wright (2-0-1) over six rounds, a one-time training partner turned opponent.
Having sparred the Warrnambool-based Wright before, Nagbe now has a fight built entirely from the animosity of the one session.
“I sparred with the guy once and I’ve been told he hates me,” he said.
“This is the fighting game, I don’t take it personal. I take it as a job and as a business, you don’t take it personally. When I’m sparring, I see it as improving my weapons.
“We sparred once and he came to fight, I outclassed him and they took it personal. A number doesn’t classify a person. He’s undefeated but it doesn’t mean he’s the best, you’ve got to look at who they’ve fought and the fighter they are.”
Given his background, it’s easy to see why Nagbe’s services were so highly sought after. Having completed a long scouting campaign, Nagbe’s team decided to align with WILDFIGHTER, founded by former super featherweight titleholder Will Tomlinson.
When probed on his relationship with his recently established promoter, Nagbe spoke of their mutual understanding of competition.
“Will is the guy for me because most promoters are money hungry and haven’t experienced what fighters have,” he explained.
“I’ve been screwed over many times, living overseas and getting robbed in Asia. I feel like with Will, even just by meeting him, he’s shown me his character by driving from Melbourne to Ballarat to watch me train.
“He understands how to work with fighters and he’s creating opportunities because he lived the dream and knows how hard it is.
“It’s the best situation for me. I knew of him before I even met him and saw him when he was with Golden Boy Promotions, he would brawl and was so tough to watch.”
After living in Melbourne for an extended period, Nagbe now calls Ballarat, Australia’s third largest inland city in regional Victoria, his home.
It was here where he found current trainer Tony Salta, traveling two hours per day to work with the respected tactician from his Geelong base, forming a formidable pairing that is expected to reach higher heights.
“I moved to Ballarat because of the quieter lifestyle, and spoke with my sponsor Steve Hull about finding a trainer,” he said.
“In my situation, I wanted his opinion on who I should work with. I then met Tony, he’s humble and we connected very well. He’s a lovely person and it’s beautiful, our relationship is very good.
“I always tell him, I’m not a boxer, I’m a martial artist. I’m not one dimensional, I’m both ways. I’m different. I’m not a bully, but I won’t tolerate a bully when I’m fighting.
“I came from poverty and it’s always in my mind that I have nothing to lose.”
Tickets to the inaugural WILDFIGHTER event can be purchased on their website.
Photo: Ray Rolla