Strong Village: What it’s like to share a gym session with Zak Chelli

By Zak Chelli

Today, my boxing training took an unexpected turn. Barry O’Connell, my trainer, called and asked if I would be willing to share my session with Zak Chelli, the professional boxer from State of Mind fitness and the new British and Commonwealth super-middleweight champion. I had just watched him defeat Jack Cullen in Liverpool. I chuckled at the idea – surely it should be Zak who minds.

Meeting Zak gave me an opportunity to learn about his career and also pushed me to step up my training for a White-Collar Fight I might have in April. It felt like diving into the deep end, knowing that the goal was not to keep up, but to observe.

We began with shadow boxing. Three-minute rounds with the champion himself. I felt awkward and clumsy, throwing hesitant jabs while Chelli effortlessly danced around me. His movements were like poetry in motion, showcasing his expertise. We conversed during the exercise, a challenge for me as I struggled to find both the right punches and words.

Starting with nerves, I asked Zak how he managed his own. He shared that while he believed in his victory, he was nervous about the judges’ decision due to previous experiences of unfairness. The sense of justice he felt after the unanimous win was profound, signaling closure to an old chapter.

As the shadow boxing concluded, I felt relieved but also exhausted and insecure in comparison to Zak’s finesse. We transitioned to working on pads and bags, taking turns with a promising amateur female boxer, Kiki Rebelo. The intensity of the training pushed me to my limits, highlighting the vast difference between my punches and Zak’s.

Chelli on the pads (James Chance/Getty Images)

After the grueling rounds, the presence of greatness around me fueled both exhaustion and adrenaline. Observing Zak, along with veteran boxer Curtis Felix, gave me a unique perspective on the dedication and support vital to a fighter’s success.

Zak’s journey to becoming a champion was marked by his father’s unwavering faith and prophetic words that shaped his destiny. The supportive presence of family, including his mother and wife, further strengthened his resolve and commitment.

Zak’s bond with Barry, his current trainer, exuded calmness and trust, paving the way for future successes. As the training session concluded, Zak’s focus remained on growth and potential opportunities, reflecting a mature and driven mindset.

The mutual respect and camaraderie between Zak and Barry hinted at a promising partnership for future endeavors. With laughter and shared goals, they looked ahead to the next challenges with optimism and determination.

“God willing, I’ll be world champion with Barry in my corner – and Barry will be able to get his dream house in Cornwall,” Zak remarked, highlighting the shared aspirations and mutual support in their journey.

As the conversation continued, the vision of a dream house in Cornwall for Barry symbolized not just a personal goal but also a testament to the bond forged between a boxer and his mentor.

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