Who is this kickboxer who knocked out his American rival in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) in 46 seconds? Chris Sarro, who enjoyed the sixth rank in the world in his discipline, had no clue about what hit him.
But Ezatullah Kakar from Balochistan had arrived in the ring in Birmingham, Alabama that day carrying too much emotional baggage. And he seemed to have channelled all of his pent-up resentments in the punch that floored Sarro.
After the fight, Kakar posted a short video of himself on social media, in which he was weeping like a baby in the dressing room. “Tears of many years, 17 years of struggles in my sporting career and the hardship I faced in detention centres. The tears of joy knowing my family and Pashtun community are now very proud, although I was kicked out of the Pakistan team. But I’ve finally proved… them wrong,” he wrote in a tweet.
He has now pinned that tweet while venting some more: “Pakistan Govt has ignored talented sportsmen from our province Balochistan. I’ve been a classic example and I wish this could stop. I would be pleased and grateful to work with Pak if they give the support I need. Together, we can change the negative mindsets of our generations.”
And a picture of his knockout punch to Sarro is now the cover photo of his Twitter account.
Born in January 1993 in the small town of Abdul Rahmanzai in Balochistan, Kakar had been passionate about kickboxing since the age of 12. So, after receiving training at the Fighter Sports Academy in Quetta under the supervision of his coach, Ustad Haji Rehmatullah Noorzai, he became known as a strong kickboxer across the province. Although he didn’t enjoy much support from the government, he remained committed and optimistic as he participated in several competitions in Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, with financial backing from his family. Mir Aslam Raisani, the then PPP provincial chief minister was the only government bigwig who encouraged him by granting him half a million rupees in 2012.
A disillusioned kickboxer from Balochistan. A dangerous sea voyage. Seven harsh years in an Australian detention centre. Success in the US. A story of resilience and hope
The following year, with hope for a better life and better appreciation for his talent in his heart, Kakar left for Australia, but via Malaysia and Indonesia, as an illegal immigrant, in a boat. The stormy seas of his life were only just beginning.
“I got arrested thrice by the Indonesian government, and then was released in exchange for some money,” he shares. “During the voyage [to Australia], I was quite lucky to escape with my life, because many boats also went down in the sea before my eyes.”
And then, instead of finding what he was looking for in Australia, Kakar was promptly caught by Australian border security and sent to Papua New Guinea, to the Manus Island detention facility for illegal immigrants and refugees. He spent seven long years there, along with hundreds of other illegal immigrants from some of Asia’s poorest countries.
But while conditions were tough there, Kakar continued his training and even diverted many of his fellow detainees towards sports. “I spent about seven years in the camp, where many detainees committed suicide due to depression, but I maintained myself.”
Kakar was not the only sportsman detained at Manus Island. Another sportsman, a wrestler and marathon runner said to have run 500 kilometres over three weeks, Mohammad Esmaiel Saeedi, was also detained with him in the same compound.
Coming back to Kakar, a human rights organisation carried his case to an Australian court. In those days, there was an asylum deal under process between the Australian and the US governments, to resettle about 800 refugees in the US. The US refugee agency contacted Kakar and granted him asylum in the US.
He landed in Raleigh North Carolina by chartered flight in June 2020. After a couple of months, he found himself working as a truck driver in Philadelphia. It was also here that he reached out to the former boxer and BKFC president, David Feldman.
But before featuring in BKFC, Kakar travelled to the Philippines and won three fights in three weeks. Back in the US, he continued working as well as training hard and featuring in small events here and there.
Asked why, despite being a talented kickboxer, he never received any support from the Pakistan government, Kakar shrugs. “Alas, I have been ignored there from the start. I was a Pashtun and a poor sportsman from Balochistan, who was not accepted by his own country’s sports bodies. I got kicked out from the national team. Still, I didn’t get frustrated and persistently pursued my dream.”
Talking about his recent victory, he says that he dedicates it to his family. “I fought for my family, who I have not seen for nearly a decade. I also fought for my friends, who I left behind in the refugee camps. Many of them are still facing numerous challenges,” he says.
His family and friends in Balochistan actually got to watch the fight in Alabama. “They were all gathered around the computer screen,” he says with some pride.
“I am so thankful to the US government for providing me with a golden opportunity, a second chance in life. I could have been fighting for Australia, but they did not provide me with any such opportunity,” he says.
About his big win, his teacher Haji Noorzai says that Kakar was one of his brightest and most hardworking students. “He is also a proud Pakistani. The government should facilitate and encourage him and others like him, to decrease the sense of deprivation among the people of Balochistan today,” he offers.
During our detailed conversation, I inquired from Kakar about his personal life, his wife and kids, to which he only smiled. “There are no wife and no kids as yet. I have been buried too deep in my troubles to have thought of that. However, Allah Almighty has blessed me with a big family — we are 10 brothers,” he says smiling.
Meanwhile, David Feldman, founder and president of BKFC told Voice of America that “Kakar’s tale is very interesting, as he secured the competition with dedication and heart. We expect him to adhere with the championship and keep on performing well.”
Asked how he felt about his exile from his homeland, Kakar says he has been away from home for eight years now but hopes for the best for his country, especially his hometown, as his brothers still live there and it is the land of his ancestors. “I pray for normalcy in Balochistan, especially in my hometown, where tribal rivalries are always at their peak and innocent Pashtuns are being killed on a daily basis,” he says regretfully. “There is no awareness regarding the benefits of sports, no stadiums there. But what they have instead are guns and rivalries between people.
“I urge the government to patronise talented and committed youth so that they can prove their mettle at the national and international level. Unfortunately, the current prime minister of Pakistan has also been a renowned sportsman, but he has failed to address the issues of sportsmen, especially of those from Balochistan,” he says.
As for the sportsmen in Pakistan, Kakar says he has only one message: “Be determined and optimistic.”
The writer is a professor at Degree College Zhob
He can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 20th, 2021