BY RAY KILGORE: At 35, Mengistu Zarzar has spent most of his life struggling with hardship: He was a victim of bullying during his teen years; he was teased at age 10 by classmates because of his African heritage, and his family lost their 32-bedroom, 11-bathroom home during the Liberian war.
His family has long held a warfare mentality, which has left an indelible impression in his mind from an early age. He says his grandfather was a boxer, and Zarzar’s father, Matthew, was a top-notch hunter in the Liberian village they called home; in fact, the boxer says his father was so skilled at hunting that he earned a scholarship to come to the USA, and that’s how Zarzar came to America at age 10.
Zarzar, who some refer to as Zar Zar, struggled as a teen to find and develop his own identity as one of 16 siblings; this might partially explain his determination to stand out in the world of boxing, where he can make a name for himself on his own terms. He found the perfect remedy: not only boxing but being a fighter in life overall. “I don’t play around; I take boxing seriously,” he says. “This is what I do. I don’t have a reason to turn down anybody outside a few Minnesota fighters are my friends.”
However, this sentiment isn’t reserved for 27 year-old Deon Nicholson, (7-0-7 KO’s), of Tuscaloosa when the two boxers face each other this Friday at the Tuscaloosa Rivermarket, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“When I get into the ring, I don’t try to have any fun,” says the southpaw ZarZar. “Honestly, man, I don’t worry about this guy. I am ready.”
And if the fighter’s confidence isn’t enough, he says Nicholson’s actions on Facebook give him more fuel. “He put a video out saying he’s going to knock me out, and that was the funniest thing I seen in boxing,” the fighter says, trying to hold back laughter. “I never was knocked out in my life. [And] for him to say he’s going to, I take that very personal as a man.”
The fight is taking place in Nicholson’s hometown, though, so ZarZar (6-2-1, 5 KO’s) admits that in order to win, he must leave no doubt. “If I don’t knock him out, they are going to try and throw some Bull-S.”
In addition, to Nicholson’s online insult, ZarZar says being from Africa affects his reputation. He knows the sad reality that African fighters don’t share a great reputation on average. This, plus knowing that when he fights Nicoloson several boxing stars are expected to be in attendance (former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield and current WBC heavyweight champ Deante Wilder), gives him added ammunition.
Given that such well-established champions will be at ringside, you might expect that ZarZar will be looking to razzle and dazzle, but think again. “I don’t have a specific style. I don’t look at their power, speed or technique. I don’t care about what the next man is doing.”
His moniker is “The Dynamic Warrior,” and while he might not identify with a certain fighting style, he does demonstrate an approach that is hard to emulate but easy to recognize. He will diagnose the situation and size up the fighter. Then he will isolate the victim by giving him a false sense of security, allowing his opponent to imagine they are the pursuer, only to realize they are being pursued in the end. And by the time he has entered his foe’s spirit, it will be difficult for his prey to distinguish truth from untruth, real from unreal. Finally, the only option will be for the opponent’s knees to buckle and his body to slump to the canvas.
ZarZar’s first five fights all ended by knockout and almost played out as above, until last August, when he faced another local fighter named Al Sands. Sands, a popular Duluth fighter, handed ZarZar an eight-round defeat, a fight where ZarZar never went down and which he still takes issue with.
“I saw the doctor from the second round on standing over my shoulders after the rounds were over,” a disbelieving ZarZar said. “I never showed signs of slowing down. It was a setup for Al Sands to win so that he could fight for a word title. [In a rematch] I don’t think he has a chance against me. I had some personal reasons why [the fight didn’t go his way]. But if we fought again, it wouldn’t last two or four rounds. He knows I’d truly knock him out.”
In the fight before Sands, ZarZar faced one of Minnesota’s fearsome punchers, Phil “The Drill” Williams. Frankly, ZarZar was supposed to be Williams’ sacrificial lamb; after all, Williams came into the fight the bigger man. (Williams weighed over 220 pounds, while ZarZar tipped the scales at 190.) The bout ended in a draw, a decision ZarZar laughs off.
“They didn’t expect me to go that far,” says ZarZar, reflecting on final score. “They thought I was going to get knocked out and were shocked. I hit him far more. Phil knows I won that fight; he’s not stupid.”
The hippopotamus weighs between 3,300 and 4,000 pounds, while the elephant weighs 13,000 pounds. And yet when the lion, who weighs 400 pounds, approaches, the hippo and elephant are terrified, because the lion knows his place and his power. ZarZar has spent the first nine years of his life in Africa surrounded by lions; he’s been in the ring with men who were bigger, faster, and stronger; and yet, in spite of such handicaps, he’s never questioned his leadership mentality.
“I’ve been the underdog my whole life, and I love it. Even if I was first in class [his school days], I was last because my last name started with a Z,” he says. “If I am ever the top dog, I’ll retire. I wasn’t supposed to make it. And when I think about all of that stuff [his early struggles], that’s where the energy in my personality comes from. 2018 is the year I need to prove myself, and 2019 is the time to move into the national stage and make an impact.”