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Kickboxer is devoted to his community

Amer Abdallah has an ambition to become a world champion kickboxer, and he is determined to bring Western New York along for the ride.

In his first fight since entering the World Kickboxing Association’s top 10 rankings, Abdallah defended his U.S. light heavyweight championship June 8 with a first-round technical knockout of Robert Katzfey in front of a crowd of 2,200 at Kenan Arena in Lockport.

Abdallah, 35, is now 14-0 as a professional. He spent 10 weeks in Las Vegas training under Jeff Mayweather, the uncle of Floyd Mayweather Jr., for his most recent fight, and believes he will soon be in position to challenge for the WKA world light heavyweight championship. His title shot could come sooner if he were willing to go to Germany to face the current champion, Pietro Vecchio. Yet, Abdallah is insistent upon bringing the bout to the community that has long been in his corner.

“I feel like I would be a traitor doing that,” Abdallah said. “Why fight for a title overseas when I could, if I work hard enough, keep it in Western New York and give back to the community that has given through my whole career, through the ups and downs.”

Abdallah spent the majority of his childhood living in Lockport, where his father owned eight McDonald’s restaurants. He began studying martial arts here before attending college in his native Jordan on a kickboxing scholarship and competing for the national team. In 1999, he returned to the Lock City.

“I had the ability to come back anywhere in the United States and start fresh,” he said. “This is home to me. It’s a very neighborly community.”

Since then, Abdallah has promoted and performed on 12 fight cards in Lockport. He started at the Montgomery Ward, moved up to selling out the 2,500-seat Kenan Arena several times and drew twice as many spectators to a 2009 outdoor show at the Ulrich City Centre. That event came after Abdallah served two years in prison for his role in an identity-theft ring, and he is grateful to the fans and sponsors who embraced his return to the boxing ring.

“I have an allegiance to this area,” said Abdallah, who has operated the Lockport Athletic & Fitness Club inside the Flips Gymnastics complex since 2003. “I have an obligation to continue to fulfill and solidify all of the loyalty that was shown to me and I have to reciprocate that. I can never leave this place because I feel indebted. It’s a tight-knit community, and everybody allows us to put these shows on a pedestal and give it the spotlight that it deserves because of our affiliation with the community.”

In order to bring a world championship fight here, Abdallah said he needs to increase his visibility outside of Niagara County and find a venue that seats 5,000 people. To do that, he has partnered with Joe Mesi, the Town of Tonawanda boxer who a decade ago drew 12,000 fans to HSBC Arena, and his father, Jack Mesi.

“Jack has the blueprint of how to be successful in a combative sport in Western New York,” Abdallah said.

Abdallah and Joe Mesi shared the same trainer, Juan DeLeon, in the early 2000s, and Abdallah said he regarded Mesi as a big brother at that time.

“I was in awe of everything he did,” Abdallah said. “I loved watching him train. I loved watching him perform. I loved watching the media get behind him and the community get behind him. Joe made me proud, and he was an inspiration to me in that he proved that a Buffalo-based guy can do it.”

The fans themselves also left an impression on Abdallah. “I remember going to the fight at HSBC Arena and the line was so crazy, they couldn’t even get Joe in the building,” Abdallah said. “Buffalo guys were tailgating before the fight. I said, ‘This is nuts.’ If you ever go to a fight, it’s never like that. Ever.”

Team Mesi will also relieve Abdallah of most of the matchmaking and promoting duties he has handled in the past, leaving him more time to focus on training. The team has begun working on finding a European fighter to face Abdallah for a Nov. 16 card at Kenan Arena.

“I can’t track tickets, track sponsors, market, manage, make appearances, promote, match-make and fight in the main event,” Abdallah said. “I’m giving up responsibilities in order to go up in the size of the show.”

Jack Mesi said he was impressed with Abdallah’s fighting ability, business acumen and the fan base he has built in Lockport. “If the people of Western New York get to know him, this odyssey that he has been on, and if they adopt him as they did Joe, I think we can bring the fans,” he said. “We’re going to get him a world title shot. And we’re going to bring it to Buffalo.”