Kassim Ouma: A Former Child Soldier Fought to Be a World Boxing Champion. Then Things Got Interesting.

Matthew Hall
12 min readNov 29, 2015

“I don’t get scared in the ring,” says Kassim Ouma, former World Junior Middleweight Champion. “I get a bit nervous before a fight but sometimes, in the ring, you don’t even know that you get hit.”

He pauses.

“If I didn’t have boxing then I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe I would be dead or something. Hopefully, I would have stayed in school. Who knows? That is why I say that boxing is my therapy. I love it. It helped me get out.”

Kassim Ouma and I are sitting in a booth in a chain restaurant by a shopping mall car park just outside Trenton, New Jersey. Outside, cars and trucks rumble and fly by on a freeway. Inside, in the late afternoon, only a few other tables are occupied as we drink — at Kassim’s suggestion — strawberry yogurt smoothies .

The smoothies, it’s agreed, are a good choice on this late summer day. Kassim, though, remains restless. His leg twitches, he takes a call on his cell phone when it rings, he slurps on his drink, he looks around at whatever in the restaurant might distract him.

It’s probable, and not unreasonable, that he can think of a thousand places he’d rather be than here, talking about his past, present, and future. Kassim is like a child with an attention disorder. But to be fair, he maybe has his reasons. Inside his present, there’s a lot of past. It’s a past that would make you twitchy as all hell, too.

Kassim Ouma: child soldier, boxing champion. www.kassimthedream.com

So, let’s get this out of the way. Kassim Ouma is a killer. Not “killer” as in a description of a feisty boxer who hits hard. Kassim is a real killer. A child killer. When he was younger, about seven years old, he killed people. A lot of people. Some may even have been friends. It doesn’t make him — a World Champion boxer — any tougher. It makes him sad — and a little mad. Mad as in angry. And mad as in crazy.

Way back then, back before Kassim knew this fast food chain, strawberry yogurt smoothies, and Trenton, even existed, he lived in Uganda. At the age of about five, maybe six, soldiers from…

Matthew Hall

Paella correspondent for @guardianUS @smh and others: matthewhall.contently.com.