My name is Michele Aboro, I was born in London and I’m a former kickboxing and boxing world champion. When I started, women were not welcome in the sport. I grew up in an area called Peckham where there were three well-known boxing gyms. When I was about nine, I went to one and straight away fell in love with the sport. I went up to the trainer, he thought I was a boy, but when he asked me my name and I told him Michele he said, “Girls are not permitted to box.”
I grew up in a one-parent family. There’s seven of us and my mom. She’s Irish-Scottish, so if you can imagine, very stubborn and headstrong. She brought us up to believe that whatever we thought we could do, we could do. At 15 I took up kickboxing with a trainer named Lin Camboni. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into his gym. I couldn’t believe it! I thought to myself: I can punch somebody, kick somebody, knee somebody, throw somebody, but I can’t punch. The thing was, I always wanted to be a boxer. But I did love competing and kickboxing.
I’m very goal-oriented so I would jump from one thing to the next, and never relish my success. I was named the world’s best female boxer four years in a row and looking back, it feels like a big accomplishment. When I started it was illegal for a trainer to train women. Actually it was only in 1996 that they allowed women to have a professional boxing license in England.
I retired in 2003. I got to a stage where I was 35 and I didn’t have that “Ahhhh!” I would wake up and think I have to go to the gym, where as before wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the gym. I was very lucky up to that stage to have an unblemished record, so I decided I would walk away as the undefeated world champion.
How I got to Shanghai is a long story. When I retired I didn’t want anything to do with boxing because I had done it for so long. I worked at a concert hall in Amsterdam called The Paradiso. I started at the door, then was a stagehand, and then went back to school to study sound engineering. I’ll always remember the first band that dragged me on the road with them, a New York band called Joan As Police Woman. I was monitoring stage sound for them one night.
Joan kept saying, “Look how big her arms are!”
The next morning I got a call from her manager asking if I’d like to be the tour manager. I had to send my CV which was just boxing, kickboxing, boxing. Her manager said, “If it were up to me I would never let you on the road because you haven’t got a clue, but Joan really wants you to be there.” I ended up touring with them for nearly seven years.
But that’s actually not what brought me to Shanghai, ha! What brought me here was my wife Yilan. Yilan is Dutch-Chinese, born in Holland. She was over here writing a book about four generations of her ancestors and I had a break from touring so I came over. Once here, I couldn’t find anywhere to train and then the idea came into my head, why don’t I open up a gym? So we helped opened up the first gym, Golden Gloves
In 2012 I got quite sick. I got breast cancer and thought to myself if I die tomorrow do I want to leave this as my legacy? The answer was no.
So I pulled out and we started looking around for locations for Aboro Academy
. It took us a year to find the right location and another year to build it. Now, do I want this place to be my legacy?
Very much so.
The community and the people we have here are really wonderful. No airs and no pretenses. If somebody’s not on your level, you help them.
If I couldn’t go to my gym, for the culture, I’d go to Ringwise
. It’s a gym just opened by the first person I ever trained with when I came to Shanghai, a man named Paul Clement. He embodies the spirit of boxing, a broken nose across his face, like 70 years of age, and just a beautiful human to be around.
I go from being really healthy and looking after what I eat to just destroying my body. I’m not a saint, nobody is. I really try to live life to the fullest. To enjoy it, have fun, meet people and eat good food. I like Egg
, it’s amazing and Lizzy’s
is right next door—my daughter actually drinks those smoothies like there’s no tomorrow. We also like to go to Xinwang
. Yilan is Cantonese, and they do loads of good food there. But mostly, I come here, I work, I go home I sleep, and then if I can get the hell out of the gym, I like to go to another country. I really love Penang, Malaysia. I want to move there someday.
Whenever I speak to friends from London or New York, and they’re saying, “Life is so fast here!” I’m like, you really have to come to Shanghai. It’s crazy. I think I age three times as quick as I did when I was living in London or Amsterdam. But in retrospect, that also means things get done very quickly.
It’s unbelievable what you can achieve here.