The boxing mind of welterweight Bilal Mahasin

by The People’s Minister of Information JR

East Oakland bred welterweight pro boxer Bilal Mahasin is shaping up to be one of East Oakland’s most recognizable hometown heroes on the boxing and social front. At any of his fights, 40-50 guys from the East Oakland neighborhood, the Dubbs, are ringside spiritedly cheering on their comrade. After serving 10 years and two months in the Missouri Department of Corrections, Bilal has emerged as a personal trainer, a boxing coach, a fighter and a motivational speaker, among other things.

Bilal-Mahasin-vs.-Luis-Lugo-fought-four-rounds-on-Andre-Ward-undercard-Oracle-Arena-080616-by-Laura-Ming-Wong-300x200, The boxing mind of welterweight Bilal Mahasin, Culture Currents
On Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016, Bilal Mahasin (9-3-1, 1 KO) took on Luis Lugo (14-26-1, 5 KOs) for four rounds in the Oracle Arena, Oakland, on the Andre Ward vs. Alexander Brand undercard. – Photo: Laura Ming Wong

Far from a stranger to the Hip Hop community, Mahasin and members of his family recently did cameos in Oakland rapper Beeda Weeda’s new video for his song “Revolution,” which addresses the rampant police terror taking place all over the country against Black people. And for millennium Bay Area hip hop fans, you might remember him 15 years ago, when he used the rap moniker Rebellious and dropped a few bars, alongside Devin the Dude on the classic Delinquents’ album, “The Dominion Continues.”

I caught up with Bilal after his recent fight at the Oracle Arena, where he fought on the undercard of the Andre Ward vs. Alexander Brand fight. We talked about his most recent fight, training while behind enemy lines, his life mission and more. Stay tuned.

M.O.I. JR: I just saw you take that “W” (win) at the Oracle, can you tell us a little bit about what you were thinking in the ring against this opponent?

Bilal: Well, I knew my opponent Luis Lugo was a typical tough Mexican brawler style fighter with an iron chin. With those type of pressure fighters, I follow a technical boxing protocol which is 1) keep my jab in his face, 2) control the range – meaning the distance of engagement, 3) use angles and keep circling to keep him off balance, 4) Make him miss and make him pay.

M.O.I. JR: Was there a time when you had to re-strategize your game plan for the night?

Bilal: Yes. Right before entering the ring, I was told by a commissioner that my fight had been reduced from a six-round bout to a four-round bout. I hadn’t fought four rounds since 2002. Pretty much anybody can fight four rounds!

I’m actually an eight-round fighter and trying to move up to 10 rounds, because that’s where the real money is. It’s very rare for a commissioner to make this type of last minute decision, but it happened.

Bilal-Mahasin-vs.-Luis-Lugo-fought-four-rounds-on-Andre-Ward-undercard-Oracle-Arena-080616-2-by-Laura-Ming-Wong-300x200, The boxing mind of welterweight Bilal Mahasin, Culture Currents
According to, “Mahasin was able to out-work Lugo with the more effective punches.” – Photo: Laura Ming Wong

Apparently they felt like I would seriously hurt my opponent if the fight was to go on for six rounds. I didn’t understand this, because my opponent has fought 10 rounds against Mauricio Herrera, eight rounds against Danny Garcia, six rounds against Adrien Broner, six rounds against Mike Dallas Jr. etc.

All of these guys are top of the line fighters who weren’t able to get a knockout against Luis Lugo. Of my 13 pro fights, I only have one knockout, but I’ve fought nothing but “top shelf” opponents and I think that’s what influenced the decision. Nevertheless, the fight being reduced to four rounds made me have to adjust my game plan to a more safe style. I had to be super careful not to lose a single round and couldn’t afford to bear any risk.

M.O.I. JR: When did you decide that you wanted to become a boxer?

Bilal: I honestly never made a decision to become a boxer. I just enjoyed training at boxing gyms since the age of 15. I liked sharpening my hand game and releasing frustration – I guess it was therapeutic, like playing chess.

I had my first pro fight when I was on the run from the law in 2002. So I would say my decision to box professionally was influenced by economic disenfranchisement.

M.O.I. JR: Who were some of your heroes in the sport and why? Give me about three.

Bilal: Not sure if I’d consider any boxers to be actual heroes in my life, but the top fighters who affected me strongly would be Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Roy Jones Jr., Felix Trinidad, Juaqin Gallardo, Karim Mayfield and Andre Ward.

The most impactful of them all would of course be Andre Ward. And that’s simply for being the man that he is and going as far as he’s going despite the obstacles in his past.

Bilal-Mahasin-beats-Luis-Lugo-unanimous-decision-Oracle-Arena-080616-300x300, The boxing mind of welterweight Bilal Mahasin, Culture Currents
Mahasin earned a unanimous-decision victory. – Photo: Laura Ming Wong

M.O.I. JR: When you were locked up, did you box? How was the way you trained behind enemy lines different from how you train now that you’re on the outs?

Bilal: They didn’t have boxing in Missouri Department of Corrections where I was locked up. Any form of boxing was strictly prohibited and could result in being punished by up to 20 days in solitary confinement.

They have a rule which prohibits all military style training by inmates, and some prison staff enforce this rule tighter and stronger than others. Often times I’d have one of my friends standing guard while I shadowboxed for 20-30 minutes or hit the mattress as a heavybag.

We’d use shower shoes as hand mitts, sometimes stitching two pair together for extra cushion. We would also wrap our hands with towels and pillows and actually spar in the cells. We found ways to simulate everything we needed for training.

One of the most significant differences in training in society is the muscle recovery, such as protein, amino, cryotherapy, ice baths etc. Needless to say, the food in prison is bottom grade, the nutritional value is low, so the muscle recovery process is slower.

M.O.I. JR: What do you talk about when you talk to children?

Bilal: I talk about being a true champion and a true fighter in life – persevering through trauma, converting adversity into energy, transforming bottled up energy into determination and ambition.

M.O.I. JR: Where are some of the places where you have spoken? Which school or group of young people who you have spoken to have had the biggest impact on you?

Bilal: I’ve spoken at a number of schools in Oakland – public, private and charter schools. I’ve spoken at Oakland juvenile halls and random youth social gatherings for local organizations. Not sure if I can say which school had the biggest impact on me.

Every new crowd of students are collectively different and they are affected slightly differently based on the emphasis in my speech or workshop. I feed off the energy in the classroom, so sometimes I may speak more about the harshness of prison life or the power of a dream. Just depends on the energy I pick up on in the room.

Bilal-Mahasin-after-victory-over-Luis-Lugo-Oracle-Arena-080616-300x300, The boxing mind of welterweight Bilal Mahasin, Culture Currents
Bilal Mahasin returned to Oakland from over 10 years in prison in Missouri to resume his boxing and rap careers and, dedicated to community youth, he’s now a trainer, coach and motivational speaker.

M.O.I. JR: Why is speaking to the community important to you?

Bilal: Well, speaking is my true gift. It’s my God given talent. It makes perfect sense that God would allow me to endure the trials and tribulations I had to overcome to correspond with or complement my speaking talent. My motto is “the harder the struggle, the greater the reward.”

I believe communication rules the nation, as all physical things are only manifestations of the spoken word. Life itself is an accumulation of small expressions, which are connected to a divine expression. So we just have to get in control of our expressions and seize the time.

What greater robbery of a people than steal control of their expression? I think in general the people of the U.S. need to develop a greater appreciation for communication.

M.O.I. JR: Besides boxing, aren’t you a personal trainer and don’t you coach young boxers? Can you tell us more about that?

Bilal: Yes. I’m a boxing fitness trainer. I also have a growing amateur boxing stable who I train alongside myself. So when I’m in training camp, they are also in training camp.

All of my fighters are tough, and I believe my little brother Samir McQueen can be a future world champion if he remains committed. I’ve been training him since I’ve been home.

He’s been my main sparring partner for my last three fights. I also have several very talented female fighters who could be future world champs.

M.O.I. JR: Who is your next opponent? And how will you pick him?

Bilal: I don’t have an opponent set yet. I’d love to fight on Andre Ward’s next undercard Nov. 19 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. I’ll fight any man who climbs into the other side of the ring on that day. It happens to be my birthday, so that would be dope!

M.O.I. JR: How can people get in touch with you?

Bilal: On Instagram, I’m @rebellious510; on Facebook, look for Bilal Mahasin; or email

The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is the author of several books including the upcoming “Halfway to a Hundred: Dispatches from the Black Panther Party.” Tune to and reach him by email at