Junior welterweight world titleholder Maurice Hooker recites a current statistic: There have been 20-plus murders within the month of Could in Oak Cliff, Texas, the Dallas neighborhood the place he grew up.

Hooker was 12 when his household’s house was robbed at gunpoint. He discovered his share of hassle throughout a turbulent youth. In keeping with co-promoter Dino Duva and supervisor Arnie Verbeek, Hooker had 33 excellent arrest warrants by the point he was 21. His mom and brother fought drug habit. His father was out and in of his life.

“Mighty Mo” says he confronted the challenges of medicine and violence in his neighborhood, however he was capable of finding his approach out of the struggles of his childhood by means of boxing.

Hooker survived and in the end thrived in June 2018 to win the WBO title by break up resolution over then-unbeaten Terry Flanagan in Flanagan’s hometown of Manchester, England. Two defenses adopted — an thrilling seventh-round knockout of obligatory challenger Alex Saucedo in November in Saucedo’s hometown of Oklahoma Metropolis and a near-shutout resolution of Mikkel LesPierre on March 9 in Verona, New York.

Now Hooker is ready for the most important battle of his profession. He’ll make his first seven-figure payday for a hometown title unification bout with WBC champion Jose Ramirez on Saturday (DAZN, 9 p.m. ET) on the Faculty Park Middle on the campus of the College of Texas at Arlington.

“I moved out [of Oak Cliff], however I nonetheless obtained household there. I am there like each different day once I’m not coaching for a battle,” Hooker mentioned. “My aim is to get them out of there, my complete household. So this battle is essential to me, simply not for me, however my household. If I can get everyone out of there I will be comfortable.”

The 29-year-old Hooker (26-0-3, 17 KOs) can be effectively on his approach if he can defeat Ramirez (24-0, 16 KOs), 26, of Avenal, California. Each fighters can be making their third title protection in a bout that is considered by most as a toss-up between two unbeaten titleholders of their prime. It is a main battle at an area about 20 miles from the neighborhood Hooker virtually did not make it out of.

Hooker mentioned he can thank boxing and his beginner coach, Sultan Ali, for his exodus from Oak Cliff. It was Ali who put him on the best path after his stepfather launched Hooker to the game as an adolescent.

“I used to be within the streets, however I had a coach, Sultan Ali, my beginner coach, and he stayed on me,” Hooker mentioned. “He got here and picked me up on daily basis for the health club. I might be within the again as much as no good, and he’d be in entrance of the home blowing the horn.

“I used to be as much as no good and [the other kids] could be like, ‘You bought to go. You bought somebody’s consideration round right here.’ I needed to stroll out to the truck like, I assume I am going to go to the health club. He simply stayed on me whereas a number of the others had been shootin’ cube or doing one thing fallacious. However he was selecting me up, blowin’ the horn, blowin’ up my cellphone. An outdated man who actually had nothing to do. He was retired from work. Boxing was his life, so he was there for me.”

Hooker received a Dallas Golden Gloves title and owned a 97-7 beginner report earlier than Ali launched him to supervisor Verbeek and coach Vince Parra, who’ve been with him because the begin of his professional profession in 2011. Verbeek helped Hooker work with authorities to clear up the authorized points and maintain him out of jail.

“Arnie treats Maurice like a son,” mentioned Roc Nation’s Duva, who co-promotes Hooker with Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn. “He took him into his health club and began getting him fights.”

Parra was a big consider turning Hooker’s uncooked expertise into championship materials.

“Once I obtained him, he was a younger prospect,” Parra mentioned. “I informed a reporter he was like a bolt of lightning, and I simply knew that if we harnessed it and put it in the best approach that he may do one thing particular.”

Hooker, Verbeek and Parra have a decent bond, however what Ali did for him is all the time behind Hooker’s thoughts. He is aware of it is what saved him. That is simply one of many causes Hooker wished to defend his title at dwelling.

“I wish to present all the children that desires do come true,” mentioned Hooker, who used a number of the cash he comprised of the Saucedo battle to purchase a home and transfer to the Dallas suburb of Forney. “I would like the children to come back see me battle. And in the event that they see me battle, it’d inspire them to get out of there, to work exhausting, practice more durable. I would like children to be like, ‘Maurice, he is a world champion. He began from nothing. Have a look at him now.'”

Hooker made it some extent to provide again to his group. He mentioned he made appearances earlier than the beginning of coaching camp to speak to schoolchildren about their future.

“I all the time inform them, man, simply consider in your self, think about what you do,” Hooker mentioned. “I do not care in the event you’re a bus driver, simply think about what you do. I inform them you all the time wish to attempt to enhance your self in life, do not accept much less.

“It is summertime. Youngsters do not don’t have anything to take action they’re simply on the streets, ? They only hearken to music. Some wish to be drug sellers, some wish to be gangsters. [I tell them to] get a traditional job, practice, work for it.”

Duva, who has been selling Hooker since 2015 when he appeared on the undercard of the Gennady Golovkin-David Lemieux middleweight title unification battle, has been happy with Hooker’s introspection.

“Maurice has actually matured lots from once I first began working with him,” Duva mentioned. “When you consider the place he got here from — it is not a singular story, however he got here from such a tough childhood.

“That outdated coach — you have to adore it when persons are prepared to assist somebody developing in a foul space. You must respect that and like that. A child like [Hooker] on the time, he actually wanted that steerage.”

Hooker agreed. He is aware of that with out boxing and Ali selecting him up on daily basis to ensure he obtained to the health club that his life could be totally different.

“If he wasn’t there, I might nonetheless be again there within the shed doing unhealthy issues,” Hooker mentioned. “And now I am right here. I stayed with it. Like I inform everyone, simply consider in your self — it doesn’t matter what.”