On Saturday evening Lee Ingelrest , fights the closing camp during the Gents Boksgala. A few thousand spectators get a few camps as an aperitif, but come for the main course: a fifth professional victory for the new chou chou of boxing. On his mule!
Ghent is the boxing capital of Flanders. Always been. In prehistory there was Freddy De Kerpel. Not so long-ago Ismail ‘cool’ Abdoul and Junior Bauwens. And now there’s Lee Ingelrest. The organization does not shy away from the Great Words on the poster and on social media. Mister Popular! Glamorous! Power! Skills! He is only 23. He has won all of his first four professional matches. “But I’m just catching up. I must and will get even better.” There is still margin for sport. But in terms of popularity, he gives the competition an uppercut. About 300 people have already bought an Ingelrest hoodie. And Everlast the best boxing gloves? Lee Ingelrest has his own glove brand. Every so often he has a hundred of them come over from Pakistan. A trade in itself. Lee brings a new wind to boxing. Not a bakehouse where you can see from two streets away that a lot of attention was paid to it. But a beautiful, stylish guy who might as well sit at the counter of the bank. Put him in a toga and he can go to the court of assizes.
Ingelrest. In the city of Artvelde, the name sounds like the bells of St Bavo’s Cathedral. Papa Tony (48) was also a professional boxer. Brother in Arms by Cool Abdoul. His competition gloves are on the hook, but in the Golden Gloves club he is still his son’s sparring partner. But even more than as a boxer, Tony Ingelrest was known as a bouncer. Boccaccio, The Megatemple, Riva, … name a club in or around Ghent or Tony Ingelrest was at the door. A secondary occupation that almost killed the dock worker in 2009. “I was 9,” says Lee Ingelrest. “I remember when the phone rang at home. They called from the hospital to say my dad was dying.” Shortly before that, he was stabbed at the Gentse Feesten. “My father was a doorman at the Cirque Central, in the middle of the party zone. There was a fight and my dad wanted to protect a girl. Fifteen men rushed at him. He managed to get a few out. But then he was cowardly stabbed in the back. At first, he felt nothing. But he collapsed because he lost so much blood.” Outdoor seesaw and boxing. It was a common combination for a long time. But Lee doesn’t. “I don’t like my dad. It’s way too dangerous. And it used to be worth the risk. There was some money to be made. People still tipped them when they left a bar or club. Now you see that no one does anymore
The promising boxer wouldn’t have time for it either. The sport absorbs everything. “I work in the port,” he says. At DFDS I drive brand new Volvos off the ships. About 80 a day. It’s not a hard job physically. I start early, and have done it around noon. Then I go straight to the gym. And after a few hours of rest, I go to the Boskclub in the evening for a few hours. spruce up. Fight, fight, fight. You can only achieve something if you work hard.”
Only 23. But he’s known the ring for over 15 years. “I was 7 when I first came to the club with my father. I knew immediately that I wanted to be a boxer just like him.” Doesn’t he think that’s a bizarre sport for such a guy? “Footballers and drivers have more injuries than me. And it didn’t interest me at all. Sitting on a ne vélo or kicking a ball. Not for me. And I might be the height to play basketball. But I can also use that length in boxing. I can keep the opponents at a good distance.”
At the age of fourteen, Lee decided to really go for it. His first camp followed two years later. The same night his father boxed his farewell match. That night, hundreds of Tony Ingelrest fans became fans of son Lee. “If I’m popular now, I owe it in large part to my father. He is a sympathetic guy who doesn’t hurt anyone. Except who touches him (laughs). I do it for the fans. They are incredible. Every time before the Boxing Gala they are waiting for me outside with Bengali fireworks. That gives me an incredible kick and motivates me to go for it. Now I box the day after AA Gent, the club of my heart, has to play European in Sweden. Many supporters would make a weekend of it. But they return with the first plane to see me fight the next day. I find that unbelievable.” By the way, he will follow the move in the wake of AA Gent, to Dublin. “The camp is going to be over. Then I can let myself go for a few weeks. If they win there it will be a big party. And if they don’t win … then it’s a party.”
Because discharging after such a camp is important. “The preparation is tough. Two months before a competition I live like an ascetic. I eat adapted, I train a lot more than usual and I don’t drink a drop of alcohol. This summer I went on a trip to Spain. I’ve been eating all the way. Eat and drink pints. Not normal. I weighed 90 pounds when I got home. Now I’m drying again. I’m at just over 82 kilos, the agreed competition weight for October 14.” After the camp, the belt can be removed again. “If I win my fifth professional camp in a row, I will travel. Eat, drink and then repack.”
But first Boris Mrkonjic from Bosnia and Herzegovina waits. The bookmakers predict that the Ghent chouchou will make it. “I believe in it myself. I box differently than, say, my father. He wanted to eliminate the opponent as quickly as possible. He learned to fight on the street. And then they told him that he better started boxing. After that, he always went for knockout in the ring. He is fast and incredibly strong. I have to have it more of my technique.” He shows his fists as he says it. Two tattoos. “1969, my mom’s birth year. That’s my left. My first hand. Left foot forward and jab-jab. And 1974, my dad’s birth year. My strongest hand.”
The youngest Ingelrest hardly did street fighting like Dad. “I’m not going to let that happen, of course. I will defend myself if necessary. But it’s stupid. You used to be able to fight without getting cops involved. If you hit once, you’ll have to pay off your whole life.” And so, he prefers to punch in the ring. “It’s pure adrenaline during such a competition. You hit and you cash. The latter as little as possible. But you hardly feel anything. You are that focused.” And afterwards? “Then everything hurts. Literally everything. There are then only two medicines: taking Dafalgans and drinking pints. And hope the pain goes away.”