Junior featherweight boxer Raeese Aleem was toiling in anonymity in his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, when he realized he needed a change.
He needed Las Vegas.
“My career was getting stagnant, and I knew I had to make some type of move,” he said. “So I decided to move to the fight capital.”
Aleem’s move to Las Vegas in 2017 has altered the trajectory of his career and perhaps positioned him to fight for a world title. He’ll fight Marcus Bates in a WBA eliminator bout at 6 p.m. Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The 12-round bout is the co-feature on Showtime’s first boxing card amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Aleem, 30, is ranked No. 13 by the WBA, and Bates, 26, is ranked No. 7.
“The level of competition (in Las Vegas) is fierce,” Aleem said. “You can’t have a bad day in sparring continuously Maybe you have one bad day, but the next day, you have to step it up. You don’t have a choice. … (Living here) is huge, it just brings the best out in you.”
Aleem (16-0, 10 knockouts) is actually a martial artist by trade who began karate at age 3 and obtained a black belt by 13. He started boxing after completing his karate coursework and said he was “naturally good from the get-go,” fostering an organic passion that propelled him toward a professional career.
He posted a 65-10 amateur record and debuted professionally Sept. 10, 2011. But he didn’t have access in Muskegon to top tier training or sparring and quickly realized a move was necessary.
“We had to travel around a lot (to train),” he said. “It’s … harder competing in a small town and staying in that small town. You had to venture out a little bit, and that’s what we did.”
Aleem moved alone to Las Vegas on his 27th birthday and trained himself for about 18 months while acclimating to his new city. He worked at a pawn shop and as a security guard to support himself while training and waited almost a year to secure a fight against Bates, whom he beat unanimously to “get the ball rolling.”
He’s fought five times since and knocked out Adam Lopez in February during his TV debut on Showtime’s ShoBox series.
“He has a lot of dog in him. That primitive instinct just to fight back,” said Aleem’s trainer, Las Vegan Bobby McCoy. “Now, he’s on the national spotlight. He’s getting the attention he needs and he wants so we can show everybody how good we are — especially the (title) sanctioning bodies.”
Aleem was scheduled to fight Tramaine Williams on Saturday. But Williams was elevated to the main event opposite Angelo Leo after Leo’s original opponent, Stephen Fulton Jr., tested positive for the coronavirus ahead of their WBO junior featherweight title fight.
McCoy wasn’t in Aleem’s corner for his first fight against Bates (11-1, eight KOs), but he will be Saturday and knows what’s at stake.
“This is a big opportunity for exposure, an immense amount of exposure,” McCoy said. “We’re going to put in this work.”