Ramla Ali, a boxer who became British champion without her family’s knowledge after fleeing civil war in Somalia, has signed a professional deal with Matchroom Boxing.
The 31-year-old, who says she is still aiming to be the first Somali boxer to go to an Olympics, is due to make her professional debut in October.
Ali started boxing in her early teens after arriving in London as a refugee.
“I want to become a world champion,” she said.
“I hope in doing so people will develop a better view of Somalia.”
Ali was a toddler when her family fled the Somali capital Mogadishu in the early 1990s after her elder brother was killed aged 12 by a mortar while playing outside during the civil war.
When the family arrived in London as refugees, having lived in Nairobi in Kenya, Ali was picked on at school for being overweight.
She went to the local gym and tried a boxercise class, but did not tell her family as she thought they would disapprove of the sport for a Muslim girl.
When she won the British and English titles in 2016, Ali – who initially represented England before switching to Somalia in 2017 – told her parents she was going out for a run.
Ali, whose mother now supports her boxing, is trained by her husband Richard Moore and will compete at super-bantamweight.
She says she “would still love to go” to the postponed Olympic Games, currently scheduled to begin on 23 July 2021, but uncertainty caused by coronavirus made her anxious to compete before then.
“I wanted to get a head start in my professional career so now is the best time to turn pro,” Ali added.
“I just want to get in the ring and I feel like I can do that sooner being a pro rather than waiting around for an Olympic Games that might not come.
“The Olympic dream is still there but I’m excited to begin my journey in the professional ranks.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn said: “Ramla’s story is incredible and inspiring. She has gone through so much to get to this point.
“Ramla joins an unrivalled Matchroom stable that boasts some of the very best female fighters on the planet and she is in the perfect place to fulfil her dream of becoming Somalia’s first world champion.”