Portland Boxing Club’s Ilyas Bashir uses his reach to fend off an opponent during a recent bout. Durward Ferland/Kineo Photography

Ilyas Bashir decided to try his hands at boxing after spending endless hours watching prize fighters mix it up on television.

“I just wanted to test myself,” the Auburn teenager said. “I have been watching (boxing) most of my life. I just wanted to try it out and see how it feels. It is a real commitment. It helps with your discipline skills. Boxing gets your confidence up. You get rid of your insecurities.”

Bashir is fairly new to the sport, but his dedication has already earned him a few Golden Gloves championships.


The soft-spoken and unflappable 2021 Waynflete School graduate wandered into the Portland Boxing Club in August 2020 and eventually caught the eye of owner Bob Russo, who has been training amateurs and pros at his digs on Allen Street for the past 30 years.

“We teach them a beginners workout on Saturdays,” Russo said. “So you come in and you know what to do. It is a routine. You don’t need someone staring at (someone) jumping rope. The kids shows up. He shows he is committed to it and you start to focus on him.


“So (Bashir) happened in and he’s one of those guys. He came in and did the beginners workout and then he never left. He is there every day. He is a fanatic. That’s what you need in this sport. You have to be fanatical. He is smart, so he is a huge fan. You can’t stump him on boxing and what is going on. He is up on everything because he wants to learn.”

Bashir said putting his hat in the ring at the Portland club was also a matter of convenience.

Golden Gloves boxer Ilyas Bashir, right, of Auburn lands blow during a recent bout. PicasaDurward Ferland/Kineo Photography

“Since I went to the school in Portland, because I didn’t have a car at the time, I just felt it was easier to (join the Portland club) because it was close to my school,” he said.

But now Bashir, 18, is a full-time freshman at Bates College in Lewiston and makes the commute to Portland six or seven days a week without even thinking about the long drive.

The former high school basketball and soccer player said he is in it for the long haul, but that his studies at Bates are equally important — especially to his mom and dad. Right now, the easy-going Bashir is an undecided and trying to figure out a major at Bates.

“There are expectations you have to meet for your family,” Bashir, who is classified as super lightweight or a junior welterweight, said. “For me, (my schedule) is not rough. I like to come in because it is my favorite part of the day, but I have car so I just drive up there everyday and go back to Auburn every night.”


Russo said Bashir’s commitment to the sport makes him an asset to the club.

“He is just one of those people, of all those 200-and-something championships that we have, he will be one of those people to put a lot of championships on the board because of his dedication,” Russo said. “He comes from an immigrant family and they have this great work ethic — and he has that great work ethic. He can box what seems hundreds of rounds. He just doesn’t get tired. 

Auburn’s Ilyas Basher, left, talks to Portland Boxing Club owner Bob Russo during a recent Golden Gloves bout. Durward Ferland/Kineo Photography

“But the other thing, of course, is intelligence — his ability to learn and to fix. I don’t want sluggers. I want boxers. The sport we are in is boxing. That means jabbing and setting things up and a good defense and not getting hit.

“He is tall and thin so that kind of a body type makes him … a good boxer, too. So he has a long reach, but he has a lot of tools in his tool boxes as far as combinations that he uses. He has all those pieces that will make him a good fighter.”

Russo added that Bashir has seven or eight wins under his belt.

Bashir recently demonstrated his superior boxing skills and collected a Golden Gloves championship. The light welterweight prevailed in a semifinal round and earned a unanimous decision over Tristan Harvie.


He moved onto the finals where he prevailed in another unanimous decision over Michel DiDino. He was also awarded outstanding boxer of the tournament, and has won both that award and the Northern New England Golden Gloves novice light welterweight championship two years in a row.

Bashir also understands boxing is a physical sport once the bell rings.

“I think the No. 1 thing when you get in the ring is composure … but if you are calm, there is a chance you can get out of (a rough situation); but if you are not calm, it can just turn real bad real quick,” he said. “Composure is the No. 1 thing in the sport.”


Going to the boxing gym gives Bashir a sense of purpose and outlet, but he also enjoys Russo’s mentoring, kindness and sincerity and the way he acts as a lifeline to his boxers.

“He treats us like one of his own,” Bashir said. “He is always there to help us. For example, he doesn’t have to give us food or take us there to any of the events out of state, which is always, but he always takes care of us, get us food and makes sure we get home safe. We don’t have to worry about anything.”


Bashir trains on his own at the gym, but Russo is always there to dispense his expertise in the sport to his fighters.

“Once you are doing your own thing, he always comes to you and asks you to add this to your style or fix this…” Bashir said. “He coaches you, of course, but he leaves the effort and the hard work to the fighter. He takes in everyone, no matter where you are from.”

Bashir and Russo share the common bond of being avid boxing fans who took it a step further and stepped into the ring.

“It’s been said that boxing is not just a sport, it is an obsession,” Russo, who can’t stay away from his gym, said. “It’s a way to exercise my love of the sport. For one thing, we win a lot. This would really suck if we were losing all the time.

“Our win record is phenomenal. I think we have 223 championships overall. Nine of them are national championships. Our success is good. That makes it fun. It is just so rewarding because the kids you get to meet and to engage become part of the family.”

Russo said boxing is a year-round endeavor, unlike seasons for high school, college or pro sports.


“I have got kids who have been here for 25 years,” Russo said. “A lot of these kids need that because they really don’t have a good family structure, so it is fun. Our success as far as turning the kids in the right direction, is really good, too.

“Our mantra is making champions and good citizens — and we do both.”

Bashir, who knows he is fortunate to have two parents who play a key role in his life, is an advocate for boxing and believes everybody should  put on the gloves and give the sport a try.

“It doesn’t matter at what level of fighter you want to be,” he said. “It is good for everything. It is good for the mind, the body. So I would recommend it to everyone.”

Bashir’s boxing exploits meet his dad’s approval, but his mother is not sold on a sport where athletes come to blows to settle the outcome.

“I’d say my dad likes it,” he said. “A mom is a mom, you know. She doesn’t like it even if I am winning a fight, but it is all good.”

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