The Contender

A boxing prodigy from Burkina Faso climbs his way to the top while dishwashing and couch surfing in the Bronx.

Story by Pearl Gabel & Patrick T. Andrews | August 9, 2013

In 2011, what seemed like just an abandoned post office on Westchester Avenue in the South Bronx was actually Johns Gym—a training ground for boxers that has since been relocated to a more legit spot on East 149th Street. One of the regulars there was Issouf—a quiet, young junior welterweight from Banfora, in the West African country of Burkina Faso.

In Banfora, Issouf was trained from the age of three by his father Harouna, a former fighter himself. Along with his best friend Abdoulaye Soumana, a lightweight from Northern Niger, Issouf trained across Africa and boxes around the world, but in New York he started from the bottom. He rode his bike from Harlem to the Bronx each day to train, and back to Manhattan to work nights in the basement of a restaurant, slicing vegetables and washing dishes. Despite his exhausting lifestyle, anyone who saw him train or fight knew he was a star.

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To learn more about Issouf Kinda, visit


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