Khalid Baker, a punching prospect had a promising career ahead of him until one day he was incarcerated for murder. However, the only thing he was guilty of was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Your ears have become accustomed to the sound of leather gloves thudding against the heavy bag; your nose has grown used to the smell of the sweat from the gym. The days almost seem to fill themselves.
On the one, rare evening you replace those old habits with a pounding bass-line and the scent of cologne mixing itself with perfume as hands clasp and bodies weave on the dance floor, what was meant to be an evening of enjoyment turned into a murder scene.
June 17, 1966, Rubin ‘The Hurricane’ Carter found himself behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit, murder. A racially driven injustice robbed the young man of his best years. Fast forward 40 years, Khalid Baker an up-and-coming Australian amateur found history to be repeating itself. Lightning strikes twice.
“I beat all the best and I was going to the 2006 Commonwealth Games and unfortunately I ended up getting arrested and charged for murder for a crime I didn’t commit, and ended up serving 13 years,” Baker told proboxing-fans.com.
Much like a modern-day Rubin Carter, Baker found himself in a prison cell as an innocent man.
The night before a training camp with the Australian amateur squad an 18-year-old Baker decided to head out with friends to a “warehouse party” to have a good time before beginning the hard work of training.
The night took a turn for the worst when his friends became involved in an altercation which led to a man falling through a window out of the building and suffering fatal injuries.
“I don’t know what happened, I was on the dance floor dancing and one of my mates bumped me on the shoulder, goes, ‘Ali’s getting into a fight.’ My mate went over to break it up and he got into an altercation and I ran over to try and break it up.
“I would like to say his name now, the victim that passed away, his name was Albert Snowball. He came out and started swearing and whatever happened, and Ali went up the stairs and got into another altercation.
“Then the guy named LM [the name given to the person involved to protect his identity due to the fact he was just a minor at the time of the incident] came out and I don’t know what happened because I was at the bottom of the stairs at the time.
“I think it was pushing and shoving and the guy accidentally went out the window and I ended up getting charged with murder, I never touched the guy. Yeah, unfortunately, he passed away two days later and my whole life changed.”
LM found himself in the police station just days later to confess to inflicting Mr Snowball’s injuries and subsequent death. However, this confession was not taken into consideration and Khalid was left to take the blame.
“At the time there was this law called the Hearsay Law where I couldn’t use his evidence to tell the jury that I had nothing to do with it.
“You had another man who was admitting to it, but the jury was never allowed to hear that evidence. All they heard was a certain person got into a fight and didn’t know who, because the jury was never told about LM’s evidence, and they thought LM was me and that was what they were allowed to hear.
“They found me guilty of that and, yeah, sadly I ended up doing the 13 years.”
The 33-year-old believed his conviction was racially motivated.
“I hate using race as a card. But it was, it was because the jury was allowed to hear from the prosecution, the way they led the evidence with the black male attacking the white man.
“But the guy who started the initial incident was white, but the jury never got to see that and hear that evidence, because what they thought was it was all black, it was three black males. But it was two black males and one Caucasian, where I was the second black guy and where I didn’t have anything to do with it.
“But the jury just assumed that it was just a racial fight, but it was never like that. The way the whole court case was going and the trial, was just black versus white and affected me because I grew up with a lot of racism when I was a kid. I’m like, ‘When is it going to come to a point where race doesn’t come into it?’ Your skin colour shouldn’t matter.
“If someone’s done something, someone’s done something. It’s not black man versus white man or white man versus an Asian or any kind of things like that. But we still live in a society where race is a massive part and hopefully one day that can get cleared up.”
Growing up it was the footsteps of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman he had hoped to follow, not ‘The Hurricane’s’, after his release from jail the journey restarted.
“I used to train [whilst in prison], and guys are like, ‘what are you training for, Khalid?’ I’m like, ‘man, I’m training for that world title.’ And they go, ‘what do you mean, world title? You’re here with us.’ I said, ‘you know what? You have to remember something. When everybody’s outside partying and doing whatever, I’m training in here and I’m thinking and I’m knowing that I’m going to get that thing that I want.’
“It’s a mindset too, it’s the mindset of a fighter or mindset of a strong person.
“For me, it was like, ‘you know what? I’m going to train my arse off, I’m going to get out and I’m going to show the world.’
“And this is what I mean, show the world. Yeah, you know what? I’ve gone through this and looked at what I’m going to get, and I’m going to get it one way or another. I’m going to bring that world title back to Australia.”
Aspirations and dreaming of reaching the pinnacle of the sport was the only thing that got Baker through his 13-year prison sentence.
Without that hope, he was just another statistic, another inmate behind bars.
Now aged 33, six fights into his professional career, stopping four of his opponents, the cruiserweight believes his journey isn’t ending soon regardless of his age due to the lack of punishment he has taken in the ring.
“I know a lot of guys who have been in the industry and they’re punch drunk. They can’t put two words together. We’re at this age now, they’ve broken down.
“For me, I’m fresh. Jail kept me young because I sleep, ate. It’s not like I’ve gone to war where I’m doing 10 rounds, there’s 12 round fights, this and that.
“I’ve come out like a 20-year-old right now, I’m ready to go. I honestly believe that with the training that I have and with the trainers that I have, I’ll beat anyone in the world.
“But it’s like anything, you can’t come off the bench and think you’re going to play in the biggest league straight away. You’ve got to build yourself up, and that’s what I’m doing right now.
“I’m getting that practice in, the six, the eights, the 10s, I’m building up the rounds, and when I build up the rounds like when I’m doing 10 or 12 rounders, no one can stop me. I’m doing my homework properly. I’m doing my apprenticeship.”
The next assignment of the apprenticeship comes on July 11 when Khalid fights at The Melbourne Pavilion, Flemington, Victoria, Australia.
For a man who had been dealt a bad hand in life, the 33-year-old oozes positivity, prison made him the man he is today.
Sometimes you have to go through the storm to see the sunshine.
“I tried not to look at the negative things in life, because I don’t have the time for it, honestly.
“I’ve been through so much in my life. I’m grateful for all the blessings that I have in my life, not the negatives. Because if you look for negatives you’re always going to find it, I just try not to look at it.”
Finally, to end, words of advice for anybody who is struggling with anything big or small.
“Life’s a wave, you’ve just gotta ride it. You’re going to get your ups and downs and it’s alright to not be alright.
“Go and talk to someone, ask for help. I’ll be the first to know if something’s wrong, I’ll pick up the phone and say, ‘listen, I’m not having a great day, but this is how I feel. What do you reckon?’ It’s alright. There’s nothing wrong with it, and they don’t think you’re weak, asking for help.”