With a loveable personality and an obsession with Snickers Bars, few know what Hascen Neri Gelezi has really been through.
Since his explosion onto our screens on Oktagon Challenge: England vs Ireland, the charismatic character has won the hearts of the viewers, with his amusing antics and quick wit. But behind the comedic figure stands a fighter who’s battled adversity in abundance and came out a better man.
Born in the Congo during the peak of the war, the son of a politician has witnessed heartbreak that would destroy even the strongest of men. And in a candid interview with Sporf, he revealed his saddest memories.
He explained: “When I was a child, I had a good life. When you’re in Africa, and your dad is a politician, you’re living well. But unfortunately, things happen. We had to leave. It’s Congo; people start dying. I’m not saying I don’t like to talk about this, but I don’t want to remember this. It’s not good memories.
“I lost a lot of people that I know. When I was young, a lot of people in my family and that I know, lost a couple of friends because there was a big war in East Congo. It’s still happening now. It’s been 26-27 years, and people are still suffering.
“There’s People dying, babies are dying, and women are getting raped. It’s very long, and nothing has changed. Even when there’s a new president, things just carry on. I can talk about this, but I don’t feel comfortable. I’m just lucky now; my life is quite good.”
Hascen Neri Gelezi was a high-ranking member of one of France’s roughest gangs
After leaving The Congo, the warrior moved to France, ending up in one of the country’s most infamous gangs. And it didn’t take long for Neri Gelezi to work his way up the rankings.
However, in a testament to his remarkable powers of self-belief, rather than remaining on the wrong path, he dedicated his life to becoming a better man.
The MMA star asserted: “Even if you don’t want it, when you have a bad experience, when you were young, it will affect you. Sometimes, you don’t clock it in the moment. But when you start growing up, you’re gonna have a certain reaction and realise you might have been traumatised. It takes time to understand that. Certain people will try and deny that, but I didn’t. I know I’ve been through something that makes me the man I am now.
“On the gang side, it was a bit different because when I came to France, it was something new. I had a good lifestyle, and then when you change everything, it’s tough. Thank God, in The Congo, they speak French, so I didn’t have an issue with the language barrier. But after that, you’re doing everything by yourself.
“Back home, I was used to having my family around me. If you want to do something, you have people close to you to do those things with. But in France, everything was different. And then, because I’m quite stubborn, as a kid, I ended up hanging around with the wrong people.
“I started stealing cars, and because I could fight as well, people started getting scared. They’re like, ‘Why is this guy like this’? People didn’t understand our struggle in the past because of the war. That made me the man I am now. So I was like, ‘I’ve seen people die; you guys are going to do nothing to me’. But that was a bad mindset.”
He continued: “Unfortunately, I was like that for a couple of years. One day, I woke up and said to myself, ‘That’s not the lifestyle my parents want me to have’. They sacrificed so many things for me in terms of school, education, and spending time to help me. So I was like, ‘What can I do’?
“In France, I lost a couple of friends in a car crash; they were driving while they were drunk. Some of them did silly things and got shot. It was long. When I was young, I was seeing it, and now I’m growing up, I’m seeing the same thing. I needed to get away from all of that.
“When you meet police officers, and people who really appreciate you, and they’re telling you that, ‘You act like a gangster, but you don’t match. You’re not stupid; you’ve got brains, and you can fight’.
“In school and uni, I was very good. Some people become a gang member because they don’t have a choice. But I had the skill set to become a better man. But it was a good time, I’m not going to lie.”
Hascen Neri Gelezi runs a security agency for the rich and famous
Following his stint in the street life, the 34-year-old completely turned his fortunes around, becoming an esteemed businessman and an adoring father.
Serving as an inspiration to anyone who’s gone down the wrong path, in a testament to his remarkable mindset, the fighter applied himself to starting his own security agency and made it a roaring success.
He explained: “We specialise in high-risk clients. Sometimes, I travel in Europe, and our security has firearms. In London, we had Post Malone. He’s one of my main guys. Every time he comes to London, we look after him.”
He continued: “I have my friend, Anthony Knockaert, he’s a footballer player. I’ve got will.i.am and Marcos Alonso. Unfortunately, I can’t talk about the politicians because they don’t like it. The clients need to make sure the person will look after them. My people have to be ready to fight and be ready to risk their life for them. If there’s shooting, you have to be on the ball. That’s why I’m always well-prepared. We’re like the special forces.
“It’s all about anticipation. If you’re a big star, I’m gonna try and avoid anything that can harm you. Wherever we go, I need to take all the information on what we are doing. If you say you want to go to a restaurant, I can’t say no, but I must ensure everything is safe. I think about the fire exit, is there a paramedic? If there’s anything that can put us in danger, I’m gonna look after that. I’ll keep my eyes on you.
“You have to use your brain more than your physical aptitude. The first thing you need to do is read body language. Mentally, sometimes you get tired. Most of the time, the danger comes from people who are close to them. It’s not even people from outside; maybe it’s about jealousy. So you have to be careful. You must watch everything like a lion, trying to hunt everything.”
Hascen Neri Gelezi clashes with Aaron McDonald at Oktagon 48
Over the last few weeks ‘Morning Breakfast’ has cracked jokes and feasted on Snickers bars, but on November 4 at the AO Arena in Manchester at Oktagon 48, the popular fighter will collide with Aaron McDonald in an eagerly-anticipated contest. And the Team England representative wants to show the people out there fighting to better themselves, that it’s never over until it’s over.
He concluded: “Even if I don’t want it, some people use me as an example. So, now, I’m going into this fight in Manchester, I need to appreciate things. When I talk about this, I’m happy. I struggled to get where I am now. I’ve been doing MMA for years. Some people say, ‘If Hascen did it, we can do it’.
“I hear some individuals claiming that I’m getting old, but I feel young and train hard. It’s never too late. I’m not the best example to follow because of the way I did very bad things to getting better, but it’s a good opportunity for me to show people that if you want it, you can achieve it.
“Remember, when I say, ‘Gang member’, I wasn’t low, I was high-ranking. So, for me to leave everything to change my life is something good, I’m not going to lie. I thank Oktagon for the opportunity because now people can see me and who I am. I talk about my experience. If the chance comes to help a young fighter in the future, why not?”
Featured Image Credit: Oktagon MMA