Hassan Chitsaz poses with his championship belts. (Bahar Sharereh)
Hassan Chitsaz, a 54-year-old Iranian American, proclaims to be the oldest active heavyweight boxing champion in the world and in history.
He is going to Irvine Valley College, graduating next month with two certificates. He holds the world record for most consecutive first or second round knockouts in history by a heavyweight fighter.
As he arrived for our interview, he is wearing a big smile, along with a black jacket that belongs to the World Boxing Council. He holds Javaanan, the world’s largest circulated Persian (Iranian) magazine, in his hand. He is on the cover.
“They call me champ. I earned that name,” Chitsaz said, “It feels good. I did it.”
His life wasn’t always rosy. When he attended high school in Iran, bullies beat him up regularly. One day a friend suggested to him to learn boxing. He listened and secretly focused on becoming a good boxer.
“I didn’t have the strength or the guts to fight back,” he said. “After a year, I wasn’t the same person, no one beat me up anymore.”
He left Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and stepped on the U.S. soil with a $100 in his pocket, no knowledge of English, and no one to show him the way.
“I didn’t have a home, a family. Never got a birthday gift,” he said with a hint of pain, “I was my own role model.”
He worked very hard and entered the American boxing world in 1992 where he met former Heavyweight Champion, Ken Norton. Norton trained Chitsaz for his ESPN debut in 1994, which led to three heavyweight victories, all by way of knockout.
Due to the lack of money and connections, it would take another 14 years for him to return.
“Everyone told me you are too old, too fat, too weak, but I didn’t listen. I disciplined myself,” he said with an aura of confidence.
He opened doors by losing 50 pounds in four months to fight again in 2008. He fought a total of 19 fights with no losses all by way of knockout, obtaining three championship belts, including the WBC-Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion.
“I speak with my eyes,” Chitsaz said, “In the ring, before the fight begins, I look straight in my opponent’s eyes and communicate I’m going to win.”
He also won two other championship titles last December comprising the WBC Latino Heavyweight championship. Dubbed the “Iranian Assassin,” he points out that he has never been a bully fighter.
“I don’t fight because I like to hurt people,” he said. “In the ring, my opponent is a human being. I believe in conscience. I box because it makes me strong. It gives me self-respect.”
He has broken his nose many times. The way he says ‘many’ makes it obvious that he has lost count.
“I had a surgery on my nose to remove the cartilage, because otherwise it would bleed,” he added. “And in boxing, if you bleed, you can’t continue fighting. The referee will stop it.”
He is going on a world tour next month starting with Dubai, followed by Australia, England, Germany, and the Caribbean, where he will be defending his belts.
He starts training three weeks prior to a fight which comprises two hours a day on the treadmill and plenty of shadow boxing—sparring with an imaginary partner. He also does weight training but not heavy sets.
“I do long sets of light weights. In any fighting business, martial arts or boxing, too much bulk slows you down,” he said. “You can’t throw effective punches because you are too heavy.”
He eats every two hours, with his regimen comprising mainly of organic food.
“Eat breakfast by yourself. Eat lunch with your friends. Give your dinner to your enemy.” he said with a smile.
Also, plenty of racquetball fills his time.
“If you can catch a 200 mph racquetball, you can surely respond to a punch coming at you,” he said.
Chitsaz is currently licensed to fight in the United States and Mexico.
“California is a commission state, making it difficult to get a license.You have to pass an MRI brain test, which most people at my age fail,” he said and a winning smile appears again, “I passed.”
With his name in the World Boxing Hall of Fame and his five championship belts, he still isn’t satisfied; he aims to capture the coveted World Heavyweight Championship title by December.
“I’m two inches away,” he said with a shining confidence.
He also mentioned an important degree he attained, and it’s not from college.
“I’m street-smart. I have my degree from the street,” he said.
In the actual world of academics, he has a bachelor’s degree in physical education, an associate degree in law enforcement, and plenty of certificates.
“I paid my dues. I worked hard to get here,” he says forming a fist, “I’m a survivor. If I had been given everything, I would not have learned anything.”
On his personal website, hassanchitsaz.com, it’s clear that he wants to inspire people. Every few sentences, Chitsaz intersperses his words with wisdom.
“Many people just dabble in life. I’m here to inspire people to go for your dreams. Life is not about eight to five,” he said with passion. “I did this to show the world you can be anything you want. My secret is that I believe. If you believe, you achieve.”
He has a very warm and friendly personality, although he seems cautious at times.
“I know from the first eye contact whether I will be friends with someone,” he said, scanning the room. “Before you accept something within your heart, analyze it. Don’t get close too fast.”
He has been a bodyguard to famous celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Jerry Lewis.
“Michael Jackson was a beautiful person, he had a heart of gold and was very giving,” he said. “All his lawsuits were nonsense. He donated $7 million to the Bam earthquake.They found this out when he died.”
The 2003 tragic Iranian earthquake in the city of Bam took the lives of nearly 26,000 people and injured 30,000 more.
He is cognizant of Iran’s negative image in almost every news story.
“It’s sad. I love Iranians, their culture, their food, passionate loving people,” he said. “I want to make my country proud.”
From saving someone’s life on a panic-filled airplane last year, by bringing the passenger out of coma administering chest compressions, to his memories of meeting Frank Sinatra in Iran, Chitsaz is full of interesting anecdotes and surprises.
“My whole life has been magic. A mystery,” he said, “I feel 30.”
WBA president Gilberto Mendoza (left) and WBA Vice-president Gilberto Mendoza, Jr. (right), present Chitsaz with an award. (Courtesy of Hassan Chitsaz)