NEW YORK – David Letterman used to do a segment he called, "Brush with Greatness," in which he'd get audience members to recount meetings with celebrities.
Billy Dib would have been a perfect contestant, because he managed to ingratiate himself with a number of the most significant boxers of this era.
An aspiring super featherweight, Dib was on the verge of quitting boxing in 2004 after a motorcycle accident cost him a spot on Australia's Olympic team.
His mother, Ahlam, knew how badly he wanted to fight in the Olympics. And she knew how much talent he had hidden in the skinny body. And she was aware that he idolized Prince Naseem Hamed and could emulate each of his moves in the ring.
So she urged him to contact Hamed, who was living in the U.K., and ask for advice.
"You would think it's a crazy idea and it would never amount to anything," Dib said. "Of course, I felt that way. But when I was a baby, a wise man looked at me in the crib and said to my mother, 'You know, one day that boy is going to be up with the stars.' And after the accident, she reminded me of that and urged me to contact him."
And so Dib, who knew virtually every move in Hamed's repertoire, said a tape of himself and a letter asking for advice.
He was stunned when only a few days later Hamed replied.
"He couldn't believe that someone who lived 24 hours away by plane watched his tape every day and would care so much about what he thought," Dib said.
Hamed agreed to take Dib under his wing, the start of a journey that has moved Dib inexorably toward a title shot.
He still has a long way to go – he isn't ranked by any of the four major sanctioning groups – but he'll take on Rogers Mtagwa on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in one of four bouts which will be live streamed for free on Yahoo! Sports, beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern/4 p.m. Pacific.
After Hamed urged him to turn pro because his style was suited more for the pros than the amateur, Dib managed to meet Shane Mosley, who takes on unbeaten Miguel Cotto in Saturday's main event on HBO Pay-Per-View.
Mosley has been impressed by Dib's skill, his aptitude and his enthusiasm.
"I've been doing this a long time, but I was a lot more motivated this time by working with someone like Billy the Kid," Mosley said. "He's got a tremendous amount of talent and is really going to go places."
But when Dib lost control of a motorcycle he was riding a few yards from his home in Australia, his only dream was to stay alive.
He was wearing a singlet and a pair of shorts. When he began to lose control, the bike suddenly popped a wheelie. Then, Dib said he momentarily blanked out and forgot where the brake was.
He was soon hurtling off the bike and skidding along the ground, burning his flesh off.
"It's strange, but I kind of remember it so vividly when it was happening and I just remember that I had this incredible focus on staying alive," he said. "I knew it could be the end. It was pretty bad, but I was really lucky, as it turns out."
Dib had no major damage. He required skin grafts, but broke no bones and did no damage to vital organs. His Olympic dream was quashed, but that helped him open a new dream.
He's now gunning for a world title and is being groomed by three of the greatest fighters of this generation.
Golden Boy Promotions partners Oscar De La Hoya, Bernard Hopkins and Mosley have made it a point to spend time with Dib and help him develop into a champion.
"I don't know how I've gotten so lucky, but whatever I've done, I don't want to stop doing it," Dib said.
In addition to the fight between the 22-year-old Dib, who is 16-0 with nine KOs, and Mtgawa (24-11-2, 17 KOs), Yahoo! Sports will live stream for free:
Carlos Diaz (9-10-4) vs. Jesus Rojas (9-0) in a super bantamweight bout.
Bryan Mullis (4-1-1) vs. Ronney Vargas (2-0) in a super welterweight bout.
One more bout may be shown, time permitting.
- Prince Naseem Hamed
- Billy Dib