"I want to bring peace to my hometown in Afghanistan," said Afghan-German boxer Hamid Rahimi. "I think sport has the magic to bring all the people and all religions together."
Afghanistan was at the center of the boxing world as the 29-year-old spoke, one day before stepping into the ring for the first professional boxing match in Afghanistan in more than 30 years.
Rahimi's scheduled 12-round bout with Tanzania's Said Mbelwa on October 30 was dubbed "Fight 4 Peace," with the World Boxing Organization's unclaimed intercontinental middleweight championship at stake.
Rahimi pulled no punches, winning by TKO in the seventh round in the Afghan capital's Loya Jirga, or grand assembly tent with upward of 1,500 spectators on hand.
But getting there was a tough task for the boxers and organizers alike. The first thing that needed to be overcome: security fears that had kept fight promoters away from Afghanistan for decades.
'My Inner Strength'
It took two years of vigorous campaigning through his "Fight 4 Peace" project, but Rahimi finally succeeded in convincing the WBO, the Afghan government, and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to host the event in Kabul.
With the win, Rahimi now boasts a record of 21 wins -- nine by knockout -- and one loss as a professional. Earlier this year, after he won the World Boxing Union championship, he set his sights on winning the WBO belt in his home country.
But he has even loftier goals, such as inspiring a new generation of Afghan boxers and helping to unite Afghanistan's fractious society. He says this event will show the world that there is more to the country than just war and bloodshed.
"Whenever I compete in a boxing match I carry the Afghan flag [and my heritage] on my shoulders," Rahimi said. "This gives me my inner strength."
Afghan-German boxer Hamid Rahimi trades punches with his Tanzanian opponent, Said Mbelwa, in their WBO title bout in Kabul on October 30.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai congratulated "Rahimi and the Afghan nation" after the fight, thanking the Tanzanian for coming to Afghanistan to take part.
Rahimi was 9 years old when he left Kabul for Germany with his parents and three siblings. They left in 1992 amid a brutal civil war that claimed the lives of some 70,000 people in Kabul alone.
His boxing career began in 2003 when he was discovered by renowned Jamaica-born German boxer and trainer Owen Reece, who took Rahimi under his wing. In 2006, he fought in his first professional fight in Germany as a middleweight under the moniker "The Dragon."
At the time, Rahimi said he chose the name because "a dragon is an adaptable creature; it can cope with water, wind, and fire. Likewise, I can handle every opponent and every situation in the ring."
After he took the WBU crown in February by defeating Belarusian Ruslan Rodivich in Hamburg, where he trains, Rahimi became heavily involved in Afghanistan.
He traveled to Kabul at the invitation of the National Olympic Committee to help develop Afghan boxers and was given a warm welcome. Afghan President Hamid Karzai awarded Rahimi with the Mir Masjidi Khan state medal, named after an Afghan hero who fought the British during the First Anglo-Afghan War in the 19th century.
Rahimi's mother, Fatima Rahimi, arrived in Kabul for the first time since the family's departure some 20 years ago to see her son's championship fight against the 23-year-old Mbelwa. After the loss, the Tanzanian middleweight has 19 wins, including 12 knockouts, nine losses, and four draws.
Family, National Honor?
The Rahimi family is from the Hazara minority, but Fatima Rahimi insists her son is fighting for all Afghans.
Speaking to journalists in Kabul on the eve of the fight, she said she was confident her son would emerge victorious.
"I am so hopeful and I believe that my son will be the winner, considering his tireless efforts, day and night," the proud mother said. "He will succeed and he will be the winner."
Afghan-German World Boxing Union champion Hamid Rahimi celebrates his victory over Said Mbelwa (not pictured) of Tanzania after their World Boxing Organization intercontinental middleweight fight in Kabul on October 30.
WBO representative Christof Hawerkamp, speaking a day before the fight, said it was a great honor to host a "peace championship" in the war-torn country.
The WBO's motto is "Dignity Democracy Honesty", and Hawerkamp says the idea is to inspire young Afghans to take up professional boxing.
"Don't use weapons. Go to [the] gym. Go to [the] football ground for soccer. That should be your fight, not the battlefields," dpa news agency quoted him as saying.
RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report