Former Iraqi boxing champ turned cabby lives the American dream - | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Meet the Chicago taxi cab driver dubbed the `The Champion`

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

A Chicago taxi cab driver, dubbed "the Champion," seems to leave a lasting impression on nearly every passenger he encounters.

If you've ever had the pleasure of riding around Chicago in Estaifan Shilaita's taxi cab, you would never forget him or his story.

"I told them Google my name...and when they Google? 'You are big star!' I say, 'God bless America,'" Shilaita says. "I am big star but my kids born are here. They are going to be big star in this country."

Shilaita was a big star in Iraq. He was the country's reigning boxing champion from 1968 to 1976. He often shares his life story with his passengers and how he fled his country in pursuit of a better life.

"Every time I step into the ring, I do the cross and I pray before the fight," he recalls. "I heard some people they booing me. I mean, I got nervous."

This cabby's quest for religious freedom and opportunity is the subject of a documentary titled, "the Champion," slated for release next spring. The film tells of Shilaita's life story, including his struggles in Iraq as a Christian and how he was often persecuted.

As a boxer, Shilaita could never represent his country on an international stage, so the champion fled. In 1979, Shilaita immigrated to the United States. By that time, fellow boxers would tell him he was too old to fight.

Still, Shilaita had five professional wins, but his boxing career was short lived. The 63-year-old now lives in Skokie with his wife and four adult children.

The cab driver has never missed a day at work, literally. He works seven days a week and up to 12 hours a day to put each of his children through college.

"I tell my kids, this is the land of the opportunity to be anything you wan," Shilaita says.

And that is his American dream.

Brett Garamella, the independent filmmaker of "the Champion," says he and his partner are trying to raise $6,000 to finish post-production on this film.

If you're interested in donating to the production, visit their Kickstarter page here.

They are also still looking to interview people who have ridden in Shilaita's cab and want to share their experience.

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