BBN catches up with the newest Matchroom prospect, Qais Ashfaq.
During our talk we discussed boxing heroes, fighting styles, the Olympics, and his perspective on tournament boxing.
What made you want to start boxing?
“My cousin used to box before me; and his dad, my uncle, noticed that I had a keen interest in what he was doing so he took me to the gym when I was eight.
He told me a few years before that he would take me one day and he stuck to his promise, took me, and I’ve loved it ever since!”
Who was your boxing hero growing up?
“When I was growing up, the obvious was Muhammad Ali, all that sort of stuff but my favourite fighter has always been Sugar Ray Leonard, also Roy Jones Jr in his prime, Those were my favourite sort of fighters, they were quick, strong, had good feet and they looked good doing what they were doing, they were entertaining.”
How old were you when you had your first fight and how did you do?
"I was eleven when I had my first fight, I won it but I also remember being in the corner, before the bells even gone and looking to the opposite corner, just slightly to the side I could see my cousin and my brothers, and I remember thinking to my self ‘what am I doing here.’
The bell went, the nerves slowly went away and so I won my first fight and after that I lost my second and third fights. It was a point when I was a bit disheartened but then I won twenty fights in a row and two national titles on the spin so my confidence slowly came back.
How well did you do in the amateurs?
“From the start, I won the schoolboys three times, the juniors twice, the youth twice; I won the CYP’s twice, I won the GB juniors once, GB youth twice, the senior ABA’s twice, and I won the GB seniors.
I won the Commonwealth youth games, silver at the Commonwealth seniors, I got two silvers and one bronze in the Europeans, boxed in the Olympics. I won loads of tournaments around the world, but that’s pretty much the outline of it!”
How was your experience at the Rio Olympics?
“Rio was very tough for me because I was full of injuries, I boxed a month before at the qualifiers I won and I was comfortable when I did. Once it got into the fights after the qualifiers at the Olympics I was not in the best shape in terms of injuries and by that point I couldn’t use my left hand the difference is now, I’ve turned pro had a bit of time off I’ve had those injuries sorted and I’m using my hand fully now like there was nothing wrong with it.”
What made you decide to turn pro?
“It was a natural thing for me, I said that once I've got through the Olympics, I would turn pro; at 24 years old, my age is right now.
I got to the Olympics, got that ticked off my list and after bieng on the GB team for 7-8 years, it was just the natural thing to turn over, before I even had the qualifiers, I knew I was going to turn pro next.
Coming off the back of the Olympics, what sort of offers were you presented with?
“I had loads! I had Floyd Mayweather, they called me, his cousin wanted to manage me. Obviously, Hayemaker Promotions, Eddie Hearn, Frank Warren, all the usual’s but they were the main ones!
What team do you have around you?
“So, Matchroom is my promoter, my coach in Kelvin Travis and my manager is Charlie Sims, they are the team.”
Are you full-time as a pro and have you got any advice to young boxers just getting into the sport?
“Yeah I'm full time as a pro, and my advice is just work hard, keep your head down and work hard, but believe in yourself mainly, that’s a big part of it.
If you have injuries, get them sorted before the Olympics!”
What sort of fighting style do you have?
“Fast feet, fast hands, counter-puncher, but I like to come forward counter-punching and make my oponents make the mistakes. When I need to, I can adjust, I can plant my feet and then let my hands go.”
What ambitions do you have for your pro career?
“Be the best, without a doubt, world champion, multi-weight, I’m starting light at super-bantam so I can go up in the weights!”
Following an inactive year recovering from injury, has that affected your plans for 2018?
“For me, personally, I was thinking to myself, I need to impress but I was in the Sky Sport’s studios speaking to Spencer Fearon and he made a good point. He goes, 'you know what, why do you need to impress?'
It had me think, my track record is there, first of all, all I’ve got to do is prove it to myself, as long I push myself then it will all go right and fall into place.”
What do you think of tournament format boxing - Prizefighter, The WBSS, and Ultimate Boxxer?
“I think it a fresh new thing for me, how many fighters do you see that are so talented but never get their name out there, I think for that it's perfect. They will get on TV, get people to watch them and it gives them a little bit more of a push, there’s people that I know that are good fighters but just don’t get the right fights or the right promotions to get them to where they should be.
So, it’s a welcome new change but the only time I would fight on a prize fighter style night is at the beginning of my career because I’m used to the three rounds, so yeah its good early on for people that need a push to get their names known.”
With this generation, do you think we are seeing a group of British boxers who can achieve on the world stage?
“Yeah I think all the Olympians - Okolie, Buatsi, Kelly, Cordina, myself. Obviously, in the pro game, on paper, we're not there right now, but we’re all world level, we’re all capable of getting to that highest level, it just takes time because it’s a new thing bing in the pro game.
In the professionals you move up your levels slowly, starting off fighting journeymen, we’re all more than capable of boxing some of the best out there but its just learning the trade and getting used to a different format.”
How do you think you will adjust going into the parofessional ranks?
“I think it will be perfect, boxing the five rounds in the WSB [World Series Boxing] suits me more than boxing the three rounds, in terms of adjusting to the pro game, the amateur game is similar anyway with the new socring, where as 4-8 years ago it would have been different, it would be harder for the amateurs to adjust, but now its not really to much of a change I need to make apart from the pace I have to set for longer rounds.”
The GB boxing programme has produced great fighters over the years, why do you think this generation is so strong?
“It’s a great set up with great coaches there, obviously it's all top of the range, anyting they need they have it sorted but for me champions breed champions, when you train with the GB team, around the best in the world, you pick things up off each other, and you push each other a little bit harder. I think that’s why they have done so well, they have some very talanted kids there.
Its the competiton that makes you better, 3-5 people at your weight and your pushing every single day to get past them, you might not care about the rest of them but the ones at your weight you make sure you want to beat, it makes you push that bit harder.”
Tell us why people should tune in to see you fight?
“I think personally, the people that have seen me before will see a different me now, in the pro game, it will be a different version of me, it wont be all tip tap, it will be a lot more of putting the shots together so I think they will like the change. The people who haven’t seen me, I think they will be surprised, the speed I have, the foot movement and the skills that I possess.”
When is your first fight and who will be there in support?
“My first fight is at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester on 25th February, my family will be there and loads of my mates, so hopefully a good amount of people coming down, it should be fun.”
Lastly have you got a nickname?
“That’s where I need you guys to help; I will have a few fights and see what names come out. If you hear something good, you can let me know!”