Oldham Super-Featherweight prospect and Eddie Hearn's latest signing to Matchroom Boxing, Aqib Fiaz (5-0), spoke exclusively to BBN's Aqib Tahlat during lockdown.
The 20-year-old talent is part of Jamie Moore and Nigel Travis' successful stable that includes two-weight world champion Carl Frampton.
Here's what he had to say:
Your last fight was on the Scott Quigg vs Jono Carroll undercard at the Manchester Arena, how was that experience fighting on Sky Sports TV for the first time?
“Growing up, I’ve always pictured myself fighting on TV, and all of the build-up, the weigh-in, the public workouts, it was like a dream come true.”
You’re part of Jamie Moore’s gym in Manchester, around fighters like Carl Frampton, Jack Catterall and Rocky Fielding, how valuable is that experience for you?
“It’s very valuable, not even just the sparring; with Carl Frampton I was lucky enough to join his camps twice and went to Philadelphia and Vegas, so just to see how he lives his life in camp and stuff, and to see the things he does outside the gym as well. I will base my camps similar to what he does at the moment.”
You had over 70 fights as an amateur, winning several titles, at what age did you believe that you could make a career out of boxing?
“I was probably about 13 maybe 14. My brother started training me, I was at Northside Amateur Boxing Club, which is good gym as well, I had good coaches there anyway, and I was ok, I wasn’t too bad, but as soon as my brother started training me it just took it to the next level.
“My record at one time was won seven, lost five; I remember I lost about three on the bounce and my dad said to me, ‘Look, if you lose this one just forget boxing, just leave it,’ and I looked at my dad and I thought ‘Does he actually mean that?!’ It sort of made me a little bit angry, but anyway I got into that fight and didn’t stop punching for the three rounds, then I ended up winning about 20 fights on the trot, so for me that was the turning point, I was probably 14 at the time.
“I won nine area titles, the English national title, and boxed for England as a senior. I always knew that boxing is what I wanted to do – growing up, watching shows on TV, thinking I want to be one of these guys.”
Are you still at university?
“Still at uni, in my second year now, studying sports science. Very busy, some days for me get really hectic. Training in the morning with Jamie [Moore], at uni during the day, then training again at night. This pandemic has been bit of a refresh for me, sitting at home, appreciating time with family. I’m enjoying it and seeing the positive side of it.”
Are you able to train still during this lockdown?
“I was due out 18th April, I was straight back in camp, straight back to the gym after the last fight. Since we’ve been on lockdown, I’ve been ok, my brother is a pad man as well, so he does pads with me a lot. Been alright, ticking over, ready for when we get back.”
Which fighters, either in or outside your gym, do you look up to at the moment?
“In terms of people I look up to, for me, over the last year or two, I’d have to say is Carl Frampton. If you spoke to anyone, I don’t think anyone would have a bad word to say about him.”
You’ve got a very big and passionate fanbase, Eddie Hearn himself has commended it, how did you build such a large following?
“I’ve had five pro fights now and always get around the 300 mark. Last time was probably the most, but I’ve got a great fanbase. My fans, I wouldn’t even say they’re my fans because they’re all from the local community and they’re all behind me, win or lose, I think they’re just happy to see one of their own doing well.”
There seems to be an increasing amount of Pakistani boxing talent emerging, Amir Khan is obviously one of the first that springs to mind, has he been an inspiration to you?
“Growing up, I used to watch him all the time. What was he, a two-weight world champion, I think he was unified at one point wasn’t he? For me, that career has gone great although I think he’s coming towards at the back end of it now. Growing up, I used to watch him all the time, in the Olympics I was about five years old but I remember that vaguely, and when he went pro I followed his career right the way through. His last couple of fights, I was there, so it’s great to be a part of it.
“Now he’s good friends with me, if I ever need some advice I can just pick up the phone and ask him. He’s a great guy. If I can do what he’s done in his career, then I’d be more than happy.”
How did you find the transition from amateur to professional, and which of your opponents in the pros has taught you the most?
“For me, the transition wasn’t really a transition. I had a pro style all the way through the amateurs but Jamie and Nigel are great in terms of adding things to it and helping me just be a better version of me.
“For me, my fourth fight with former Southern Area champ Jamie Speight was a massive learning fight for me. It was my first six-rounder and I knew that he had fought at a high level before, so I had to be calm and composed. It's like every fight, you know what you have to do to win, but that time I knew I can’t slip up at all. So, I boxed very calm and calculated, and showed everyone that I am also a good boxer not just a pressure fighter.”
You’re still young so you have likely witnessed the ongoing problems with knife crime and kids living the wrong life on the streets – do you believe that boxing campaigns such as ‘Knives Down Gloves Up’ can really combat these challenges?
“Boxing is massive for me in terms of that. These kids outside, they barely know how to fight, got to teach them control and give them a bit of discipline.
“Boxing is the only sport in the world, Jamie [Moore] said this to me, where a tough guy comes in from outside and if the gets in the ring he’s gonna’ get beaten up if he doesn’t listen to him. So, you have to listen to your coach, so you get that discipline. They think they know it all, but got to understand that they’ve got to listen to people, and that teaches discipline.”
Of course, nothing is certain during these times at the moment, but can you say when you think you’re next fight will be?
“I’m still training every day, always have one big session at night, like always, with me and my brother. It’s hard with Ramadan, being starving and that, but it’s good for your soul is Ramadan, I think.
“Eddie Hearn’s given me the date of Dillian Whyte’s undercard on July 4, but you just don’t know. If that happens, then I’ll be ready!”