Boxing: Ashfaq’s eyeing a championship gold rush

Qais Ashfaq.

Qais Ashfaq.

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QAIS ASHFAQ has the utmost respect for former Burmantofts club-mate Nicola Adams for securing Olympic gold.

Likewise, the bantamweight is deeply impressed with fellow Leeds boxer Josh Warrington for making major progress in his professional career.

Warrington has his eyes on a world title shot – and so does Ashfaq who will turn pro’ in a year’s time. But not before bidding to emulate childhood idle Adams by snaring his own Olympic gold at Rio 2016.

It begs the question as to what matters more – an Olympic gold or a shot at a world professional boxing title?

Ashfaq finds that question difficult to answer – so thinks the best bet is to try and win both.

Ashfaq looks like being Leeds boxing’s ‘next big thing’ judged on a breakthrough 2015 in which a bronze medal at the European Games in Baku was followed by a silver in the European Amateur Championships in Samokov, Bulgaria.

Furthermore, the 22-year-old felt he was robbed of victory in the European Championships final yet Ashfaq is confident of having the last laugh.

The former Prince Henry’s Grammar School pupil now has his eyes on the World Amateur Championships in Qatar in October, yet a world amateur crown will be just for starters if Ashfaq has his way. Because, even a gold medal at next year’s Olympics in Rio is not the ultimate goal for Leeds-born Ashfaq, who aims to turn pro’ next autumn before bidding to become bantamweight champion of the world.

Relaxing at his Holt Park home which already features a glut of medals, confident Ashfaq told the YEP: “I’ll stay amateur until Rio and then I’ll turn professional. It’s always tempting to stay as an amateur but I think the ultimate aim when you first put a pair of gloves on is to win world titles as a pro’ and that’s always been my dream.

“I think the Olympics is more prestigious but the dream is always to win a world title.

“I’ve heard of many pro’s, people like De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard that have said their prized possession is always the Olympic gold medal.

“But obviously they went on to win many world titles as well. Win both – that’s the plan.”

Ashfaq can certainly talk the talk but can also walk the walk – a point proved by his breakthrough 2015. The former Burley St Matthias Primary pupil won gold at the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2011 and was narrowly denied in winning the senior version three years later when bagging a silver medal at Glasgow last year.

But the current year has taken Ashfaq to a new level with the boxer now targeting a 2015 gold at the World Amateur Championships in Qatar in October where members of his close family will be by his side.

The Leeds star lives in Holt Park with accountant dad Ashfaq, day care centre worker mum Farzana and 23-year-old sister Mariam, but has three other older siblings – 21-year-old Amad, 26-year-old Monza and 30-year-old Jawad, all of whom live in and around Leeds.

Ashfaq quipped: “They always push me a bit more and when I need an a**e-kicking they will give me one.

“But this year has been the year where I have gone in and boxed in my first two major tournaments and I’ve medalled at both. The European Games and European Championships were both my first major tournaments and apart from that I have not boxed in any major tournaments.

“I’ve proved that I am top level and I have beaten some good kids as I beat the world number three in the European Championships so I’ve proved I am at the top level. A lot of people have told me I should be European champion but it’s one of those things – it’s progress.

“When you are boxing all around the world, in a close fight, the person who has got a name always seems to get the nod. But I’m making a name for myself now – I have won those two medals and the officials and people like that are noticing me now. Hopefully I can keep pushing on. I’ve got the World Championships in Qatar and they will know me in Qatar now.

“Hopefully I’ll win the worlds there and win the Rio 2016 Olympics. The desire for a gold is huge and the worlds and an Olympic gold would be perfect, especially before I turn pro’.

“Since the Commonwealths and these tournaments I can actually see myself and feel myself improving. As long I keep improving I know for a fact there’s no stopping me now.

“I know I can win that world gold medal in Qatar and the Rio 2016 Olympics gold medal.

“I’ve been developing with GB for the last five years now – I’ve been developing perfectly and I’m at the right stage that I need to be at now. It’s all developing towards the Olympics and I think by the time the Olympics come I’ll be in perfect shape.”

There’s no certainly no shortage of confidence from a boxer who has competed for Team GB for six years and was first put on the full-time programme when aged 19.

Ashfaq was studying at Leeds Met University at the time but shelved his education in pursuit of boxing glories and now trains five times a week at the sport’s headquarters in Sheffield – alongside Adams. Ashfaq reasoned: “I am in Sheffield Monday to Thursday every week – sometimes even until Fridays but we always stay there for the duration of the camp and come home at the weekend. It’s pretty full-on and the time you do get at home you just want to sleep really! It’s a hard camp and you have no motivation to do anything else.

“I prefer being in Leeds to Sheffield be honest. I think that might be because every time I go to Sheffield you know you are going to get put through graft. You think ‘not again!’ Leeds is rest.”

Yet hard graft is reaping rich rewards for both Ashfaq and Adams who both began their careers at Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club with Ashfaq having sparred with the London 2012 queen both at Batesons ABC and Huggy’s ABC in Bradford.

Ashfaq is now confident of emulating Adams at next year’s Olympics – and will then be out to follow the lead of another rising Leeds star – Josh Warrington. The Commonwealth and European professional featherweight champion has put Leeds sport in a frenzy in uniting boxing with his huge passion for Leeds United and while Ashfaq admits he doesn’t support a football team, he will readily follow Warrington’s lead. Furthermore, Ashfaq hopes to attract the area’s Asian community – backed by the help and guidance of good friend Amir Khan.

All in all, it’s likely to be a winning combination.

“I speak to Amir every now and then,” said Ashfaq.

“I’ve got his number and he always says if I need anything to give him a call. He’s always been there for me.

“Being from Leeds it would be great to get the support of Leeds fans as well though for me it’s a bit different because I have got that Asian community behind me as well so that’s another plus.

People like Amir got a lot of Asian support as well and by the time I turn pro’ they might need someone else to support as well! If I can get them and the Leeds fans I’ll be flying won’t I?!”

Asked if he too get the Leeds United fans on board, Ashfaq laughed: “I’ve got to be honest and say I don’t particularly support a team. But being from Leeds I can play on that!”

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