Boxing: Gold on Nicola Adams’ mind

Great Britain's Nicola Adams knocks down China's Canacan Ren during the Women's fly 55kg final at London 2012
Great Britain's Nicola Adams knocks down China's Canacan Ren during the Women's fly 55kg final at London 2012
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Olympic champion seeks world and Rio double as she warns rest of division she has yet to reach her peak. Lee Sobot reports.

LEEDS’s global boxing sensation Nicola Adams insists she’s better than ever ahead of a bid to make yet more history at her second Olympic Games.

Nicola Adams celebrates her victory over Sandra Drabik of Poland in the women's fly boxing final at the 2015 European Games in Baku. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Nicola Adams celebrates her victory over Sandra Drabik of Poland in the women's fly boxing final at the 2015 European Games in Baku. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

Given her previous glories, it would be easy to think that Adams’s place at Rio 2016 would be guaranteed.

After all, the Leeds ace is the first woman to win an Olympic boxing title and is the reigning flyweight Games champion.

On the contrary, however, as the 33-year-old still has to qualify.

But that is quite all right with Adams, who is looking forward to proving she can still cut the mustard in the Turkey qualifiers before making more history at her second Olympics.

Former Burmantofts Amateur Boxing Club fighter Adams shot to fame at London 2012 where her defeat of world No 1 Ren Cancan in the flyweight final made her the first Olympic women’s boxing gold medallist in history.

The Yorkshire fighter has since become a household name with appearances on a multitude of TV shows including A League Of Their Own and All Star Family Fortunes.

But it is her own fortunes at Rio 2016 that are top of the boxer’s priorities ahead of her forthcoming assignment for Great Britain at the European Continental qualification event in Samsun, Turkey.

Competition began yesterday with Adams needing to reach the final in order to qualify for her second Olympics.

Should the flyweight fall short, next month’s World Championships offers a second and final chance to seal a place on the plane to South America.

But Adams is planning on needing no second invitation as the boxer aims to prove she is not just as good as she was in the build-up to London 2012 – but even better.

Taking time out of her busy schedule before flying to Turkey, Adams told the YEP: “I actually still have to qualify and go there and prove that I am worthy of a spot at the Olympics.

“But, do you know what, it actually feels pretty good because I think it kind of says a lot about your character if you are qualifying for the Games. It shows that you are still good enough and worthy enough to actually have a place to become an Olympian again.

“We’ve two chances to qualify which is more than we had last time – we just had one.

“Last time, it was the top eight at the World Championships but because there were so many people from Europe in the top eight we had to make it the top four.

“It’s a lot nicer knowing that this isn’t your only shot to qualify for the Olympics!

“But I’m not planning on needing that second time around, it’s just going to get done, no messing around.”

Although Adams hopes to head to next month’s World Championships in Kazakhstan with qualification already achieved, the event is a hugely important competition for her. That is because a world championship gold is the only medal missing from her impressive CV.

The flyweight would then make history merely by competing at Rio but Adams is quietly confident of retaining her crown, irrespective of the current world rankings.

Adams explained: “We have never had a double Olympic boxing champion before, either male or female. That’s going to be a huge incentive and I don’t think GB boxing has even had somebody even go to a second Olympics.

“I guess I will be one of the favourites being an Olympic champion but, as far as the rankings are concerned, I wasn’t able to do the World Championships last year because I had an operation so I missed out on a few ranking points. It would have been nice to have seen me higher up the board but I guess no matter what the ranking points and the rankings are, everybody knows that I am a force to be reckoned with.

“I think I am fifth in the world or something but I know last year I wasn’t even ranked at all until I was in the European Games and then I got some points back on the board.”

Expect plenty more points and prizes to follow, with Adams even sizing up the possibility of competing in her third Summer Olympics at Tokyo 2020.

Adams pondered: “I’ve been thinking maybe Tokyo, who knows, maybe I will try the professional game. At the moment, I am just trying to get through to Rio, get that challenge out of the way first! I think I’m a lot more of a rounded athlete now.

“I’ve got so much more experience now, I know what it’s like to go to an Olympic qualifying event, I know what it’s like boxing at the Olympics and I know what the pressure is like. I feel a lot more confident in myself going into an Olympics. I’m definitely a lot better boxer than I was four years ago and I think boxing is one of those sports where you get better as you get older and you get more experience.

“You are always constantly learning all of the time and it’s not like sports like swimming and athletics where you are more powerful and it’s all about how fast you go. As you get older you are not going to be as fast. But in the boxing ring you have the likes of Floyd Mayweather retiring at 37 undefeated and you just see as you get older that you progress in your career.

“I have just turned 33, and at 36 you see the boxers at their peak – Carl Froch retiring at 37 – these boxers are boxing at their peak and they have got better as they have got older.”

Adams is now ready to prove the same is true of herself, before her attentions can turn back towards two other big passions – her Pomeranian dog Bailey – and the rather burgeoning matter of her TV and acting career.

“That’s pretty much on the back burner for a little bit,” laughed Adams. “Just because I am trying to focus on the qualifiers and Rio. After that I will be able to do as much as I want. A bit of acting maybe.”

First up comes the bid to take centre stage in Rio, where Adams will be joined by brother Kurtis and not mum Dee. “My brother is going because my mum said she wants to stay and look after the dog. She will be watching from home I think! I think she is becoming quite attached to the dog now. I think I might be losing him...”

Qais Ashfaq

LEEDS boxer Qais Ashfaq has quickly set his sights on Ashley Lane’s super bantamweight Commonwealth title, believing a great amateur career will be followed by even bigger achievements as a pro’. Ashfaq bagged silver medals at both the Commonwealth Games and European Championships as an amateur, as well as a Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal and European Games bronze. The Leeds fighter who turns 25 today had ultimately hoped to have his crowning moment at the 2016 Rio Olympics but the fighter but a nightmare preparation led to an early exit in the first round. Ashfaq broke his nose two months before his date with destiny in South America and then injured his hand before his preliminary round bout with Thailand’s Chatchai Butdee. But the Leeds ace says he is now back at the peak of his powers, two weeks after his first fight and first victory since turning his attention to the professional ranks. After initially turning pro with David Haye’s Hayemaker Ringstar team last summer, Ashfaq has since moved stables and joined Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing team in the new year. Matchroom quickly handed the fighter his pro’ debut and Brett Fidoe was defeated at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester last month. The victory formed part of a memorable weekend for Ashfaq who then got engaged to his girlfriend the following day. The next boxing engagement will now present itself on April 21 with Ashfaq set to fight at Liverpool’s Echo Arena as part of the undercard for Amir Khan’s bout with Phil Lo Greco but Ashfaq already has designs on winning titles in only first year as a professional. Weighing up his achievements as an amateur against his aspirations as a pro’, Ashfaq told the YEP: “I had a great amateur career. “I got to the Olympics but with that last result at the Olympics, it was very upsetting. “But I have just got to move on, I have got to put it behind me now and show exactly how good I am and that I am the best in the pro game. “I still want to be the best. “They asked me this after the fight on TV, what are my ambitions for the pro’ game and I said it’s the same as the amateur game. “I wanted to be the best in the amateur game and I’m looking at it just the same in the pros. “The kid who has got the Commonwealth title – Ashley Lane he’s called – I’m already looking at him now and the end of this year maybe if we can and if we can get a fight with him. “But it depends on how we progress and how I do the rounds and it’s up to my coaches and management. “It depends on how fast and how quick they want to push me but I’m ready whenever they are.” Ashfaq will certainly be living life in the fast lane during 2018 with a wedding to now look forward to following his proposal in Manchester the day after his pro debut. “I was as smooth as my boxing style,” laughed Ashfaq, asked how he had proposed. “I took her to a place called Cloud 23 which is a skytop bar with a nice view. “I had a scroll with a ribbon with a nice little message on it and then she looked down and then for the first time ever I was on one knee. “I thought I had tripped at first!” Yet Ashfaq does not envisage hitting the deck in the boxing ring with the Leeds ace quite happy to discuss the possibility of taking his division’s big names and furthermore extremely confident of beating them. Ashfaq reasoned: “A Mexican kid called Rey Vargas holds the WBC belt and he is the kid that beat Gavin McDonnell. “Gavin challenged him for the title but he beat Gavin quite comfortably. “Gavin used to have all of the titles and he is on my radar and the British title is held by Tom Ward. “They are all on my radar really but I know for a fact I am more than capable of beating them all. “Gavin McDonnell is world level and I feel like I can beat him. I think I am better than them already technically, without a doubt. “But for me it’s just about getting used to the pace and the different rounds and being able to reserve energy and stuff like that rather than the three rounds when you are not in the pros, like a sprint I guess everyone calls it. “With the pro game, especially with kids like Gavin, he’s a good durable, fit all round fighter and he sets a good pace but still saves his energy. “But I’ve had my pro debut now and I will do six rounds next. “I want to get used to the higher rounds but there’s no doubt about it in my mind, I can beat all of these names.”