QAIS AShfaq is in exalted company as one of two boxers representing Leeds and England at the Commonwealth Games. London 2012 golden girl Nicola Adams is the other.
Yet Ashfaq hopes that by the end of the Glasgow event both are household names.
Ashfaq, 21, forms part of an 11-strong English boxing contingent that will leave for Glasgow’s Commonwealth village tomorrow. And there’s no denying the most recognisable name of that team with Adams hoping to add a Commonwealth gold to her Olympic gold in the women’s flyweight division. But among eight male boxers bidding for Glasgow glory is bantamweight star Ashfaq who is relishing his opportunity to shine on the international stage after several years of stellar progress.
To a degree, a Commonwealth challenge is nothing new to Ashfaq who won gold at the 2011 Commonwealth Youth Games. But now the reigning Senior ABA champion is ready for the main stage with Rio 2016 very much in his sights after gunning for glory in Glasgow.
Ashfaq told the YEP: “To be competing at the Commonwealth Games is amazing and all the hard work is done now. It’s a big tournament and this is a great opportunity to get my name out there. I proved at the Senior ABAs that I’m England number one and I’m happy to be going. Now I just need to go out and perform and win that gold medal. It feels amazing to be going there – someone with the background that I have – a British Pakistani. To be going to the Commonwealths is an achievement in itself and hopefully after this it will be the Olympics.”
Ashfaq can be expected to achieve much more than mere representation in Glasgow though the Leeds ace concedes he won’t be favourite given the presence of Ireland’s world number two John Michael Conlan and India’s world number three Shiva Thapa. But Ashfaq is confident of beating both with revenge on the mind as far as Thapa is concerned.
Ashfaq pondered: “I probably wouldn’t be favourite because there’s the world number two and world number three there so they would obviously be the favourites. But I’ve seen both boxers and I’m more than capable of beating them. I’ve just got to prove that to everyone. I boxed the Indian lad a few years ago and I thought I’d beaten him but I lost by a point. He’s world number three now and I know I can beat him. I’ve improved leaps and bounds since then. Obviously I am only young and I’m still developing but I know for a fact I can beat these kids now.”
Ashfaq’s first assignment will come in the preliminary round next Friday in a competition which is a straight knock-out. Opponents will be discovered following the first weigh in and Ashfaq cannot see anyone denying Leeds team-mate Adams in the women’s flyweight division.
The duo actually share the same trainer in Alwyn Belcher at Huggy’s in Bradford and Ashfaq is keen to follow Adams’ lead.
“To be competing alongside Nicola Adams is amazing and she knows a lot about winning gold medals, especially after the Olympics,” said Ashfaq.
“Now I can do the same by winning at the Commonwealth Games and winning gold.
“I see Nicola at the GB gym in Sheffield but we actually have the same coach back home as well so I see her on the weekends as well. Nicola lost at the Europeans but she is number one in the world and to be honest she should definitely win the gold medal.”
And if Ashfaq has his way Leeds could be celebrating a double boxing Commonwealth gold, though the youngster has not allowed himself to dream of any potential celebrations.
“I’ve not really thought about that,” said Ashfaq.
“I’m just thinking about winning gold on concentrating on winning that but if I do win we’ll be planning a good holiday at least!”