Qais Ashfaq: Wants To Create A Legacy
By Cameron Temple
Boxing is built on great rivalries, Ali and Frazier, Hagler and Hearns, Pacquiao and Marquez, and more recently Canelo and Golovkin.
Qais Ashfaq, 27, a super-bantamweight from Leeds, is hoping to create one of the great rivalries of the future to get the fans excited, with amateur nemesis, Michael Conlan.
In fairness, it has all the makings of a great rivalry. They’re a year apart in age. They fight in similar weight classes, with Michael being slightly heavier, plying his trade at featherweight. It’s Britain vs Ireland. They’re both heading for world level and they have already forged somewhat of a rivalry in the amateurs.
“It always irritates me a little bit that in the Commonwealth and European finals I lost to the same person, Michael Conlan.” Qais admitted, “I thought he did win the Commonwealth final, he just nicked it. In the European final, everyone in the arena thought I won it and I should’ve been European champion. I definitely want that rematch in the pros.
“I’ve been saying it since the start of my career, but Michael and I have great respect for each other and I’m not taking anything away from his achievements. It’s just something that gives me a bit more drive, whenever people list my achievements and they mention European silver medallist, I always think ‘it should’ve been a gold.’ It’s one of those things where you have to put it behind you and I’m really looking forward to getting my revenge in the pros.”
Qais first began boxing at the age of eight, due to the influence of his Uncle and cousin:
“My cousin used to box and he would come home with trophies.” Qais said, “I’d hear about his fights and my Uncle noticed straight away that I was interested. I never started boxing to actually fight. At first it helped to kill time, because otherwise I was just at home, but then eventually, it turned out I was pretty good at it.”
Qais was boxing for England by the age of twelve and he ended up spending eight years on team GB:
“It was great on team GB.” Qais revealed, “It’s a family environment and we’re all friends for life now. They show you how to work hard and you gain a work ethic that stays with fighters. Our bodies get used to the torture of training three or four times a day through the week. We probably trained harder than most pros back then, so we know what it takes to be at a peak physical level. It definitely creates a solid platform so you can be ready for the pro game.”
Qais has remained friends with many of his team mates, owing to the family environment created at team GB, as he said:
“I get to whatever shows of my old team mates that I can providing I’m not in camp and I haven’t got a fight coming up. I especially make an effort to support my mates like Fowler, Charlie and Sunny, Okolie, Buatsi, these are all very good friends. I went to Wembley stadium to watch Joshua vs Klitschko, and Joshua’s a good mate of mine as well, so he sorted me out a box for that fight. Even though the stadiums huge, so I was miles away, the atmosphere in there was unbelievable.”
Qais enjoyed a lot of success with team GB winning medals and boxing all over the world and eventually qualifying for the Rio Olympics in 2016:
“Rio was unbelievable.” Qais said, “As a country it’s one of the places you have to tick off your checklist and it’s even better when you’re involved in the buzz around the Olympics. To be able to represent team GB, being at the pinnacle of amateur boxing, was a great experience and something I learned a lot from. It was amazing, the weather, the views and something else which I won’t say because I’m married!”
Despite the excitement of making it to the Olympics, Qais was not able to perform to the best of his abilities due to injuries and he ended up losing to Chatchai-decha Butdee of Thailand in the round of 32:
“Not performing at the Olympics was the lowest moment of my career, because I believe I could’ve at least medalled. I remember being in the changing rooms before my fight and I was telling all the coaches, ‘my hand is killing me, I can’t even hit the pads.’ That got into my head a little bit, but you have to put these things behind you.
“Before I even got back from Rio, I spoke to the physios and asked them to book me in as soon as possible to get my hand sorted. Because even with those big amateur gloves I could feel it. So, I thought to myself, I’ve worn the professional gloves before and if my hand isn’t right in them, then I haven’t got a chance. I immediately got it fixed and it feels one hundred percent. Now I can throw it properly and put a bit of meat behind it.”
Qais then had a wait before he could make his pro debut, owing to injury recovery and promotional issues, saying:
“I didn’t turn pro for about a year and a half. Eight months to a year was because I had operations right after the Olympics, and it took a bit of time just to be confident throwing my hands again. Then I had promotional issues as well, which took another half year out.”
In 2018, Qais eventually made the step up into the professional ranks, a transition he believes he has made well, considering the initial doubts:
“When I first turned pro Steve Woods, the promoter whose gym I used to train at, and my coach were unsure. They didn’t know if I’d get used to the pro game, especially having been on team GB for so long. I’d got used to a certain style and they thought it would be a very hard transition. But when they talk to me now, everyone in that gym, Jamie Moore, Nigel Travis, Steve Wood, Jack Catterall, they’ve all been telling me how much I’ve improved.”
Up until recently, Qais trained out of Jamie Moore’s esteemed gym, with his main trainer being Kelvin Travis. Last weekend, Qais decided it was time for something new:
“I just needed a change. The decision was on my mind for a little while. I spoke to Kel on the weekend and we had a chat and I’m happy because we left on good terms. Coaches become like father figures and very close friends, so the last thing I wanted was to not leave on good terms, but he knows what the games about.
“It’s a great gym there with a good atmosphere and great set of lads. I wish them all the best because they are genuine people and they work very hard. So, I’ve got big news coming soon hopefully, and the coach who I’ll most likely be going with is unbelievable.”
Qais’s last fight was against a step up in opponent, Joe Ham, for the WBA continental super-bantamweight title:
“I have a bit of a habit, where after I’ve boxed, I go and sit with Eddie in the front row and I ask him for a bit of feedback on what he thinks. I did it after that fight and he said to me, ‘you’re too good for this level now, hopefully in your next two or three fights you’ll have a big fight.’ I want to get hold of those British and commonwealth titles next.”
Qais certainly believes he has the attributes in the ring to help him capture titles soon:
“From a mental side, I’ve always been quite strong. I’m usually that type to be quite relaxed when I’m in the ring, where other people might stiffen up. Everyone tells me that physically my best attribute is my footwork. I believe I’m good in other aspects as well, like timing and speed, but footwork especially.”
Unfortunately for Qais, one obstacle that talent can’t overcome is boxing politics, which may prove to be a hinderance in terms of his pursuit of the British and Commonwealth titles, an issue of which Qais is very much aware:
“The only thing is, right now at my weight, I’m with Eddie Hearn and Brad Foster, whose got the British and Commonwealth titles, is with Frank Warren, so the only trouble would be if Warren and his team make it hard for me to fight the kid.”
Although, Qais shrewdly senses a business opportunity here, as he pointed out:
“I might have to go through the British eliminator route, which I’m happy to do. But once the British Boxing Board of Control make that fight a mandatory, neither Warren or Eddie Hearn are going to want to lose that purse bid. So, in a way, that makes it good for me because I can potentially make a lot more money from that fight!”
Looking past the British and Commonwealth titles, Qais has lofty ambitions for his future in the sport:
“I want to be a world champion. Not just one title, I want to be a multi-title, multi-weight world champion. For me it’s always been about the accolades. I want to be known as one of the best fighters who’s ever done it. Money is also a huge part of it for me, because I want to be able to take care of my family and I want to be in a very financially secure situation. So, if I can build a legacy, achieve all the accolades and take care of my family, then happy days!”
“Another thing which is important to me,” Qais continued, “is when the fame does come, to be able to spread the right message rather than getting publicity for bad reasons. Most people who don’t box, don’t that most boxers are lovely lads. So, I want to spread the message that you don’t have to be a bad person to be a boxer. I want to be a role model for people around the world, especially being from a Pakistani background, as my parents were born and bred in Pakistan. I want to be a role model for people in Great Britain and in Pakistan.”
In terms of role models in his own life, Qais told of the admiration he has for the achievements of Amir Khan:
“Amir feels close to home, because he’s from the same background as me. His parents and family in Pakistan are from pretty much the same place as my family. When I was coming up in the amateurs, he helped me believe, if he could go to the Olympics and have an amazing professional career, like he did, then I can do it too. That was something that always stuck with me and motivated me.”
Being from Leeds, Qais also has great respect for Josh Warrington, as he looks to follow in his footsteps:
“I’ve known Josh since the amateur days. I actually remember Josh coming into the gym and sparring when he had just won the schoolboy title. It’s great to see someone from Leeds, who came from the same circuit as me, looking to unify his world title and that’s the stage I want to be at.”
Outside of boxing, Qais cited his dad as his greatest influence:
“My old man’s always been a big influence even though he wasn’t a boxer. He showed me the importance of hard work. My old man came to England with nothing really, and he’s worked his arse off for years just for us, his kids. He used to work in takeaways, drive taxis and other jobs. While he was doing all that he got his degree and now he’s an accountant and he’s got his own firm. So, he’s always instilled in me the importance of hard work and how far you can get from being motivated.”
Qais was scheduled to fight most recently on the 21st of March, a fight that fell through due to the coronavirus pandemic:
“It was hard after I’d done all the dieting. I was two days away from making weight and I was making it the best I’ve done it so far as a pro. I’d finished months of training and there was nothing to show for it, but everything happens for a reason and the most important thing is the world’s health.”
Fortunately, Qais has sponsors to see him through this period without boxing, although he did admit the extra income wouldn’t go amiss:
“I’ve got very good sponsors on board who help massively. It would be great to be fighting because it’s extra income. There’s no one out there who doesn’t want extra income. Even Floyd Mayweather wouldn’t shy away from making a bit more money!”
Qais is looking forward to getting back in the ring as soon as this virus has gone:
“Before the coronavirus I wanted the British and commonwealth titles next, that was my aim, if not even the European title. But, now with the coronavirus and the fact that I’ve changed coaches I think that’ll be at least two or three fights away, so I just want to keep as busy as I can. I’m always in the gym and I stay ready so I want British, European and world titles in the next few years hopefully.”