The boxing world’s attention was on Japan last week as we witnessed Naoya Inoue crowned the best bantamweight in the world. And the division will receive the spotlight once again this weekend as we head to the Emirates arena in Glasgow to clarify the best 118lb fighter in Britain for the all-Scottish headline fight between British champion from Glasgow, Kash Farooq, and Commonwealth champion from Edinburgh, Lee McGregor. Although in recent times the Scottish boxing scene has been thriving with Ricky Burns and Josh Taylor operating at world level, you have to go back over a decade to find a domestic dust up of this magnitude. Bouts between Alex Arthur and Ricky Burns or Craig Docherty, or going even further to Ken Buchanan vs Jim Watt, had many similarities to this fight – with the same prizes on the line and the storyline of battles between the East and West of Scotland. In all of the mentioned bouts it was Edinburgh boxers that walked away victorious.

“LET’S GIVE THE PUBLIC WHAT THEY WANT!” The two agreed as they were brought together by the BBC presenters after Kash’s first round stoppage of Duane Winter, to win his illustrious British Lonsdale title outright. Despite Kash making history with his demolition job in the ring minutes before, it was Lee who seemed more animated and excited at the prospect of the two facing each other, leading the twitter body language experts to suggest Kash didn’t want the fight.  I, too, must admit I didn’t think the fight would happen next as I thought Farooq’s Manager, Iain Wilson, might take advantage of his man’s high European ranking to lure EBU Champion to the Radisson Hotel and let the domestic fight get bigger. But on September 6 we were happily proved wrong and the public got what they wanted as MTK Global announced the fight was on and the buzz surrounding the fight was evident, with a ‘sold out’ announcement following soon after. If anything they might have underestimated the excitement of the Scottish boxing fans and could have aimed for a bigger venue.

Despite being less than a year apart in age and being part of Team Scotland at the same time in the amateurs, and left that part of their career with similar records, the two have never faced off in the ring competitively. The only time sharing the ring was in August 2017, as Lee prepared for the World Amateur Championships and Kash worked towards his British title eliminator and rematch against Scott Allan, with the two meeting for 60 rounds of sparring. With the Edinburgh man opting to turn professional soon after, and the possibility the pair could meet again in the future, the idea of recurrence of shared preparation was discounted. In respect of the unwritten code of boxing gyms, all parties have remained tight-lipped on the sparring stories from that time but no doubt they have taken some lessons from it.

Out of the two undefeated champions, it is Kash who walks into this fight the more experienced professional with nearly double the fights of Lee, amassing a record of 13 wins and six KO’s, whilst the ‘less-experienced’ Lee only has seven wins but equals Farooq’s six stoppage wins. However it is worth noting, that all six stoppages by the Glasgow bantamweight have come in his last seven bouts, the stats standing testament to the eye-catching improvement from Kash. He may have started his career under the radar, learning his trade and picking up points wins but when his big opportunity for the British title presented itself, he wasted no time in making a statement, taking just 73 seconds to dispatch of Jamie Wilson. His first defence of the Lonsdale belt was against the experience Iain Butcher, the only man to take him to points in the last seven fights and even then would be lucky to win a round

Under the tutelage of Craig Dickson, Kash’s style has continued to flourish, with his incredible upper body movement, slipping, feinting and explosive power continuing to draw attention – with the BBC Scotland team becoming regular residents in the Radisson Hotel. Although, they needn’t book a room as Kash’s following two defences resulted in brutal early night finishes. Despite the dramatic turn in his results, he remains the quiet humble gentleman outside the ring but as soon as the opening bell goes on Saturday, he will no doubt look to continue that vicious momentum.

McGregor, on the other hand, walked straight on to the big stage. His professional contract with Cyclone Promotions meant a debut on the undercard of stablemate and superstar-in-the-making, Josh Taylor, live on Channel 5. Having racked up four consecutive stoppages and already placed the IBF Youth title on one shoulder, the opportunity and expectation continued into his fifth fight where the Edinburgh lad found himself as the headline bout in the famous York Hall, with an opportunity to grab another belt, this time the Commonwealth bantamweight title against Thomas Essomba. Lee walked away, not only with the prized belt but also a bundle of experience as he proved he could tough it out against the game Essomba and pick up another stoppage, in the final round. Thomas Essomba, shares similar stature to Kash, dragged McGregor into some gruelling exchanges on the inside, which the victor ultimately got the better of with whipping body shots and punishing uppercuts, some success he’ll be hoping to re-create this Saturday.

A boxer that knows both very well is McGregor’s last opponent, Scott Allan, who had also previously faced Farooq twice. In an interview with Craig Cameron for Gloves Red, Scott declared:

‘Kash wins all day long, too sharp and too strong. Lee’s record states he can punch, but he canny! He didn’t hit me with anything that hurt me. Kash has hurt me more with 16oz gloves, than Lee did in the ring with 8oz gloves. Kash is accurate and sharper. At times my movement troubled Lee and I’m no a mover! Kash is! He’s there, bobbing his heed, slipping, ducking and weaving. He is right there but not to be hit. He’s the trickiest customer I’ve ever been in with!’

Some reading this will likely discount the Motherwell boxer’s comments as biased taunts, to follow on from their previous war of words on the build-up to the Commonwealth bout between the two. However, the points are valid; Scott did have some success in fight, particularly getting past the champion’s longer reach and working in close – an area of strength for the current British champion.

But again despite his success, Lee never looked like losing the fight and eventually stopped his man in the 8th round and steering further calls for the domestic clash with Kash.

The build-up to the Lee McGregor and Scott Allan fight was filled with insults and back-and-forths that made for great viewing and sharing on social media, which couldn’t be any more of a contrast to this fight. In a fight that needs no trash talk, both men have been respectful of each other’s talent and careers. A mutual respect of two men who both who want to risk it all to prove they’re the best in the country, when they could have easily went other routes. Saturday brings a world of opportunity for both. For Lee, the chance to keep promises to his family, steal Kash’s spotlight and cement himself as a poster-boy for MTK Scotland. For Kash, to continue his incredible momentum, to remove any doubt that he is the best bantamweight in Britain, before moving onto European and world honours.

For the loser, and hopefully there is no loser, other than a blemish on the record, both men shall be commended. A quick look at the history books will confirm the loss is not the be all and end all, Whilst Jim Watt may have come up short against his rival Ken Buchanan – he still went on to become world champion. Alex Arthur may hold the win over Scottish rival Ricky Burns, but it didn’t stop Burns from going on to become a three-weight world champion and one of Britain’s most popular boxers. So will Kash Farooq be able to finally break the trend and provide his city bragging rights in this Battle of Scotland? Or will Lee follow his predecessor’s success?

Tune into BBC Scotland this Saturday from 10pm, with the full undercard also available on IFL TV’s Youtube Channel. Although the event is ‘sold out’, there has been some returns from boxers and you might be able to acquire a ticket. St Andrews Sporting Club had very limited availability- if you contact them, you might get lucky!

Article by Allen Payne