Becoming the champion of Britain – boxing’s oldest and one of its most prestigious titles – changes a person. You work tirelessly to achieve your dream; finally, after months of gruelling training, you are in the history books, a victory that no one or thing can erase. A person’s response can vary. Some will mark the achievement through celebration, and let the glory and acclaim enlarge their ego. Others will be so relieved to reach that pinnacle that it marks the peak of their efforts, and they finish their career soon after, satisfied with that accomplishment. Others, perhaps the most special, see it as only the beginning. The first significant achievement of many, which adds drive and passion to their life.
The latter is the impression you get when meeting current British bantamweight champion, Ukashir ‘Kash’ Farooq.
I spoke to Farooq back in April 2018 as he was patiently waiting for his title opportunity. The soft spoken Glaswegian was due to face Josh Wale, a veteran, who had picked up an injury in training. The fight had been delayed and rescheduled numerous times, and Kash was forced to remain focused, despite the uncertainty. A skill in itself.
Wale decided to relinquish the belt, seeking European honours as his career entered its final phase. The British title was vacant, and Farooq waited for confirmation of his new opponent, posing further challenges to his concentration.
Finally, months after attending Wale’s previous fight in Blackpool, and being announced as the mandatory challenger, Farooq had a date and foe; a mouth watering clash with fellow Scot, Jamie Wilson, in Glasgow. The first all-Scots British title event for over 25 years, live in front of the BBC cameras.
We all know what happened. The fight was legitimately billed as a 50/50, but the evening was cut short, as Farooq obliterated Wilson in little over a minute, demonstrating class and power that only few had witnessed in Glasgow’s fight halls in recent years. Farooq’s defence against another Scot, Iain Butcher, varied in its style, going to championship distance, but was equally impressive, as Farooq rendered the more experienced Butcher obsolete. A master-class over 12 rounds, in which superior movement, shot variety and viscous body punches dazzled a packed Glasgow crowd and Box Nation viewers.
Farooq could be forgiven for an inflated ego. He had transformed from unknown prospect, whose name was only uttered by those close to the gyms of Scotland, to a recognised and credible champion. The parties, celebrations and extra swagger would have been earned. But that’s not his style.
We met again, this time in March 2019, and the impressive 23 year old bantamweight had changed, mentally and physically, in a positive way. There was a more commanding presence and an intense focus which you rarely encounter in daily life. Farooq took a break from training to discuss life in-and-out the ring as he prepares to defend his title against Wolverhampton’s Kyle Williams:
“It feels good to be British champion… and all my family and friends are proud of me, but a lot of pressure comes with it. I’ve put a lot of hard work and dedication into this. Over the last seven or eight months I’ve upped it a notch and sacrificed more. I haven’t really seen my friends since Christmas, all I’ve seen is the house, gym and the running track, and that’s the truth. At the weekends I don’t really do much, you can’t go out and eat too much, you need to stick to the diet, that’s the life of a champion. The title comes with responsibility, and if you want to keep it then you have to sacrifice.
I’ll be at my best. In my last fight, Butcher kept his hands high for the last five or six rounds and didn’t engage much so it’s difficult to look good. Kyle Williams is coming up here to win and so that will let me show what I’m all about. I saw Williams’ last fight and he done well. He became English champion in his home town, and he’ll want to become British champion. But I’m hungry for this.”
Williams is travelling north of the border not to make up numbers. He stands taller than Farooq with a more substantial, muscular frame. He is an experienced combatant, having won a kickboxing world title, before converting to boxing and winning belts in his new field. He overcame Thomas Essomba to claim the English title, an impressive feat in only 9 fights, and against a relentless, durable foe in Essomba who has already faced Iain Butcher and Lee McGregor, offering tough tests.
Williams is a likeable character with the right balance of respect and menace needed in this brutal sport. He pays tribute to Farooq’s achievements, but predicts a victorious trip to Glasgow. In a recent interview with By Unanimous Decision, Williams declared that “I never think about losing, I only think about winning. I’ve come through many adversities in life and in my fighting career, and I feel I’ll have that maturity over [Farooq]. It would mean the world to me to win the British title.”
These sentiments will not unsettle the determined Farooq. He has already defeated a confident, muscular former world kickboxing champion in Scott Allan. He is, slowly, becoming accustomed to the cameras, bright lights and pressure. And his relationship with trainer, Craig Dickson, is water-tight; complimenting his natural ability with experience and shrewd guidance.
Farooq is a quiet storm that wreaks havoc with little warning or forecast. His strength is unexpected, subtle but devastating. And, most endearingly, he remains one of the most genuine characters in the sport.
“My plan is to win the British title outright, but I always take one fight at a time. I have Kyle Williams in front of me and that’s who I am focusing on. This will be my third TV appearance so the camera’s don’t effect me. I prepare myself mentally and physically; before I go to sleep at night and then when I’m up for running. I prepare for everything.”
Kash Farooq v Kyle Williams is live on BBC Scotland from 10pm on Thursday 25 April.