Kash Farooq: Full focus

The last time Kash Farooq spoke to Boxing Social he had just been watching the 2020 ‘Fight of the Year’ between Jose Zepeda and Ivan Baranchyk. Lately, he has been viewing one of the best fighters of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I was watching Orlando Canizales,” said Farooq, who is forever studying fighters from the past and present. “I watch a lot of him. I watch his brother Gaby, too. They were around my weight. I don’t like watching too many heavyweights or cruiserweights. I like watching people around my weight. I watched Michael Brodie vs Injin Chi [I] the other day. That was a cracking fight. It was nip and tuck and Injin pulled it out of the bag.”

That controversial fight, which ended in a majority draw, took place in October 2003 for the vacant WBC featherweight title. A month later, Scott Harrison, Farooq’s compatriot, was regaining his WBO 126lbs title against Manuel Medina having lost his championship four months earlier. Now, imagine what a fight between Chi and Harrison would have been like.

“I tell you what that would have been a crazy, crazy fight,” Farooq beamed. “Injin Chi, this guy wouldn’t back up for one moment. He was a crazy fighter.”

Friendly boxing chatter to one side it was back to business. Farooq, along with Lee McGregor, is looking to take on the world’s best at bantamweight. A steep task for even those who are more advanced than the Scottish pair who fought one another in a thrilling battle 15 months ago. McGregor got his hand raised in a decision that still provokes debate to this day. McGregor is now European champion while Farooq is plotting his own path under the bright lights of Sky Sports and Matchroom Boxing.

Back in November, Farooq’s Matchroom debut, the 25-year-old picked up the WBA Continental strap against Angel Aviles and this weekend hopes to land the WBC International silver strap against Alexander Espinoza. Titles everywhere you look but for Farooq he is glad to be fighting and not putting all his hard work to waste in a period of uncertainty for professional and amateur boxers.

“In the lead up to a fight you’re not just thinking about the fight you’re worried about what’s going on with the Coronavirus,” he says.

“You’ve got a lot of hurdles to just get there and once that fight is out the way they normally give you a date and Matchroom have got hundreds of shows, but you don’t know when you’re going to be out. Some fighters are lucky if they fight twice a year at the minute. Last year I boxed just once. With the situation, it was on and off, on and off. I could have easily not boxed last year with how things happened but I’m just taking it a fight at a time. As long as I keep winning, I keep progressing that’s the main objective.”

Talking to Farooq, or any fighter for that matter the subject of Covid-19 is never far away and will remain so until normality returns. It’s a subject that prompts many thoughts from the Pakistani-born fighter who moved to Scotland when he was a child.

Scottish boxing is not blessed with a conveyor belt of world-class talent which means the hotel shows and the small hall circuit are essential for the sport’s health in the country. Many fighters are missing out on opportunities and paydays even at Scottish title level. Right now, those kinds of fights don’t exist.

The fighters who are suffering, without shows in Glasgow hotels for example, are never far away from Farooq’s thoughts.

“It’s a shame for the fighters that want to do it, who have their own dreams and want to go on and win titles, but they can’t because of the Coronavirus and the lockdowns we’ve had. It’s no fault of their own, it’s no-one’s fault, it’s a shame. The hardest part for fighters is you don’t know when this is going to end. Come summer things may get back to normal.

“If you had told someone last year about where we would be now that would have drove people crazy. No-one really knows when things are going to get back to normal, especially in boxing and with the small hall shows. It might drive fighters to quit because you can’t keep training. How long can they keep this up when they don’t have anything coming up. It’s not that they don’t want to train, it’s the motivation and it’s for nothing for some of them. Not having small hall shows is destroying a good level of fighter. They’ll end up quitting. Even amateurs as well. It’s more sickening for them than it is for professionals. They’ve got a whole career ahead of them and this is not helping.”

The despondency is felt throughout the sport, but this is a cut-throat business, and all Farooq can do is make the most of opportunities presented to him. His performance against McGregor caught the eye of Eddie Hearn and a year and a bit later he finds himself on another Sky Sports show where many will be hoping to see another virtuoso performance, which had pundit Johnny Nelson comparing him to Roman Gonzalez last time.

“I’ve been watching his [Gonzalez] last few fights,” says the boxing student.

“When he came to flyweight and super-flyweight I started watching and he’s a cracking fighter. The way he lines his punches up and the way he flows… I’ve been hooked on him ever since. It’s a compliment when people say that [about me] but I’m not as good as him. Its nice people are saying good things about me. It gives you more motivation to work harder and hopefully be the best that I can in this game. It was nice of Johnny to say that.”

“He’s went up in and dismantled a lot of good fighters,” said Farooq continuing in his praise of the great Nicaraguan.

“He’s not just beat them, he’s drilled them. He’s a puncher which you don’t get a lot of at those weights. I thought Kal Yafai was going to out-box him before they fought. I went down south to spar Kal for that fight. I thought Kal was going to beat him. I thought he was going to be too big, too strong and too fresh for him. ‘Chocolatito’ proved me wrong, and it just shows how good these fighters are in South America. Guys like him go down as hall of famers.”

Farooq (14-1, 6 KOs) is nicknamed ‘Untouchable’ but there is a bit of the unexpected to him as well. The former British champion is not one for making noise about himself while disparaging others. He is a man of routine, of business and of learning. You wouldn’t like to judge the book by the cover because what you see and what you hear certainly isn’t what you get. He once spoke of having a bit of the devil in him and, when fight night comes, he feels possessed. Not that you should imagine Farooq’s head spinning 360 degrees like Linda Blair, no, it all relates to that switch fighters like to talk about. Once it’s on there is no coming out of it until the fight is over. Farooq talked us through what he meant and gave an insight into his own thinking when it is time to go and do his job.

“The switch on fight night, that’s when everything turns on. My mind is on the job, I don’t care what’s around me or who is around me I just focus on the night. Even in the changing room, I don’t have any music on in there, I try to only have my trainer in there. I don’t like people coming in and out.

“All day I visualise what I’m going to do in the ring. Once I’m in the ring, I don’t care who’s in front of me. I’m going to go in and do anything to win. I’ve been in camp and I’ve been thinking about the fight night and what I’m going to do. Up in the morning you’re running, you’re in the gym, sparring, visualising what I’m going to do on fight night. Once you’re there a switch turns on. From a few weeks to a few months you have your mind on the job. It’s like a job that needs to be completed and your mind is always on it until it’s finished. Once it’s done, the fight is out of the way and then you can relax. Then you move on to the next job.

“Right now, I’m fully focused, I don’t care what’s around me or what distractions there are. I’m waking up, going running, going to the gym then going to bed and once the job is done, I can maybe stay up late, enjoy a bit of downtime. Even on days off, my mind is on the job and I’m thinking about what I’m going to do. It’s not just on the night, it’s 24 hours-a-day. And hopefully it pays off on fight night.”

Main image: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson