As the final bell rang after 12 gruelling rounds, Kash Farooq lifted his arms above his head triumphantly. Seconds later, he was lofted onto the shoulders of his trainer, Craig Dickson. He glanced over to see his rival, Lee McGregor, in a similar pose, hoisted in the air by his own cornerman.
Farooq was not perturbed; he believed his opponent was celebrating out of hope rather than belief.
The fight had been the most anticipated all-Scottish bout in many years. Farooq won the Lonsdale belt outright in just 11 months, picking up three stoppage wins in the process. McGregor halted London 2012 Olympian Thomas Essomba in just his fifth fight to claim the Commonwealth title. The two former amateur teammates had established themselves as the two best bantamweights in Britain.
The contest had lived up to its pre-fight billing. McGregor had set a ferocious pace, letting his hands go in threes and fours. Even in the later stages, the Edinburgh man kept thrusting his exhausted limbs forward. Farooq was more economical with his output, forever closing the distance, evading McGregor’s onslaught with well-timed tilts of his torso, before coming back with eye-catching counters.
Most in attendance at ringside and watching at home believed Farooq’s guile had bested McGregor’s graft. A point deduction suffered by McGregor due to excessive clinching in the 10th round appeared to remove any sliver of doubt in the outcome. However, two of the judges disagreed earning McGregor a split decision.
Ahead of the contest, the usual clichés were bandied about: ‘There will be no losers in that fight,’ ‘They can both come again,’ ‘They will both enhance their reputations’. Thankfully for Farooq, this was the case. His performance impressed Eddie Hearn, who signed Farooq up to Matchroom Sport on a promotional deal.
Despite the loss of his British title and undefeated record, Farooq believes he is now in a better position.
“I was convinced I’d done more than enough,” Farooq told Boxing Social. “I thought: ‘I’ve got it’. You saw my reaction after the fight, I was gutted. I was in shock. I think the majority thought I won. It was just the minority who had McGregor winning. It is what it is. It worked out better for me in the end, even though I got beat I got a contract with Eddie Hearn.”
The result may have not been the one Farooq (13-1, 6 KOs) expected, but he refuses to allow the scorecards to diminish the sense of enjoyment he experienced throughout the day of the fight.
The bout was staged last November at the Emirates Arena, in the east end of Glasgow, a city Farooq has lived in since he moved to Scotland, aged five, from Pakistan. The contest was broadcast live on BBC Scotland, ESPN + in America and streamed on IFL.
It was the sort of event Farooq dreamed of participating in when he first started boxing as a teenager and he harbours desires of being in that calibre of fight again soon.
“Those are the nights you live for,” Farooq said in an accent which reflects both his home and his heritage. “Going into the fight, the crowd was electric. The arena was packed out. It was brilliant. I hope I get something like that again in the near future. I loved that. These are the nights you get up for. If you have a good fanbase, you get nights like this. Me and McGregor sold the fight really well. Going in, people didn’t know what the outcome would be. McGregor was undefeated, I was undefeated. He didn’t put a step wrong in six fights and I didn’t put a step wrong in 13 fights. People had a lot of opinions and it was a 50-50 split. The fight sold itself. It turned out to be a great fight.”
Farooq was scheduled to make his debut appearance on Sky Sports on April 4, on a card headlined by Lewis Ritson against Miguel Vazquez. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the card was initially pushed back to June 27, before being rescheduled for October 17.
While the 24-year-old was eagerly anticipating returning to the ring for the first time since his loss to McGregor, he was having to adjust to the uncertainty that comes with being an undercard fighter. Having been top of the bill for his last five contests, Farooq had become accustomed to knowing who he would be facing well in advance, yet just two-and-a-half weeks away from the fight he still did not have a confirmed opponent.
“I still train hard, but you want to know who you are up against when you are going into a fight,” he said. “I’ve known who I’ve been fighting for the last few fights, you know a few months before. I’ve been in a good few decent fights. It was different this time, I had to keep myself motivated throughout camp. It was two-and-a-half weeks to go and I still didn’t have an opponent. It’s another learning curve for me. You never stop learning in this game.
“We seen [the postponement] coming a couple of weeks before it was confirmed. Things weren’t looking good in Italy, Spain started getting it, we knew it would get to Britain eventually. We saw it coming, but at the same time we were gutted.”
At present, Farooq is unsure as to when his next fight will be. Eddie Hearn is in the process of putting measures in place to stage events in the garden of Matchroom headquarters, but with Scotland still facing stricter lockdown measures than England, Farooq believes it is unlikely that he will be participating in the ‘Fight Camp’ series.
“It’s unfortunate this virus came,” he said. “It’s messed all our plans up, not just for me but for a lot of fighters. I was planning to get three fights in this year, but I’ll be lucky to get one this year now.
“I’ll need to get back in the gym first. My wee brother has been holding the pads, but I’ve not been doing anything major. It’s been Ramadan as well, so we’ve been fasting. I’ve been doing that during the day. It’s going to be a wee while [before I get back in the ring] because I need to get back in the gym first. I’m hoping we can start going to the gyms soon.”
Despite the bitter disappointment of the controversial defeat in his last fight, Farooq refuses to dwell upon it. After suffering a dubious decision, some become transfixed with correcting a perceived injustice. While Farooq would like the opportunity to face McGregor once again, if a second fight fails to materialise he is comforted by his own belief that he was victorious.
“All I can do is keep moving forward and keep winning,” he said. “I’m aiming for a rematch in the future, but I’m not chasing him. If it happens, it happens, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. My only plan is to keep winning, keep progressing in boxing and see where I can go.”