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Sahir Iqbal: Stronger Than Ever

Sahir Iqbal carried out a bit of research before his last fight.

In what was Iqbal’s only bout of 2020, the 24-year-old beat Maredudd Thomas on points to win the WBC Youth welterweight title. It was his eighth professional start to date and with it he collected a championship that puts his name alongside some of the biggest names of the modern era to have won the belt.

On the records of Canelo Alvarez and Tim Bradley, the Youth title can be seen in the ‘W’ column during the early years of their illustrious careers. They (and Danny Garcia who won the Interim version) have gone on to world championship glory carving out some mammoth paydays along the way.

“I did my research before the fight and it’s a good belt to have because of the past winners. I can reach that level. It’s what I’m capable of,” said Iqbal.

Iqbal was speaking to Boxing Social just over a week out from what was meant to be his first fight of 2021 on Friday in his hometown of Bolton. Sadly, it was announced by promoters MTK on Thursday that opponent Liam Wells had suffered an injury causing a postponement. MTK say they are hoping to get a new date as soon as possible.

But there was more to talk about than the fight against Wells for Iqbal. For starters, winning the WBC Youth title had given the Lancashire welterweight confidence and belief that he is not far away from competing for domestic honours in Britain. 

“I think it’s just getting the rounds in and the experience,” he stated knowing he can’t jump in at the deep end right away.

“I think technically I’m up there with all of them right now but it’s just about gaining experience and not rushing because I’m only 24. It’s about getting ready and when [trainer] Johnney [Roye] and the management team think I’m ready I’ll just go for it.”

How long he stays around at 147lbs will be dependant on how long it takes for the metabolism of the 6 foot 2 inches ‘Saz’ to slow down. He is conscious of the fact that welterweight won’t be his division long-term and, because of that, he doesn’t tend to focus his attention solely on its goings on but more in and around the area. Iqbal eats four or five meals a day, goes to the gym, burns it off and eats some more. It will catch up with him at some point and then extra weight will be added.

Iqbal’s life has been centred around boxing since he was nine years old. The sport caught the attention of his father who decided to take him and his two brothers to a gym to fight there rather than at home!

“My brothers were always into fighting at home,” Sahir recalled. “They’d always be sparring or watching it on TV. At first, it was wrestling for me to be honest. I was a big WWF fan and of ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin. We couldn’t get into wrestling, but our dad thought he’d take us to a boxing gym and so my brothers started first initially. I started getting used to it and it started becoming fun for me. I started meeting new people there and enjoying it a lot and, since I was nine, I’ve been going to the gym every day.”

A decorated amateur career would follow that included a period of being unbeaten for six years in England. Five National titles, five GB titles, a European silver medal and ‘Best boxer’ in the Haringey Cup were won during his time in a vest. Iqbal had dreams of the Olympics but an injury when he was 17 scuppered his chances of representing Team GB.

“I think I was one title away from getting into the Youth Olympics, but I suffered a back injury. It was a herniated disc in my spine,” he recalled.

“I thought it was just a bit of muscle pain. For a year, I was getting physio, resting and doing what I could. Long story short, I had to get an operation after a year and then it was the rehab. I was getting contacted by GB because there were trials so I had to say to them, ‘I can’t come down, I can’t run, and I can hardly walk’. Got the operation done and it was a bit too late for the Olympics because I thought it’s going to take a year for rehab, and it would be better to turn over [professionally]. That’s how it went. Thankfully, so far, there’s been no problems with my back and it’s stronger than ever.

“As an amateur the main goal is the Olympics and that’s what you strive for, especially after having not lost for six years in England. I always thought I’m sure I’m going to get there and then I was just one title away. It was kind of crushing, but it was humbling as well because you know God can take it away from you just like that. It was one of them things. We believe everything happens for a reason. Maybe this was something to make me stronger.”

Iqbal caught the eye of the late Oliver Harrison, who would become the youngster’s trainer and manager. Occasionally, after gym hours, Iqbal would be told to come down and get some training in alongside Oliver’s son. 

“He really believed in me and wanted me to do good and we worked a lot together,” said Iqbal. 

“When he got ill, I was still in contact with him, just talking, asking him how he is and stuff. When I heard about his passing it was shocking and at the same time you’re lost because you don’t know what you’re doing next because Oliver was my manager at the time. So, everything was up in the air. I didn’t know what to do. I was sad. It was a bad time to go through. Luckily, I spoke to Johnny about it and kinda worked it out, and he sorted it out for me, but it was a bad time.”

Training with Roye has worked out terrifically for Iqbal. Roye trains in a similar fashion to Harrison which swiftly settled Iqbal who was reluctant to relocate far away to new surroundings.

His back injury and the death of his trainer tested the character of Iqbal, but it has been a resolute trait that has grown stronger over the years. Setbacks are just a set-up for a comeback as they say. 

“For two years, I saw what my life was like without boxing and I just couldn’t wait to get back in there,” he said, referencing his time out injured. “It definitely made me hungrier, and it definitely built character in me. Something like that happens and a person can go down into a depressive state and not care about other stuff. You get other people who believe they’re going to get through this and get better next time and I feel like that’s what happened with me.”

And if Iqbal ever needed some inspiration, he only has to look at another son of Bolton Amir Khan, who was also once trained by Harrison. The Olympic silver medallist became loved by a nation in his teenage years and went on to become a world champion. Iqbal has had the pleasure of training in Khan’s amateur gym and alongside him. Starstruck to begin with, it soon became normal through seeing the star so often. 

“I think if you ask any British-Pakistani boxer in the 2000s who was their inspiration when they were starting off and they’ll all say Amir Khan. It encourages you and shows that if one of us can do it, then you can do it as well.”

Main image: MTK Global.