IT was eight-and-a-half years ago that James DeGale and George Groves faced off in their heavily anticipated domestic grudge match. DeGale was a 10-0 British champion at the time, while fellow London super-middleweight Groves was a 12-0 Commonwealth titlist. This Saturday (November 16) at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, a bout takes place that brings to mind the DeGale-Groves clash, although without the bitter enmity between the protagonists.
Kash Farooq is a 13-0 British champion, while fellow Scottish bantamweight Lee McGregor is a 7-0 Commonwealth titlist. It is unfortunately rare for two highly regarded fighters to put their titles and unbeaten records on the line against one another at such an early stage in their careers. DeGale and Groves managed to do it, and thankfully, Farooq and McGregor will do the same on this weekend’s MTK show, live on iFL TV (UK) and ESPN+ (US).
Ever since Farooq and McGregor collected their respective belts last autumn, the pair have seemingly been on a collision course. Prior to the announcement of the contest around 10 weeks ago, boxing fans all across the UK, but especially in Scotland, had been calling for the talented twosome to collide in the ring. Even the boxers themselves had been vocal in demanding that the fight be made. It is to the credit of everyone involved that this quality matchup is actually happening.
“I always knew the fight was definitely going to happen at some point. It’s going to be huge for Scotland,” Farooq told Boxing News. “McGregor is a good fighter, but every fight I get better and better and pick up something new. Obviously I have goals, but I prefer to keep them to myself. In boxing, everybody wants the world at their feet, but it doesn’t work like that. For every millionaire, there’s 100 other boxers who train just as hard but don’t make it. I’ll just see how far I can go, how far my body and mind can take me. I’m just taking things one step at a time.”
As he has alluded to himself, Farooq’s improvement with each appearance has been plainly apparent and mightily impressive. After winning his opening six bouts over the long route, he has gone on to record inside-schedule victories in six of his last seven outings – illustrating his increasing punch power. The Pakistan-born Glaswegian holds a brace of 2017 wins over the gritty Scott Allan – one on points and one via eighth-round stoppage – while his four most recent triumphs have all come at British title level.
In September last year, the 23-year-old tore through the more seasoned Jamie Wilson in just 73 seconds to claim the vacant crown. A trio of successful defences have followed for Farooq in the past 12 months, leading to him bagging the coveted Lonsdale belt outright. The tough-as-nails Iain Butcher was widely unanimously outscored in November, ahead of the previously undefeated Kyle Williams being halted in the fifth five months later. The in-form Duane Winters lasted less than three minutes with Farooq in August before being knocked out.
A glance at McGregor’s résumé highlights his eye-catching KO statistics. Six of his seven successes have been secured early, including in his two Commonwealth title encounters. Thirteen months ago, the 22-year-old won the vacant strap with a 12th-frame knockout of Thomas Essomba, who had formerly reigned as Commonwealth king at flyweight. The Edinburgh native retained his prize in June by stopping two-time Farooq victim Allan in eight, just as Kash had done the second time around.
“Farooq is a good fighter,” McGregor commented. “I’ve travelled all over with him as an amateur. I know a lot about him and I’ve sparred plenty of rounds with him. He’s got a few good attributes but he also has weaknesses I feel I can exploit. To win the British title in just my eighth fight, two years after my professional debut, would be great. I’m going to grasp this chance with both hands.”
Although Farooq holds the advantage in terms of professional experience, the industrious McGregor has the superior amateur pedigree, having competed at the World and European Championships in 2017. Aggressive yet controlled, “Lightning” Lee displays nice variety in firing off explosive combinations, often punctuated by fierce hooks to the midsection. He can, however, be tagged at times when coming forward.
Switching his attacks upstairs and down, Farooq puts his shots together with speed and spite. His ability to make his opponents miss with intelligent head and upper-body movement has earned him the nickname “Untouchable”. Against a taller adversary in McGregor, his precise and consistently vicious left hooks to the solar plexus could well prove crucial.
Ultimately, Farooq’s invaluable capacity to hit and – for the most part – not get hit can lead him to a deserved decision victory.
The chief support sees two unbeaten 26-year-old southpaws meet in a super-welterweight 10-rounder. With the backing of his home crowd, expect Greenrigg’s 15-0 (7) Kieran Smith to get the better of Rome’s 16-0 Vincenzo Bevilacqua over the distance.
THE VERDICT: As far as domestic-level fights go, this is as good as it gets.