QAIS ASHFAQ will be hoping a win over Jay Carney on Saturday at the Sheffield Arena will be the perfect springboard for an exciting 2019, in which he will catapult himself into title contention in the super-bantamweight division.
Ashfaq, an Olympian in 2016 and former Commonwealth and European silver medallist in the unpaid code, originally turned pro after the Games, but injuries and promotional issues meant he had to wait till February this year in Manchester to actually step between the ropes for his professional debut.
The 25-year-old initially signed a deal with Hayemaker Promotions, however when nothing came to fruition, they parted ways and he signed on with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Boxing. He has subsequently rattled off three victories, earning his first stoppage in September and looks to carry on that momentum on Saturday.
Ashfaq told Boxing News: “It’s been a long year, challenging at times with my first four fights and I’m looking to end it on a high. It’s taken a bit of time to adapt to the pros, as I was out for 18 months after the Olympics because I had an operation on my hand and then was sorting out my promotional deal. So it’s taken some time, but I’m starting to feel comfortable and more like myself with every fight.
“Jay Carney is a tough fight, as he’s also the weight above me. He’s had 10 fights and only lost three and he will keep coming at me. This is a good test, but the better the opponent, then the better I will be on the night. Being out for that long was so frustrating, as I’ve had to see all my old teammates go and win titles, whilst I was stuck on the sidelines. They’ve all got a year on me in the pros but it won’t be long before I catch up.
“I signed with Hayemaker but things didn’t go as planned. We shook hands and parted on good terms, but in a way I actually needed the year to adapt and get sharp again, so I didn’t jump back in too early. I feel good at super-bantamweight now, but I will end up at featherweight eventually. After that we’ll have to see what happens.”
With a win over Carney, who will not be coming to make up the numbers, Ashfaq is confident that he will be in line for titles in the very immediate future. “I haven’t really been back to Sheffield since the Olympics, but I lived here for about eight or nine years, so it is a special place for me. I want to put on show, which will put me in a good place for next year, as that’s when I want to get my name out there. I’ll put my foot on the gas and pick up a couple of titles like the other lads. If they can do it, so can I because I know I’m as good as they are, so I want to get there now and get a nice belt around my waist,” he said.
“I’d be gutted for the lads if boxing wasn’t in the Olympics in Tokyo. It’s no secret within the sport that the amateur game has always been run a certain way and something has to be done sooner rather than later. It’ll be heartbreaking if it doesn’t happen. Look at Frazer Clarke for example, who is one of my best mates, who could be denied the chance to go and win a medal because of all the politics going in the background.”
However, he has put his successful amateur days behind him and is focusing his complete attention on his pro career. He has based himself under the watchful eye of Kelvin Travers, where he also has the added bonus of training alongside former two-weight world champion Carl Frampton, who makes use of the same facilities with his trainer Jamie Moore.
With an eye on the future, Ashfaq could well find himself in the ring with his former amateur rival Michael Conlan, who fights on December 22 against Jason Cunningham in Manchester. “I’ve got my eye on those big fights in the divisions around me and the other domestic names. I’ve got the benefit of training alongside Carl Frampton, who is in the same camp as me, so I’ve got the bonus of being able to watch him and learn from him. It’s great to be around such a high profile boxer who is around the same weight as me,” Qais said.
“Michael Conlan is a featherweight as well and I’d more than happily fight him again, as he got a couple over me in the amateurs. Funnily enough he may be coming over next week for sparring as Jason Cunningham is a southpaw, so we’ll if that does happen. It’s a healthy rivalry that could maybe continue. You get better if you are in with or surrounded by good fighters and Michael certainly is that. Success breeds success and I was used to be in that environment when I was in Team GB.”