Boxer Muhammad Waseem, nicknamed ‘Falcon’, is a fighter. Having won several medals in local and international competitions, he has done more to promote the cause of boxing in a country obsessed with cricket. Eos sat down with him after his return from Dubai following his 10th win in pro-boxing against former World Boxing Council champion Ganigan López. The following are excerpts from the interview:
Q. Where did you get your initial training?
A. I used to go to a gym located at the main road near my school in Quetta. It’s still there and has been there for more than 50 years. As kids going back home from school, me and my friends would see people training there. Later in 1997, I started boxing at a small academy in Quetta called the Youth Boxing Club. I was seven or eight years old then.
Q. What motivated you to take up boxing seriously?
A. As you know, the major chunk of the population of Quetta comprises Pakhtuns and Baloch. As kids, we would often get involved in street fights with each other. Sometimes, the fights would turn ugly and we would use knives against each other. So, to answer your question, the basic motivation behind taking up boxing was self-defence. Me and my friends wanted to learn boxing so we could give other kids a tough time.
Muhammad Waseem’s recent victory against Mexico’s Ganigan López in the UAE, his 10th in his pro-boxing career, has reiterated the fact that he is Pakistan’s top pugilist
Q. You must have given sleepless nights to your family as a kid. Didn’t you?
A. Yes [chuckles]. My family would often worry about me hurting someone seriously because of my aggression. I was the most aggressive among all of us six brothers.
Q. Back then, were there any opportunities for boxing in Quetta?
A. There were not a lot of opportunities when I took up boxing. Not like there are many now. Most of the people from Sindh and Punjab are still unaware of Quetta’s existence. I saw a documentary where the anchor was asking the people from other provinces about Quetta. To my surprise, many didn’t know that Quetta was a city in Pakistan.
Q. Talk us through your struggles.
A. To be honest, I have had it pretty rough to get to where I am today. I have had to face a lot of struggles just because of the fact that Quetta didn’t offer any opportunities. In fact, I recently visited the gym where I got my initial training. You’d be surprised to know that it still uses the same punching bag that was used back in the 1980s. Nothing has changed there.
I am one of the best fighters in my weight division and I was the top-ranked boxer for three straight years from 2016-2018 as per the World Boxing Council rankings. I am still among the top 10 boxers of the world, but whenever I go back and visit my old gym, I get flashbacks of my training, hard work and struggles. We didn’t even have proper gear for boxing.
Q. How did you make it from there?
A. You know, they say that if you have the talent you will shine among the rest. I worked hard and got selected in the national team in 2004. I was appointed captain of the national boxing team back in 2007. I moved to Karachi, stepped into the international boxing scene and have fought many international fights since then.
Q. How did you get the nickname of ‘Falcon’?
A. I was given the nickname by my friends in pro-boxing because of my speed and the fact that a falcon always attacks its prey with a 95-100 per cent success rate. But, my nickname in amateur boxing was ‘Chinaman’. There is a story behind it. There is a picture of me in which I look like a Chinese kid. It prompted my family to call me ‘China’. So, when the authorities at amateur boxing asked me my name, I told them that it was China. But they changed it to ‘Chinaman’.
Q. What do you have to say about the role sports bodies have played in your progress? Do you think that with a little more assistance from them, you could have achieved more?
A. I do not want to criticise anyone because it would be unfair to say that they didn’t do anything for me. When I was a part of the International Boxing Association, I won one bronze and one silver medal at the Commonwealth Games. I won a bronze medal in a close fight against the Olympic champion of Uzbekistan at the Asian Games.
Q. Do you have any goals with regards to your score-line?
A. I have fought very difficult fights in my career so far. Your ranking will only go up if you beat boxers with good rankings. There’s no point in having a score line of 20-0 if your fights aren’t difficult and your ranking doesn’t improve. I am a four-star boxer now after beating Mexico’s Ganigan López and a four-star boxer is usually a world champion.
Q. What do you plan to do next and when will you have your next fight?
A. I will go to Spain for a two-week training camp followed by a visit to Scotland. Since I recently had a fight, my management will decide when I will have my next fight.
Q. Do you have any plans of representing Pakistan at the Olympics in the future?
A. I have said it before as well that I am representing Pakistan in pro-boxing. I have no plans as of now to feature in the Olympics as an amateur but I will discuss with my management before making any such decision in the future.
Q. You came really close to winning the title the last time. Any plans of contesting for the International Boxing Federation flyweight championship again?
A. If you look at that fight and the comments people made, you’ll realise that I had won the championship against South African Moruti Mthalane. I was on my own then. I didn’t have a managing company. Since I was fighting against the organisers’ own man, it went against me. We are pressing Mthalane for a challenge again, but he doesn’t want to fight me.
The interviewer is a member of staff
He tweets @HumayounAK
Published in Dawn, EOS, December 8th, 2019