This is the story of a wild, 14-year-old kid, who would often be found engaged in physical fights on the streets of Quetta. When it became too much of a thing with him, and he refused to listen to the admonishments of elders and his family, as a last option, they decided to push him into something he was so clearly showing an aptitude for. They encouraged him to join a proper boxing club.
And that’s how Syed Asif Ali Shah Hazara first stepped into the boxing ring in 2007.
Asif’s father is not a rich man. He was once a cobbler. “I stitched and repaired worn out shoes the entire day and still I was unable to make ends meet,” the father Syed Nazir Hussain Hazara tells Eos. “Perhaps it was also my circumstances that were making my son angry and disillusioned.”
It was his family’s growing needs that made Nazir look for other work but, not being literate, he could only find work as a night watchman in Quetta. Still, it was better than working as a cobbler. “Suddenly, I was earning around 26,000 rupees a month and things somewhat improved,” he says.
A shining star of Pakistan, Syed Asif Ali Shah Hazara rose from a very humble background to become Asian champion through sheer determination. He now needs the support of his country for his attempt at Olympic glory
Things also improved for the young Asif when he met his coach, veteran boxer Haji Habibullah Jafri. The coach could see something in the boy that the boy couldn’t then see himself. “Asif was one of my most brilliant students. He was hardworking and passionate about boxing. He was also very respectful to his teachers,” he says.
Jafri used to talk to Asif. He used to tell him about the boxers before him who earned laurels for the country. He told him about Hussain Shah, Pakistan’s only boxer who won a bronze medal in middleweight in the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Hussain Shah hailed from Lyari. For years, he also used to wander the streets of Lyari, but he is settled in Japan now.
Jafri also told Asif about the light-middleweight boxers Syed Abrar Hussain and Asghar Ali Changezi, who also represented Pakistan in 1992 in the summer Olympics but who unfortunately could not win any medals for Pakistan.
Asif liked listening to the stories of other boxers. He could relate to Hussain Shah, who he thought was as poor as him, but his success inspired him. Still his all-time favourite boxer was the former heavyweight world champion Cassius Clay, who had embraced Islam to become Mohammed Ali.
“I worked very hard on Asif,” says the aging coach. “I trained him. I took him to Iran. To Mashhad, Zahedan, etc., where he fought with Iranian boxers. Doing so I took care of all his travel and stay expenses and fixed fights with Iranian boxers for him. There are very good boxers in Iran and I still take him there for training purposes twice a year.”
The constant guidance and exposure was doing the young boxer a lot of good, both on the physical and psychological fronts. The anger he used to feel earlier, he would now take to the ring. He also started dreaming about his own future. Today, he dreams of participating in the next Olympics.
“And why not? Asif is a young, energetic and talented boxer with the potential and hunger to participate in the Olympics,” says his coach who is himself 73 years old now. “The federal government and the Pakistan Sports Board must support this young and talented boxer so that he can fulfill his dreams,” he adds.
At 28 today, Asif is the pride of the Hazara community and a shining star of Pakistan. Just last week, he took the World Boxing Association (WBA) South Asia Super Flyweight title in Gilgit’s first-ever professional boxing festival, featuring 20 boxers from 10 countries.
Earlier, in March, he took gold and the title of Asian Champion in the Asian Boxing Federation Flyweight Championship held in Dubai, by knocking out Indonesia’s Asyer Aluman.
Success and victories started following Asif not long after his joining a boxing club. “My father wanted me to study hard and make something of myself in life but, when that didn’t go according to plan, I turned my attention to boxing,” Asif tells Eos. He even did his graduation in physical education from Sindh University, Jamshoro.
“I was good at boxing. Soon after joining a boxing club, my first competition happened to be the All- Quetta Inter-School Boxing Championship in 2007. I won the gold medal there,” says Asif, who adds that, later, he also featured in the All Balochistan Boxing Championship, and became Balochistan Champion in 2008.
“I also won the bronze medal in the All Pakistan Youth and Junior Boxing Championship by representing Balochistan in 2008,” he says.
Representing Balochistan, he has won dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals in various editions of the National Games and the Inter-Provincial Games. He also has the title for the ‘Best Boxer’ of Balochistan and Pakistan.
“I belong to a poor family with limited resources and thus I still struggle in my field,” he says, adding that there is a lack of facilities in the local boxing clubs where he goes for practice.
“Pakistan has huge potential in boxing but the lack of facilities here holds us back. The government can do a lot here but it doesn’t, unfortunately,” he says.
Asif first stepped into the international ring in 2010 when he participated in the AIBA Youth World Boxing Championship held in Baku, Azerbaijan. In 2014, he won silver in the 4th Asian Championship Boxing Tournament held in Taiwan. The same year he also took gold in the Pak-Afghan Friendship Combat Games held in Peshawar. In 2015, he participated in the 11th International Boxing Championship for Peace and Friendship in Iran, where he again took gold.
In 2016, he won a silver medal for Pakistan in the 12th South Asian Games’ boxing event held in India. In 2017, he won a bronze medal for Pakistan in the Asian Boxing Confederation’s championship held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. He also participated in the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games held in Baku, Azerbaijan the same year and won a bronze medal. In 2018, he was at the 18th Asian Games held in Jakarta Palembang, too. Also, there were the Commonwealth Games held in Australia, where he bagged fifth position.
The following year, he got a silver medal in the 13th South Asian Games held in Nepal. In 2020, he also represented Pakistan in the Asian Ocean Qualification Event held in Jordan in Oman.
With so many accomplishments under his belt, Asif says that he feels proud to be winning laurels for his country. “Boxing is my first and only love and I am glad to be representing Pakistan at the international level in various major boxing events,” he says.
“Now it is my desire to participate in the Olympics. I dream of winning the boxing title in my weight for Pakistan there,” he says.
“Right now I am training for the Olympics. I am training very hard day and night by utilising whatever few resources I have,” Asif says.
“The boxers in other countries have access to the best clubs and coaching. I wish that our government could also provide us with good coaches from abroad,” he says.
“But I get no support or encouragement from the government. My only support comes from my family and my coach Jafri Sahab,” he says.
Asif’s father also says that he is very proud of Asif. “Asif is not just my son, he is also a son of this soil. He is our star. He is the Asian champion and he got here on his own steam. But while he is raising the bar for himself, it is evident he is facing challenges in his training due to serious financial issues.
“I request the government to support my son in his preparation for the Olympics,” his father urges.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi.
He tweets @Zafar_Khan5
Published in Dawn, EOS, June 19th, 2022