A conversation with the Falcon and his coach, Jeff Mayweather
On July 17, 2016, Pakistan’s very own Muhammad Waseem will be taking on Philippine’s Jether Oliva for the World Boxing Council (WBC) Silver Flyweight title. The belt is an interim world title of sorts and winning it will bring Waseem inches closer to a shot at the full WBC Flyweight World title.
The genius behind securing this massive opportunity for Waseem is the Korean promoter, Andy Kim of AK Promotions, who has worked tirelessly and invested a fortune in developing Waseem into a proper title contender. I managed to contact Mr Kim via email to set up a telephone interview with Waseem. He was kind enough to grant me an hour long interview.
Me: What led you to take up boxing?
Waseem: It was a matter of convenience. We had a gym close to my house and it eventually became a hobby. I also felt that I would never make it to the national team if I decided to become a cricketer. When was the last time a cricketer from Balochistan made it to the national team?
Me: How many fights did you have as an amateur boxer? It would be great if you could provide me with highlights of your amateur career.
Waseem: I had around 300 amateur fights and the highlight of my amateur career was winning the gold medal at the World Combat Games 2010 and of course the Silver medal victory at the 2014 Commonwealth games.
Waseem went into the details of many misfortunes and challenges he faced during his time as an amateur boxer. His disappointments range from funding, corruption, the lack of respect and recognition despite being a top-level athlete, the disparity in compensation between cricketers and other athletes and how people in Pakistan don’t value his achievements.
Waseem: I brought home a silver medal from the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and people there asked me, “What are the Commonwealth Games? Was it held in Islamabad?”
Me: What do you think is the future of amateur boxing in Pakistan? What steps are you planning to take in regard to this?
Waseem: (frustrated by the on-going corrupt system in Pakistan and the mistreatment of athletes) If it was up to me, I would completely cut out the field of amateur boxing and help these guys get into professional boxing straight away, even if that requires me becoming a promoter.
Me: You mean like Mexico – home to countless world champions and legends and where they turn pro as early as 15-years-old with little to no amateur experience and learn on the job?
Waseem: Right. If you look at Julio César Chávez Sr, a legend, he had little to no amateur experience and yet, he turned out to be a successful professional without having to go through extensive amateur training. A more recent example would be Sergio Martinez amongst countless others.
Me: How did you meet Mr Andy Kim?
Waseem: I met him after a training session for the Asian Games in Korea. Mr Kim approached me and introduced himself and expressed his interest in signing me. He has been very generous and has provided me with everything a professional fighter can ask for.
Me: How well do you believe you have transitioned from an amateur to a pro level? Even some Olympic medallists have failed to make it into the pro game.
Waseem: Even as an amateur, I was always told my style was fit for the professional game. Now I see this for myself, so thank God, it hasn’t been such a problem for me.
Me: Tell me about your nickname, Falcon. Is it Iqbal ka Shaheen (Iqbal’s falcon)?
Waseem: You know what, my friends and I were once contemplating a nickname for me, since it is tradition for every fighter to have one. So we thought, why not go with Falcon. So, yes it is definitely Iqbal ka Shaheen.
Me: Your opponent, Jether Oliva, has 30 fights to his name, including an upcoming challenge for a World title. He has also shared the ring with names like Zolani Tete and Ulises Solis, and while he has come up short every time, he has managed to step up to world level. That is a lot of experience as compared to your meagre three fight record; many would regard you as a green novice. In essence, boxing is fighting, but professional boxing is a business as well. As the saying goes, “right fights at the right time”. Do you and your team believe this is the right time to step your opposition up this high and so soon?
Waseem: Fighters like Vasyl Lomachenko or fighters from Cuba such as, Guillermo Rigondeaux have fought for world titles in less than 10 professional fights because of their extensive backgrounds as amateurs that involve travelling the world and seeing everything there is to it. They are prepared in terms of style, boxing in front of hostile crowds and of course dealing with adversity. My promoter was concerned about fast-tracking me but I insisted that I am ready, so prepare for the fight.
Me: Do you watch films or leave it to your coach?
Waseem: I do. It was after watching a film on Oliva, I felt I can exploit the shortcomings that I had noticed in his game, which further compelled me to push my promoter to get me this fight.
Me: So, are you training full time with Jeff Mayweather or is it only for this fight?
Waseem: Jeff is now my permanent coach.
Me: You train at Floyd Mayweather Jr’s gym and I have seen a picture of him on your Instagram. How surreal was it to finally see him in person?
Waseem: While talking to my friends back in 2012, I said I wanted to train at the Mayweather gym and now, here I am, so in my mind I always knew I will get here.
Me: What did you two talk about?
Waseem: I introduced myself; he shook my hand and asked me where I am from, my record and the weight class I compete at. Then he told the people at the gym to care of this Pakistani fighter (me) and get him whatever he needs.
Waseem then told me an interesting encounter with the Pound for Pound legend.
Waseem: This one time he was about to start an interview and I was the only guy at the gym, punching away at the bag. I stopped because it would disturb them. I was about to leave, when suddenly Floyd called me over and asked me why I was leaving. He then told me to feel free to continue training while his interview was being conducted.
Me: Román González is the World champion for WBC, regarded as the number one P4P, after Floyd Mayweather’s retirement. If you win the WBC Silver title, it will bring you inches closer to a fight with him. Have you ever seen him fight? Do you plan to lobby for a shot at the full title immediately or plan to take more learning fights?
Waseem: I have seen him fight, and while he is the best fighter in the world, I feel I can beat him because he doesn’t have much amateur experience and my extensive amateur pedigree will be my edge. In fact, I asked my promoter to get me a direct shot at Gonzalez, but he advised me to get 12 round fights under my belt. So, hopefully, I win this WBC silver belt and in 2017 we will push for our shot at Gonzalez.
Me: Winning the WBC silver belt will take you up to world level overnight. The belt will inevitably become your bargaining chip, giving you room to manoeuvre. So is it important to stay on the WBC route or will you consider fighting for the World Boxing Association (WBA), World Boxing Organisation (WBO) or International Boxing Federation (IBF) versions of the world title, if those title shots come sooner than Gonzalez?
Waseem: Yes, it doesn’t matter. I will fight any of the champions.
Me: You are the first ever Pakistani fighter to reach this far in professional boxing, I remember your reaction after the Benazir Bhutto tournament gold medal win and your disappointment over not being able to bring home gold for Pakistan after the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Besides this being a remarkable personal achievement, tell us what would it mean to you to be the first ever Pakistani to win a world title in professional boxing? Do you feel the pressure?
Waseem: It is this Pakistani pride and the feeling of bringing Pakistan a world title which keeps me driven during training sessions. I keep telling myself that I need to do this for Pakistan and be the first one to do it. So it obviously means a lot to me.
Me: What are your goals in professional boxing?
Waseem: I plan to finish my career as a four weight World champion and hopefully the P4P number one.
Before I could thank Waseem and hang up the phone, I heard a knock on the door and Waseem asked me if I would be interested in talking to his coach Jeff Mayweather, the uncle of Floyd Mayweather. I instantly pounced at the opportunity.
Jeff and I
Me: Tell me Jeff, does the difference in experience between Waseem and his opponent bother you? What are your chances?
Jeff: Great chance. Waseem’s amateur experience is the reason why I believe we are the ones with advantage here because when you have been amateur for this long, you are basically a pro. Look at Lomachenko for instance.
Me: What are your thoughts on training Waseem?
Jeff: He is one of the very few fighters on whom I didn’t have to work much on, and on top of that he is a workaholic and a quick learner. With the exception of one fighter, everyone I have put him in sparring with, he has dominated them regardless of size and these are solid professionals with experience under their belt. That one exception was someone who was able to hold their own with Waseem.
I then thanked Jeff for his time and asked him if he could pass the phone to Waseem so I could have a final word with him.
Waseem is extremely happy with his situation as a professional fighter and the respect he has earned in America. He feels the public there understands the risk of life involved in this sport and appreciates boxers for choosing such a dangerous venture.
He is extremely grateful to his promoter, Andy Kim, for investing faith and money in him. He is set on bringing his country its first ever world title and avail the opportunities he was never given as an amateur due to an incompetent and corrupt system.
After talking to Waseem, I believe the plight of boxers needs to be highlighted and a reform in the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) is long overdue.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.