KARACHI: "What will I do now, all my efforts are in a way wasted, aren't they?” Pakistan's first-ever boxer to win the World Boxing Council (WBC) title, Muhammad Waseem, asked as he was stripped from his silver flyweight title this week along with losing his top rating and falling to the fourth place.
Waseem's has been an impressive story as he only switched to professional boxing in 2015 and won the silver flyweight title in just his fourth fight in 2016 after defeating Philippines' Geimel Magramo.
He then successfully defended it in November the same year against Jether Oliva. And so far, in all his eight fights, he has had six knock-outs to his name.
However, things are not looking good for him anymore as his options are limited with no substantial sponsors to step up for him from Pakistan and that alone has been an alarming sign not just for Waseem, but also for his promoter Andy Kim.
Kim had expected better reception by the Pakistanis after Waseem, also known as the Falcon, successfully defended his title.
"It's been a tiring journey and now to lose something that I put so much effort, my blood and sweat for is just breaking my heart," Waseem told The Express Tribune. "It's not easy. I thought things will change, the perceptions of Pakistanis will change and somehow I'll be able to put boxing on the map for Pakistan. I'm embarrassed to even ask for sponsorships now. It has left me with nothing but bitterness really. What is the point I feel."
Waseem began boxing when he was only eight and then decided to go for professional boxing after he had been repeatedly wronged by the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF), who gave away his spot in the flyweight category to British boxer Amir Khan's brother Haroon in the 2010 Commonwealth Games despite Waseem being the top pugilist in the category.
"I had left PBF and amateur boxing because I had experience discrimination first hand. Money talks here. Amir paid PBF to let his brother compete in my category and that is not the only instance, there had been many. Going to South Korea, getting Kim as my promoter was the best thing and I really thought that the title win would change things for us, for me, but nothing ever worked. Everyone just calls me, takes pictures and all the people who asked about sponsorship never got back to me," said Waseem.
Pakistan government did announce a grant for Waseem in 2016, but he believes, without corporate sponsorships, he can’t do much.
"I can't complain to the government, but yes, people and corporate sponsors still don't see money in boxing, and I'm surprised why. I am surprised at how they come forward for Amir Khan, when he is not even a Pakistani," said Waseem.
On the other hand, Kim said that he is surprised that Waseem is still in the WBC ratings and now the best shot will be to go for the eliminator fight for the World title.
“It’s too bad, but at the same time, I think it’s good because Pakistani people thought he will stay in that number one spot forever. It's not like that and there are too many fighters wanting that spot," said Kim. "We need some support to host at least a final eliminator fight before he completely moves out of rankings.”
Kim said that he did see some sponsors coming his way but they later turned out to be scams while he is trying to figure a way out by getting help from the Pakistani embassy in Korea.
"I'm hopeful and I've also talked to the WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman. He has been very impressed with Waseem because of his amateur career but he can't stay at the top without fights, and we need support and sponsors for that,” said Kim.
“Waseem won't be able to make a comeback if he is pushed out of the ratings. I've asked the boxers from the top 15 ratings. I can still host an eliminator bout in Korea but the Japanese champion Daigo Higa is trying to dodge Waseem and we'd have to go to Japan to fight the title bout. Winning that would be difficult, but it is Waseem's last shot," Kim explained.
Kim continued by saying that if he gets the sponsorships still, they can get Higa out of Japan and Waseem can become the world champion again, however, they don’t have much time.