There is a scar right above Muhammad Waseem’s left eye, right under his brow, but there is a smile on his face and his eyes are a home to humility, just the things that set the World Boxing Association (WBA) number one apart from the rest of the athletes.
“I still remember sleeping with the mosquitoes at the national coaching centre, and now I’m going for the world title soon,” smiles Muhammad Waseem, as we remembered his early training days when we first met in 2010.
Call it a wonder as he stands tall with the record of being the only Pakistani holding the World Boxing Council’s silver champion flyweight title twice. He is now looking to take on the fight for unified world championship after defeating Colombia’s Rober Barrera (24 wins, 13 Kos and 4 defeats) 115-113, 115-114 and 117-111 in a unanimous decision in Dubai, which was also the WBA world title eliminator bout.
Artem Dalakian is the current WBA world champion, meanwhile Julio Cesar Martinez holds the WBC world title, and it is the world champion’s belt that Waseem is eyeing most ardently.
“It was my favourite fight really. This one and the one against Geimel Magramo,” Waseem told The Express Tribune, while sitting right next to his beautiful wife Dr Tabinda, as he had been in Karachi for the 2022 Commonwealth Games build-up event of Queen’s Baton Relay that went to different places in Karachi.
Waseem believed that it was his duty to come but mostly just so to see the children in Lyari as the relay’s last stop in the City of Lights was the sports-crazy locality.
“I just stayed. I think I couldn’t care about the stage either, but it was the children, the aspiring boxers of Lyari that held my heart. I wanted to make sure that they left satisfied, with pictures taken and hands shaken. That was my goal.”
Waseem is more than a national hero, in fact mostly an unsung hero too, if one looks closely.
The fight against Magramo back in November 2016, exactly five years ago from his last fight was also him defending his WBC silver flyweight title. He knocked out Jether Oliva that year to become the first Pakistani to hold a WBC title.
An impeccable career as a professional (12 wins, eight through knock-outs and only one defeat) that Waseem has created now is a result of an undying drive and an evidence of his strength of character. Despite hurdles, he carries on to move forward, and win too.
Coming back to the ring after the last fight that was in December 2020 against Jeny Boy Boca was not easy either.
Against Barerra, this was Waseem’s reply to his own conscience as a boxer and an athlete on the road to glory.
“Coming back after almost a year, the pandemic had not been an easy time for anyone, but also because there were challenges. We couldn’t train abroad, the travel restrictions, the visa, I even trained in Islamabad tying rocks to my feet and running because we don’t have world class facilities. However, I’m lucky to have coach Danny Vaughan, who had been a huge support and the man behind me winning my last fight especially,” said Waseem.
Barrera had been a formidable opponent for the 34-year-old, and made sure that he dominated leaving Waseem out of breath in the ninth and 10th rounds.
“In the 10th round, I was almost at the verge of giving up. I was just trying to stay on my feet and he was firing everything he got,” remembered Waseem. “But then at the end of the round, Vaughan just motivated me to a point that I had to come back into the fight as a greater boxer.”
Partly the last minute inspiration that Vaughan mentioned was Waseem being a married man now, and keeping the honour of his mane, and his family is more important than before.
“He just made a point that I needed to win to keep my pride. Also the reason why I was in the ring in the first place, my family and my new life that I began last year, was a huge inspiration behind it,” explained Waseem.
From national camp to number one
Waseem winning the WBC title back in 2015 was nothing short of a shock, as he had only turned to pro boxing from amateur and was representing Pakistan through the International Olympic Association recognized global body International Boxing Association (AIBA).
For Pakistan, Waseem has probably done more than the rest when it comes to boxing and sports to be precise. The pugilist holds Asian Games Bronze medal to Commonwealth Games silver and bronze medals (2014 and 2010, respectively) and the World Combat Games gold medal. It is no small feat given that the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) had failed to provide the boxers with international standard facilities, coaches or even nutrition.
“I still remember we all trained while being dehydrated,” said Waseem. “It was only after I got out of Pakistan and trained with coaches and trainers abroad that I realized how inhumane these conditions were.”
Waseem was forced to give up on his Olympics dream back in 2015 and leave the country for South Korea because of the unfair treatment of boxers. He felt his talent was being not only exploited but also ruined because of the unprofessional and clueless officials running the PBF.
“Boxers are not treated as humans in this country, and boxing in Pakistan is so neglected. I don’t understand what would it take for Pakistanis to take the sport seriously? Our boxers are humble, hardworking people, but mostly the deserving athletes are left behind because the fake ones, who are more on social media snatch the limelight.”
He pointed out many unrecognised boxing promoters operating in the country too, who have been responsible of boxers losing lives due to the lack of proper facilities and professional knowledge. Waseem had been trying to help the local boxers in individual capacity with help from his own promoters Probellum and MTK, but he is demanding a better future for the athletes.
“For boxers, they need to acknowledge the achievements and the potential. The government does not support anything that can make a difference in the lives of good, honest athletes and that breaks my heart,” said Waseem, who had started training in Quetta at his local gym and then went on to become the top boxer of the country.
“The conditions have only gotten worse, and we need the government to at least understand the potential that our boxers have,” he added.
The PBF even now is disrespectful and at times do not even respond to the phone calls of the legends and champions.
Sanctioning bodies need to take a stance
Globally, Waseem feels there is a need for boxing sanctioning bodies to come together and take a stronger stance against atypical boxing matches that feature Youtubers and social media stars.
“I think that needs to stop,” said Waseem when asked about what he feels about the YouTube celebrities like Logan Paul and KSI besides the exhibition matches that they had with Floyd Mayweather. “This is hurting the sport more than helping it. Boxing is a tough sport and we all train very hard and dedicate our lives to this craft. These amateurs don’t train the same way professional boxers do, they don’t spar the same way and they don’t even look at the sport in the same way.”
Waseem also revealed that for him to cut down on his natural body weight by more than 10kgs to flyweight (52kgs) is a challenge. He usually needs 10 weeks to be ready for the fight and for him the next stop is the challenge for the world title. He says he wants to look at the 2024 Olympics after that and even Commonwealth Games too, but only if PBF can show an iota of professionalism.
He added that he would like to have his title fight in Pakistan, but it is the government and the attitude of the sports bodies within the country that need to show more respect to the athletes.
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