IT was Ramadan that proved the main obstacle to Amir Khan’s hopes of fighting Floyd Mayweather later this year. But in a gym in Gisburn, Qasim Niaz is preparing for his next bout.
Now more than a week into the fasting period, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Niaz is preparing to box in Blackburn for the first time as a professional at King George’s Hall on September 6.
His as yet unconfirmed opponent may not be of the calibre of Mayweather, and it will only be over six rounds.
But Niaz has refused the option of taking a month off, determined to forge forward in his boxing career.
At 1am, he takes to the streets.
“It is very difficult but it’s something that I have to do otherwise I’d feel a bit guilty,” the 22-year-old said about training during Ramadan.
“Through the Ramadan period we fast from 2am until 10pm.
“At 2am we eat as much as we can so we can last the whole day.
“My training is either before 10pm or just after it, then at 1am I’ll maybe go for a run. I don’t think anything will stop me.
“Ramadan has come, we keep our fast, remember god and he remembers us. It’s an obstacle and I’ve just got to get through it and keep moving forward.”
Khan had hoped to fight Mayweather before the end of the year but the American’s plan to return to the ring in September ultimately ended those hopes.
Bolton boxer Khan said he would not be ready to fight by September because of Ramadan, a subject that has also caused some debate at the World Cup – with some players observing the fast and others opting out.
Khan is now set to fight a different opponent in November or December.
“With me doing only six rounds it is a bit different to Amir Khan,” Niaz said. “He is fighting top world class people and doing 12 rounds it just won’t be enough time to do the training and be ready for the fight, especially at this time of his career when he needs to be in 100 per cent tip top shape.
“Amir is someone I look up to. I was 13 when he was going to the Olympics and as an Asian he has put us on the map and given us that motivation to make something out of our careers.
“At my last fight his brother was boxing too, so I had a good chat with Amir. I told him I was a welterweight, the same weight as him, so we were laughing and joking, I was saying I hope I won’t be coming for him!
“Ramadan finishes at the end of July, so it gives me four good weeks of training to prepare for my fight.
“Knowing it’s in Blackburn in front of my home people makes me train even harder because I know it’s going to be a sold-out venue.
“I don’t think they have had a professional boxing event at King George’s Hall since the 1970s and so early in my career I get the chance to show my home town what I can do.”
Niaz is being joined one day week on the fast by his trainer at Stirk House, Kevin Maree.
“I said I’ll fast with him every Friday, because I believe that’s their big holy day,” Maree said.
“It gives me a very small feeling of how they feel.
“I’ve encountered this quite a bit during my training career, I trained Yassine El Maachi through Ramadan and he actually boxed then. I’ve had other boxers too, Sohail Ahmed, Haidher Riaz.
“You’ve got to assess everyone individually and can only deal with them on a week to week basis, because you don’t know how much it’s going to take out of them.
“I do say they can have that time off, it’s completely a personal choice, but Qasim is keen to keep learning.”
Niaz has won all five of his professional bouts so far, defeating Danny Shannon on points last month.
“Hopefully next summer we can look at an area title or a British Masters,” he said. “But my main aim is to win the big belts.”
“Qasim has come in and done everything I asked,” Maree said.
“He’s improved in every fight.
“He’s not happy with his last performance but I am because he was tested. He got hit by a lad who was eight pounds heavier and he got cut.
“You never want that to happen but afterwards when you’re on a learning curve I think ‘I’m glad that happened because he’s going to experience all that when it really counts further down the line and he’s got that under his belt now’.
“He’s a typical ambitious young lad, he’s fighting on September 6 and he’s already asking if we can get a title for it, or if he can do eight or 10 rounds and I have to tell him, ‘No absolutely not!’.
“We’re in no rush at all.”