Atif Shafiq aiming for titles in 2016
It happens to every ambitious young fighter.
The novelty of punching against a high held guard wears off and it becomes harder to sell tickets to friends for routine four rounders. They see gym mates picking up titles and enviously watch potential rivals being given what they perceive to be better routes to the top. The young boxer begins to yearn for the for the chance to show what they can do against an ambitious opponent. Eventually an opportunity to shine will present itself. The key is being ready and able to take it.
Rotherham-born Atif Shafiq, 16-1 (4 KO’s), kept plugging away in the Ingle Gym and patiently
waited for a chance to prove himself. Twelve months ago, Shafiq, 21, was licking his wounds after slipping up and losing an eight rounder to one Abdon Cesar. This year he can look back with pride at the way he refocused and made the most of his big moment.
“I was back in the gym on the Monday morning after the fight,” Shafiq said as he looked back on a show stealing win over local rival, Jamie Robinson, in October. “I got the chance and I proved myself. That was just a bit of what I can do. It was my first chance and I’ve got to push on now and show what I can do. Every time I do fight now, improvements are gonna keep being made and I’ll become a complete fighter.”
Tony Jeter’s swift and painful demise at the hands of Chris Eubank meant that Sky had a broadcast to fill and Shafiq and Robinson grabbed their opportunity by staging a back and forth lightweight tussle that gave fans watching from home an unexpected treat. Prince Naseem Hamed himself would have been proud of the long left uppercut that Shafiq used to floor Robinson and the punch was reminiscent of the unorthodox yet spectacular shot which has characterised the Wincobank Gym’s rise to prominence over the years. The knockdown will make it onto every Sky Sports review of the year and the exciting nature of his eight round decision victory will have boosted Shafiq’s profile more than his previous 15 fights combined.
“It was easy. It was easy!” Shafiq laughs. “Without that knockdown I think I’d have got him out of there in four or five rounds. When I hit him with that one punch, he did nothing for the next three or four rounds. Without that punch I think I’d have just bust his face up because he’d have been throwing more. It would have taken a few but I think I’d have got him by the midway point.
“If you watch the fight you can see what I was doing off the ropes. I was very relaxed and I was throwing the cleaner, cuter shots in close. People who know their boxing will appreciate the little things I was doing in the ring and the little classy movements.
“In the whole fight he had two minutes of success and - in that seventh round - I got him with a body shot even after taking all of that. My brain was still switched on enough to find that little body punch and it put him back in his place. That was him done really.”
Kell Brook’s shadow looms large over the Sheffield boxing scene and initially the Sheffield Arena was booked for the IBF welterweight champion’s title defence against Diego Chaves. A rib injury put paid to Brook’s plans but his absence gave a number of other fighters that ply their trade in and around the Steel City a chance to show their mettle and impress the hometown fans. Some of those fans are certain stick stick around and follow Shafiq’s progress. For the time being he will compete in the packed lightweight division and he sees no reason to begin treading water again. Shafiq ticked over with a third round retirement win over Santos Medrano last weekend and heads in to 2016 determined to capitalise on his recent success and push on towards the bigger domestic titles. If his form carries, the man who bills himself ‘Unique’ could excel as he rises through the ranks.
“For the next six to twelve months i’ll be a lightweight. I’m looking at British level and at British level I don’t think I’ll be big enough for the fighters at light welterweight. At lightweight I don’t think it’ll be a problem. I watched Scotty Crdle [the British lightweight champion] box a few weeks ago and I wasn’t too impressed. He’s got experience on me but I think in six to twelve months i’ll be there.
“I’m not too worried about the Central Area title anymore really. I was looking at that this year but i think I showed that I'm past that in the last fight. If it comes up, then it comes up but Im looking at the English title. As soon as Kevin Hooper won that last fight - and i was surprised Kevin won. I thought Andy Keates would beat him - I got on to my manager, John Ingle, and said to message him. Kevin’s manager said he’d had five other fighters asking the same thing! I think I’m at that level now though and i believe I’d beat him.
“I believe I’m there with that kind of fighter. I can beat them all. It’s just time and patience. Time and patience.
“We’re all in the gym at the moment. Kell is back in training now too. When Kell’s back in training there’s a real buzz around the gym. If it weren’t for Kell I wouldn’t have been shown live on Sky Sports. We have our own pecking order. Everybody knows how it is and gets on with it. Everybody wants to be at the top in the gym and we know our time will come. We’ve just got to keep pushing for it.”