After winning a gold medal at the national championship, when a teenage boy told his family members that he was going to Azerbaijan to represent Pakistan at an international contest, they simply did not believe him. Only his paternal grandfather, himself being a former international footballer, accepted it.
Today, the world knows him as Muhammad Waseem, a flyweight boxing prodigy Pakistan can surely feel proud of. After launching his amateur career at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi with a bronze medal in the light flyweight category, the Quetta-born Waseem went on to win a number of medals in several regional and international contests including a silver medal (flyweight) at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and bronze (flyweight) at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea the same year. In 2010, he had bagged gold at the inaugural World Combat Games in Beijing where this nimble pugilist downed Dagoberto Aguero of the Dominican Republic in the final. The same year, he secured a silver medal in the 51kg flyweight at the South Asian Games in Dhaka.
“After I won gold medal at the national boxing event [in 2005]only my grandfather recognized it as a significant achievement, and realized the importance of my participation in the forthcoming President Cup [in Azerbaijan],” Waseem told Dawn from Islamabad in an exclusive interview held online on Saturday.
“[In those days] I sometimes avoided training. Once without informing my coach Mohammad Tariq, I left the national camp set up in Kazakhstan for an international assignment and returned home which angered the coach. He came to my place and told my grandfather about this upon which my grandfather gave me a pep talk on the importance of national duty. This motivated me to return to the camp with our coach.
“At home, my grandfather, who had an eye of a true sportsman, and my mother were the key supporters who motivated me in boxing. While on the professional side, I would credit my trainer [Tariq] who always helped and guided me to remain motivated,” said the 35-year-old, nicknamed ‘Falcon’.
“Recently, I got married and was blessed with a son; this also became a unique motivational factor for me.”
According to Waseem, Prof Anwar Chowdhry, the chairman of the Pakistan Boxing Federation (PBF) and president of the International Boxing Association (IBA) at that time, spotted his talent and gave him significant support.
“When I got out of the ring after winning gold medal, Prof Anwar Sahab on the spot asked my coach about me and told him to send me to Karachi from where I will be sent to Azerbaijan for an international event. Despite my tender age which was only suitable for cadet category boxing, not senior, the PBF chief endorsed my participation in the Azerbaijan [event] where I did well,” the boxer said.
“Prof Anwar then included me in the national team which went to Kazakhstan for a six-month camp where we trained for long sessions.”
Waseem, who belongs to the Alizai Pashtun tribe, and speaks Pushto, Persian as well as Balochi, took up the sport after casually going to train at a boxing club.
“Football and boxing remain the most popular sports in Balochistan; while cricket has also gained ground recently,” he informed. “When I was around eight years old, I used to the historic Youth Boxing Club, one of the oldest clubs in the city that over the years has raised several world-class boxers for Pakistan. I went there to train casually at the gymnasium where seeing the seniors inspired me to embrace boxing.”