Arfan Iqbal - A Major Threat
“I’ve sparred Tyson Fury for eight rounds with the bigger gloves and head guards on but it doesn’t mean anything.  It would be a different situation with 10 ounce gloves, he’d hurt me much more.  If Lawrence Okolie thinks sparring Joshua means he can beat me then it doesn’t work that way and I don’t think he understands.  It’s early in his career and he doesn’t get that yet.”
Arfan ‘The Major’ Iqbal is a dangerous and confident man.  Only 11 fights into his career and he wears the English cruiserweight title with pride.  In winning the title back in July he ended the fight in the 4th round, heavy blows landing on Wadi Camacho that forced the referee to intervene.  Now though, he is already looking across the cruiserweight landscape to find his next victim.  He hasn’t had to look too hard, as former Team GB Olympian Lawrence Okolie has made his intentions clear that fighting Derby’s Iqbal is high on his agenda.
“Well we offered to Isaac Chamberlain but he wouldn’t take it.  Perhaps he would if it was for the British and the money is right.  He’s a good fighter though, same with Okolie.  They’re not easy fight.  I just think with my ability Chamberlain wouldn’t hack the power.  Camacho was hitting him all through their fight with backhands and uppercuts – he may not have been hurting him but he was catching him.  If Wadi could do that then I definitely will, and I come in with bad intentions.  Same with Okolie.  If Okolie thinks that he would beat me because of the people he spars in GB camp like Joshua, he’s wrong.”
Okolie was vocal on Twitter, saying he would like to step in a ring with Iqbal, despite just being a handful of fights into his career.  But when Iqbal’s team made the phone call, it was a frosty reception.  “When Okolie said my name my team rang Eddie Hearn immediately and said we would take the fight next but they said it was too early for him, maybe a few fights time” says Iqbal.  “I believe Lawrence wants the fight, he’s not scared, but his management and team want him to have a few fights first.”
When Iqbal reflects on the night in July when he defeated the experience Wadi Camacho to win the English title, he speaks with a confidence that he knows he belongs at a higher level.  “I knew what was coming that night.  I’m not shocked if I’m honest” he tells me.    “I’d been hurting six foot five heavyweights with head guards on and big gloves so I was thinking that as soon as I put 10 ounce gloves on I would take him out of there.  People know what I have been doing in the gym.  I have been training with Tyson Fury for years and people hear about the work that goes on.  I’ve sparred Froch, Groves, Cleverly and more and held my own.”
Quite often the risk of taking a fighter to championship level so early in their career is that you can’t reverse them out, they can only stay there or move beyond.  For some fighters, that is too big of an ask, but you sense with Iqbal that he is capable of moving on again, and swiftly.  His ambitions don’t stop with the belt he currently holds, but finding the right opponent is getting more difficult.
“Obviously I’m delighted to win the English title in my 12th fight.  The English title puts you in line for the British, Commonwealth title of even more.  It’s your ticket.  I’ve been struggling to get these guys.  I wanted a British title fight after nine fights but I had to go through eliminators and have the English.  I have that platform now, so I can move on, go to bigger and better things.  Simon Vallily has been calling me out too.  We’re in talks with him now.  If the money is right then we’ll take that.  Steve (Goodwin, Manager) has been working about three weeks solid trying to find me an opponent for the English title but people keep turning it down.  Even fighters who are 11-0, 12-0; they don’t want to take it.  I think Steve’s still working on a few things but if not then we will just take a normal fight in September.  I’ll definitely be out in September, maybe even two fights.”
It will be important to carry on the momentum from taking out a name like Camacho.  As Iqbal recognises, he is now entering the phase of his career where he can start to apply not only the things he has learned, but the physical changes in his conditioning.
“At cruiserweight now, I’ve hit my peak and got my man strength at 26” Iqbal tells me.  “I’m a lot more powerful and feel like I can hurt heavyweights easily.  I’m not being boastful but I think I’m the hardest hitting, most explosive cruiserweight around, as well as not being easy to hit.  Wadi didn’t hit me once properly, he hit me with about 4 jabs.  He was thinking that at six foot three, he could just pick me off.  It’s not as easy as that.  There are six foot five heavyweights who haven’t been able to hit me as well.  People think as I’m small and short I’m easy to hit but that’s not the case, I’m slipping and coming inside and when I come in, I’m coming in and letting them go.”
That ability to slip and throw is being overseen by experience trainer and former heavyweight boxer Clifton Mitchell.  “Clifton has been my Trainer since the start” says Iqbal.  “I left him for a couple of years, just trying to find someone that would push me on a bit.  But I went elsewhere and was getting hit a lot in sparring and it just wasn’t working.  I went back to Clifton because he knows me top to bottom, knows what to do with me.  It’s been the best decision for my career.  We never left on bad terms, I just wanted to see if anyone could push me further and make me a pressure fighter, but I realised Clifton was the best for it.”
The side of his career that is guided outside of the ropes is handled by Manager and Promoter Steve Goodwin, a man who is building a solid reputation for plotting fighters successes at a multitude of levels in British boxing.   It is a relationship that is blossoming for both sides.  Goodwin enthuses about how far he believes Iqbal can go in the sport, while Iqbal speaks highly of the guidance that he has received.
“Steve Goodwin is a top Manager and top Promoter.  Usually Promoters don’t give you everything, don’t tell you and of the ins and outs of a contract, but Steve tells me.  He tells me this is the fight, these are the rounds, this is the purse, do you want it?  If so great, and if not then we look elsewhere.  He doesn’t put pressure on you, doesn’t say that he won’t work with you if don’t take a certain fight right now.  He has a lot of fighters but he treats them all the same, gives them opportunities.  If you want to fight, he’ll get you fights.  My second fight under him and I’m English champion, I can’t thank him enough.”
There have been talks within the Iqbal team about what the next 12 months hold.  Iqbal says he hopes to defend the English title a couple of times, but were a shot at the British title to present itself in early 2018 then he would jump at the chance to contest for it.    Again, is that a fight that would be suitable for an Okolie or Chamberlain?  “I’d love to fight Tony Bellew.  But I’m not in that position to call for a fight with Tony Bellew, because he’s been in wars and he’s a great fighter.  I can’t call him out because I haven’t achieved anything like that, but there are people who are calling me out that haven’t achieved anything at all.”
I query if the higher number of rounds at British level hold any concern to Iqbal.  In typically honest fashion he clears up any doubts about his stamina that others may have.  “I’ve got the fitness for 12 rounds, I do it four times a week in training.  Of course people will get tired in the ring, it’s a boxing ring!  We’re not welterweights, we’re big heavy cruiserweights.  Look at Joshua in that third round against Klitschko, he was blowing.  But you find something in you.  You don’t go back to your corner and get out of the ring because you’re tired.  The thing about me too is that it could be four rounds or ten rounds, doesn’t matter, because even if I am tired then I can still land that shot.  If anyone says you won’t get tired you’re talking shit.  You’re throwing bombs to the head and that’s what it’s about.”
Despite the obvious power that Iqbal carries, displayed so violently to end the Camacho fight, he sees his size as being his biggest advantage once the bell goes.  “People think I’m small so I can be picked off.  But I’m not easy to hit, and when people with longer arms make mistakes then I can come inside and when I do I do it with power.  Clifton always says there’s a difference between trying to knock someone out and trying to break their face.  I’m trying to break their face.”
Iqbal is a frightening proposition for any cruiserweight domestically.  Make no mistake, when he steps through the ropes he is a bad, bad man.  Outside of it, he is jovial and amusing, honest and funny.  But you sense he has a focus that many may lack in the sport.  His honesty is refreshing and he recognises the sport for what it is; a business.  It is a business that could take him far in life and one that, should the opportunities present themselves, he could make a big name for himself in.  Whether those opportunities come against an Okolie or a Chamberlain remain to be seen.  What is clear though, the pool of potential opponents for Arfan Iqbal will get shallower with every knockout win.  Iqbal knows that side of the business with be handled by Steve Goodwin, while his side will be handled by those small, dangerous gloves.
Arfan wished to thank his sponsors Protein House in Derby who provide all the meals and protein shakes needed for training camps.