Hot young bantamweight prospect Kal Yafai steps into the ring for the first time in 2013 today in a featured eight-rounder during the Prizefighter Welterweights III tournament live on Wealth TV and WealthTV.com from the Civic Hall in Wolverhampton – and brashly warns his 118lb rivals “I’m coming for your titles.” Yafai turned pro in July after a stellar amateur career laden with titles and an appearance for Team GB in the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 at just 19 years old, and with five stoppage wins in his first six pro fights, the 23 year old has been tipped for the very top by the boxing pundits.
The Birmingham star has his sights set on winning titles this year, but admits that he’s even taken himself by surprise by how quickly he has become established in the pro ranks.
“I knew my first year would be successful but not as successful as it was,” said Yafai, who faces Mexican Gonzalo Garcia tomorrow night. “I think I have shown people a lot of skill and a lot of power and that power showed with the knockouts.
“I have been blown away by the fans. A lot of people have become fans of me and they have enjoyed what they have seen and they follow me now so it is exciting times and it is really good to see.”
With Sky Sports showing his fights live as they recognise a superstar in the making, Yafai is getting used to his new found fame – and is revelling in the attention that’s a by-product of his huge talent.
“I am getting recognised quite a bit now,” said Yafai. “I get it a lot in Birmingham but in places like London, and other cities like Leicester, Sheffield, people come up to me and ask if I am Kal Yafai! I don’t really see myself as a celebrity or anything, I am just a normal kid that fights and gets on it.
“I am starting to get used to it. It is a nice feeling when people recognise you. It can be a bit embarrassing sometimes, if you are in a restaurant or something and everybody starts looking at you thinking, ‘who is that then?’”
If Yafai can turn his talent into titles that question will become redundant as his promoter Eddie Hearn has promised to continue to give the big push to Yafai and turn him into a star like he has with Kell Brook. So there’s pressure for the young man then – but nothing that will faze him or shift his focus.
“I don’t really take it into my mind, I just do what I am doing and what I am told to do,” said Yafai. “I expect big things of myself, I know to expect a good performance and that is why I put the work in to make sure I get that performance. I just go and do what I do.
“In 12 months I see myself being a British champion, maybe even European and then take it from there. I really think that is doable.
“This year is very important. Last year was my first six months and was my learning curve where I found my way into the pro ranks. I think this year we will be looking at titles and collecting titles and keeping them and finding my way. Hopefully at the end of this year I will be looking at World honours to follow in 2014. I have to keep my head down and keep doing what I do and keep training hard.”
If the hard work pays off and the wins keep coming, showdowns with the likes of Martin Ward (English champion), Stuart Hall (Commonwealth champion) and even soon-to-be World title challenger Jamie McDonnell are all mouth-watering possibilities – and Yafai believes he’s ready for them.
“I think I am one of the best bantamweights in Britain, I am not going to lie about that,” said Yafai. “This year I will be getting with all of those top bantamweights and showing them what it is all about. A lot of people say I am a small bantamweight because I probably walk around two or three pounds over the weight. I could make super flyweight if I wanted to and if the opportunity came up I wouldn’t mind taking some of them either – whatever comes my way I will take it.”
It’s a huge night for Yafai personally as for the first time as a pro, the Birmingham boy boxes in the Midlands at the top of the bill. Yafai plans to turn on the style in front of the Midlands fans, and hopes that fan base will grow into one that will pack out a huge arena in the area for a World title fight one day.
“I am very excited about fighting in the Midlands,” said Yafai. “A lot of people can come and see me, it is closer to home and it is in a venue which is not a massive arena and it will be packed out with the Prizefighter as well. I am looking to put on a show.
“You’ll see a performance similar to what everyone has seen last year. It will be fast and you’ll see skills and some explosive power and I think I will put on a good show for everyone.
“It is one of my biggest ambitions out there. Hopefully one day I will win a World title, maybe a couple, and maybe defend them in Birmingham in a big arena like the LG Arena, the NEC, the NIA, there are loads of places, maybe even Birmingham City Football Ground.
“It would be great to fill out St. Andrews with all of those bluenoses there. It would be something special.”
Yafai’s clash with Garcia takes place in between the semi-finals and final of the 28th edition of the Betfair Prizefighter, with Mark Thompson and Rob Hunt kicking off the action in the opening quarter-final. The winner of that clash will face either Welshman Dale Evans or 19 year old Sam Eggington in the first semi-final – the youngest ever boxer in Prizefighter.
The third quarter-final pits Chad Gaynor against Calum Cooper and they box for the right to face either Steven Pearce or Glenn Foot in the second semi-final.
Thompson is the 13-8 favourite to lift the new trophy with Betfair, with Eggington a 25-1 outsider to create history.
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