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Yafai: Injury-hell has made me hungry for titles

Unbeaten Birmingham star faces Kareem Yaqub for Commonwealth Super Fly strap

Kal Yafai fights for his first title tomorrow night at the First Direct Arena in Leeds against Yaqub Kareem, live on Sky Sports – and the unbeaten Super Flyweight star says the Commonwealth title will be the first of many.

Yafai raced to 8-0 in fantastic fashion after turning pro in July 2012 but with the boxing world at his feet, he was forced to endure seven months on the sidelines with a bicep tear. The Birmingham talent returned to action in October and then moved to 10-0 in December with a seventh win inside the distance.

The 23 year old served notice of his huge talent in his first pro outing, as he forced the retirement of Wolverhampton’s Delroy Spencer after two rounds – only the 13th time Spencer had failed to hear the final bell in 156 bouts.

Yafai sped through his first eight bouts but when injury struck on the biggest night of his pro career in Wolverhampton where he topped the bill alongside Prizefighter, Yafai was left to look on as stable mates like Callum Smith and Martin J. Ward emerged as future stars.

“I’m very excited about tomorrow’s fight,” said Yafai. “I’ve been training hard and I’m in great shape and I just want to get in there now and get the job done and grab hold of my first title belt.

“You are on the tip of everyone’s tongue; everyone is buzzing about you and saying you are one of the world’s best prospects. Then all of a sudden you are taking a backseat and watching everyone else. It’s been very frustrating but you have to be mentally tough as well and luckily I am. I know what I am capable of and I knew that I would be back and back strong and I’ll show that.

“I’ve had enough of those fights where I am expected to win against journeymen – I had had enough of them after three pro fights to be honest. You have to go through it, I can’t pick the opponents. I just get in and do the business and fight who I am told.

“The first three weeks with the bicep tear I couldn’t do anything. I was stuck in my flat with my arm in my cast, couldn’t drive, couldn’t even get changed – and in the middle of summer too. My missus had to dress me, wash me sometimes, it was horrible. I got out of the cast in time to go on holiday and I was able to enjoy that, but when I got back it was straight into the rehab.

“Everyone has niggles, it’s just how severe they are. I haven’t had any for a good while now. Yes, I am stuff from all the hard work in the gym, but that’s part of it and it shows you are doing things right and stretching yourself.

“I was a bit worried at the beginning because you’re out for so long and you have no use of your left arm then all of a sudden you are using it again but you have to build up slowly, build the strength back. To build back muscle strength is hard to do, but luckily enough it was fine and I was back in business. It felt odd being back in the ring again but I got into the groove again in December and I am flying now.

“I had a couple of eight-rounders, the first was when I got injured and boxed him with one arm so I couldn’t get him out of there. I know I am ready. I’ve had ten fights – there’s an argument that I have been out for a long time but people don’t see what I have been doing in the gym behind closed doors, I have had plenty of sparring, plenty of rounds, and I am ready for those championship fights.”

Yafai’s clash with Kareem is part of a great night of action in Leeds as local star Josh Warrington defends his Commonwealth Featherweight title against Martin Lindsay with the British strap also on the line.

Stephen Smith takes on former World title challenger Mauricio Javier Munoz for the WBC World Silver Super Featherweight title and crunch eliminator clash, while Kal’s brother Gamal Yafai fights for his first pro title and Gavin McDonnell defends his British Super Bantamweight title against Josh Wale in a Yorkshire derby.

Hull’s Lightweight star Tommy Coyle, newly crowned English Light Welterweight champion Tyrone Nurse, Brentwood’s Super Featherweight Martin J. Ward and Middlesbrough Cruiserweight Simon Vallily are all in action.

Tickets are on sale priced at £30, £40 and £60 available from the First Direct Arena on 0844 248 1585 and at www.firstdirectarena.com. VIP tickets priced at £120 are available exclusively from Matchroom Boxing on 01277 359900 and at www.matchroomboxing.com.