To box for a world title was a dream come true…
There was a little room with all its windows covered except for a small square and I would sit there and watch them train, from there I kind of fell in love with the sport. But it wasn’t just the boxing, it was the training, the sit ups, the press ups, punching the bag, like I said I was energetic, I was a fanatic for exercise so it wasn’t long until me and my brother signed up. He quit after two weeks as he was more interested in weight training but I stayed on.
Growing up, my week consisted of going to school, mosque and then coming home. Education, whether it was religious education or not, was important for my family and I was reminded frequently that I should not give up on it. When we weren’t studying, my brother and I visited Girlington Community Centre and Bradford Police Boys which was off Thornton Road. At Bradford Police Boys, we’d pay the entry fee of 20p and have access to pool tables, table tennis, indoor football, a weight training gym and boxing classes which, of course, changed the course of my life.
The trainer at Police Boys Mr Allan – we called him ‘Pop’. Allan was also a teacher at Rhodesway School, so he influenced a lot of young people over the years, he was a legend! He was big on education, coming from a teaching background, so for me he was a big inspiration. His main motivation was to keep us off the streets, away from drugs and crime. If we were in boxing then we were in a safe environment and away from negative influences. I never thought of becoming a champion that was a bonus, my intention was to remain disciplined. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Mr Allan or my parents’ blessings. And even though I was winning amateur championships when I was 16, he still advised me to focus on my education. Regardless of how well I was performing in boxing, I had to be realistic about my future. If you’re involved in sport, whatever sport, you’ve got a limited career and there needed to be a Plan B which is why I put the same amount of effort in my studies.
After my GCSEs, I picked up A Levels in Maths, Physics and P.E, don’t ask me why! Eventually, I got a place in Liverpool John Moore University where I did a Sports Development and Physical Education Degree, it was the first year the course had run and was very competitive so I had to work hard to be accepted. As time passed after graduation, I landed a teaching role in the sports development unit of Bradford Council. It was difficult teaching P.E and Boxing full time, so the time came where I sat with my parents and told them about following my dreams of becoming a boxer. I’d fulfilled my parent’s wishes of earning a degree in case boxing didn’t work, and now it was time to get into the gym.
In 2012 I had my breakthrough fight, a 1st title eliminator at the John Charles Centre in Leeds. As a professional boxer I have to dedicate myself to training, but I’ve always loved football and I kept my participation in the league quiet from my team. My routine was four weeks before a fight to stop playing football and concentrate on training. Then two weeks before my title eliminator my friend phoned me up to say they were a player down, I said I’d sit on the sub bench I couldn’t say no I was always itching to do something. We were winning 5-1 so I didn’t need to play, but I said to him, let me go on just for the last half an hour to run around I’d never had an injury so I thought I’d be ok. Then 10 minutes into the game I got tackled and broke my foot in two places. My managers and promoters found out, my fight got called off, I got a big telling off, they said if it happens again that’s the end of my boxing career. I was out of boxing for 18 months for rehabilitation. I had to go through extra rehab because the first time it didn’t set properly and I had to retrain all the muscles in my leg, that’s why it took such a long time.
In all that time my parents were very supportive, but they said I should go back into teaching, that I’d “had a good run” at boxing. But I was adamant and I would go down to the gym and keep going, I couldn’t let it go. If I’d already given it 100% and I’d reached my level then I’d have given it up, but I knew I had so much more to give. I was getting a lot of negative feedback, but my close circle were positive and kept me going. I made my return in 2014.
After a few quick good fights and wins in 2014, I travelled to London for my first title fight where I was successful. This victory opened doors for world titles which we brought back to Bradford, to Cedar Court. Martin Stainsby was, and still is, my trainer. We work really well together, clicked from the word go and have a deep understanding between us. Being an experienced championship trainer means he brings out the very best in me and knows exactly what buttons to press to help me achieve my ultimate performance. Martin and I have a winning formula which has been crucial in my journey to the top. Like they always say “you don’t change a winning formula”!
The people you have around you are everything and I owe a lot to my whole team: – Yiannis Fleming, my Dietitian, Nutritionist and strength conditioner (we call him ‘Mr Sport’), my promoters Prince Stanley Williams from Monach promotions, and my main sponsors Insane Air – Bradford’s largest trampoline park. I stayed in contact with people, even my old PE teachers and have established close relationships. My close circle have the same mentality as me, they’re ambitious, goal-orientated and they’re successful in life, they tend to stay away from the negative things and that’s perfect for me.
It’s unheard of for someone in Bradford to be given the opportunity to box for a world title, it was a dream come true. I didn’t believe my manager when he called me, I thought he was joking, he had to message me twice! I grew up watching Ricky Hatton defend the world title and I had the opportunity to fight for it and have the belt in my room. We made history bringing it back to St Georges Hall which had never hosted a world title fight. I was the first one to bring it back since the sixties. I’m part of a team where I’m becoming globally known, I’ve got more matches coming up in Nigeria and in Atlanta, and that’s the dream to become known globally for boxing.
I appreciate everything that’s been offered to me, that I’ve achieved and I’m excited! I’m hoping to make a documentary of my journey and share my story so I can inspire as many people as possible. I get asked if kids that come from deprived areas who see drugs, crime, weapons and fighting, if they can follow the right path? I didn’t make the same mistakes, so of course they can follow the right path. But I do believe there needs to be more investment in young people nowadays. Girlington Youth Centre isn’t there anymore, austerity has closed it down and pushed young people onto the streets which is why I’ve set up my academy to give young people the opportunities. As adults, parents, mentors, teachers we can tell them what the right thing to do is, it doesn’t matter what area they come from though, we need to create a secure environment for them where they can make the right decisions for themselves. Growing up in Girlington people tell you about the drugs and the crime and fighting. When I went to university and talked to people about where I’m from, people ask about the gangs and the riots. Bradford has a label it’s hard to scratch off. But I’ve never hidden where I’m from, I’m proud of my background and I’m an example of the great things Bradford can produce, it’s up to us to change people’s perceptions.
I want to focus on addressing all the things that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Through setting up the Tasif Khan Community Boxing Academy, I’m able to offer jobs for the community and deliver programmes in schools. We’re aiming to have boxing training, coaching certificates, drug awareness, crime prevention and mental health seminars. We want to give back to the whole community and help rebuild it. We have goals to open as a permanent venue, which were put on hold in lockdown. We didn’t stop though and worked with the NHS, delivering an initiative for parents and children so that they could train together and form stronger bonds while they were indoors together.
My main highlights are walking through those doors and meeting Mr Allan making that connection, gaining my degree and my three world titles. I’m proud to be putting Bradford on the map for positive reasons, being involved with my charities and setting up an academy for young people. I’ve made my parents and Bradford proud. I’ve had two civic receptions and my latest highlight is I’ve been awarded an Honorary Degree from Bradford University. I’m so honoured to be recognised for my achievements from my home city.
I understand the importance of giving back to the community and offering opportunities to young people. I’ve been lucky to have people take me under their wing and keep me safe and I want to do the same for the next generation. Kids in Bradford know me as someone from their community, someone who has been raised the same way, with the same morals and religious upbringing. I’ve managed to overcome the same hurdles that these young people face and became a three time world champion who is still living in Bradford, so nothing is impossible. This is why I like to break the word “impossible” to “I’m possible” because if you have that belief in yourself, that commitment and that motivation then you’re not going to regret anything. There are a lot of success stories that came out of Police Boys, it’s not just about being a professional boxer, making a success of your life means achieving your dreams whatever they might be. I did it in Bradford, and you can too.