KASH FAROOQ tended to be one step ahead of the opponents he faced in the ring and so it was with the news of his retirement from boxing at the age of just 26.

All the emotions felt by those digesting the statement issued by the St Andrew’s Sporting Club late last week – shock, disappointment, frustration, a sense of loss – the Pakistani-born Glaswegian with the unmistakable hybrid accent had already experienced more than a month earlier.

It was in late November when what was meant to be a routine boxing medical turned into a life-changing appointment. The former British champion was set to tick off another item on his boxing bucket list by competing in Las Vegas but instead arrived the equivalent of a driver slamming on the brakes of a speeding car. Quit now or face serious health complications later in life was the unambiguous verdict from the doctors.

Farooq doesn’t want to delve too deeply into the precise nature of what was discovered but the evidence was sufficiently compelling to persuade someone who has been in thrall to the sport since he was 14 years old to quit on the spot.

The first few days brought a sense of numbness and disbelief before the reality of what it meant sunk in. When you’re being forced to choose between your health and your career there isn’t really a decision to be made at all.

“The official announcement only came last week but I’ve known about this for a month or so now,” he reveals. “That was the hardest part, those first few days, as my life was turned upside down. It wasn’t a good time for me at all. I wouldn’t say it’s got any easier since then but I’ve learned to live with it.

“The news came as a total shock to me. I thought I was just going for a routine medical and then one thing just led to another. And before I knew it I was retired.

HeraldScotland:

“The doctor told me that if I kept fighting it could lead to further long-term damage in the future. It’s a personal thing so I don’t want to give too many details [about the affected part of his body] but it was a hard thing to hear.

“At first, me being me, I just wanted to carry on. Boxing is like a drug and you live for the highs. I couldn’t imagine never experiencing that again. So my first thought was I was just going to ignore the doctor’s advice.

“But I couldn’t do that to my family. My manager Iain Wilson and my trainer Craig Dickson also told me it was enough. They just said it had to be the end of that chapter and I would need to start a new life. And it would be stupid to ignore what a doctor tells you. I went to get a few different opinions and they all told me I would be better to get out with my health intact.

“I’d never experienced that feeling before. It was like someone had just created an empty gap in my life. I’ve put so much into boxing so to hear someone say it had to end now was really hard to take. But it’s the best thing for me. You can’t dwell on it or it will mentally break you down. It will kill you if you keep thinking about it over and over.”

There is an inherent cruelty that Farooq must walk away ahead of what was shaping up to be a pivotal year in his burgeoning career. The much-anticipated rematch with Lee McGregor was signed and sealed for April, a contest that would have proved highly lucrative for both men, the victor edging ever closer to a crack at a world title.

Farooq’s enforced retirement has denied boxing fans that mouth-watering prospect and also removed at a stroke the chance for the Scotstoun fighter to avenge the only defeat on an otherwise impeccable professional record. Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn was among those confident that Farooq was destined to become a world champion, something that will now forever hang in the ether as the latest in a long list of sporting what-ifs.

Time has allowed Farooq to be pragmatic about this abrupt termination of his boxing ambitions. A man so driven to reach the heights of excellence that he hasn’t taken a significant holiday for a decade, he acknowledges that perhaps being forced to stop was the only way to ever get him to hang up the gloves.

HeraldScotland:

“Since the age of 14 I’ve always had a goal and been really strict with how I went about it,” he adds. “I lived the life, no bad eating, drinking or going to house parties or anything like that. It was just dedication to boxing.

“I knew I was going to burn myself out living like this. This moment was going to come at some point but I didn’t expect it to be this early.

“But boxing is a short career and I want to live a long life without having to worry about health problems. I have to think about that. I can’t just think, ‘I want to win world titles so I’m going to keep going’. You could make more money but is it worth it if you don’t have your faculties?

“I always wanted to come out of boxing the way I came into it without a mark on my face or any serious injuries and at least I can do that. I had a contract signed for the McGregor rematch at the Hydro and my life was going to be a lot easier. Even if I got one more year out of boxing I would have been happy.

“But there was no point thinking about that. I really wanted that McGregor fight but it’s a chapter of my life that is never going to get solved.

“There’s no point talking about comebacks or anything like that. I need to be honest with myself and accept it’s over. Maybe this news will be a good thing in the long run as if it hadn’t happened I would have just kept going and going and would never have wanted to retire. Now that decision has been taken out of my hands.”

Farooq squeezed a lot of spectacular moments into a 17-fight career. Sharing the ring with McGregor remains a highlight despite the result going against him, there was winning the Lonsdale Belt outright and the devastating right hand shot that sent Jamie Wilson sprawling to the canvas, a moment that quickly went viral and brought him to wider attention.

The bantamweight, though, makes a perhaps surprising choice as the moment he will recall most fondly when he reflects on his six-year professional career.

“Two of my early trainers passed away, Bobby McDermott and Bobby Kennedy, and I fell away from boxing for a while as they were my father figures,” he reveals. “I turned professional in 2015 and my first three fights weren’t really anything.

“Then I had my first fight with Scott Allan and that was the one that brought my love back to boxing. It was on STV, Scott was trying to get into my head beforehand and I was so nervous. That was the biggest turning point in my career so without that I would neve have achieved the rest.”

Farooq has always been open that his primary objective was to become financially secure to the point that he could provide for his family and ideally never have to work again. Instead, he must now address an uncertain future and plot a new path in the outside world.

He thanks his manager for continuing to support him by appointing him as St Andrew’s Head of Talent but Farooq is keen to explore other opportunities, too.

Although still out running every day – lifetime habits are hard to break – he intends to take a much-needed break to visit family in Pakistan and looks forward to resuming a guilt-free diet, freed from the constraints of the scales.

“Iain has been really good to me and is going to continue to support me and I can’t thank him enough for that,” he adds. “I’m looking at a few other things, too. I’ve been speaking to a charity called Street League that works with kids and will look to do something with them.

“I can see myself coaching in the future, too. I’ll get back into the gym one day as boxing is my first love and I won’t walk away from it, even if it’s not for a few months or even years. I need to sort my outside life out first. I hope a few doors will open for me now.”

Even at this time of personal disappointment, Farooq still has time to think of others. He is immensely grateful to the torrent of well wishes he has received since the news of his retirement broke and makes a point of thanking one of his sponsors, Portal Security, for helping get his career off the ground.

“I’ve read all the comments that people have been posting about me,” adds Farooq who also became a role model for a lot of young Scots-Asian kids.

“It’s been really humbling. You don’t realise how much support you have from the general public until you see something like that.

“I came into boxing, got myself a good life, met some great people and made my mark in the sport. That’s what I’ll take with me now that I’ve hung up the gloves.”