Luke Campbell may look like butter wouldn’t melt but there’s a killer instinct about him that’s growing by the month, let alone the year.
The 11-0 British lightweight with nine knockouts has had a lot to deal with since signing with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Sport back in April 2013. Admirably, the 27-year-old has grown much stronger, both mentally and physically.
After winning gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games in the 56kg Bantamweight division, Campbell found himself not only thrust into the media spotlight but also hailed as one of British boxing’s hottest properties. Campbell put pen to paper with Hearn, as Anthony Joshua did and Tom Stalker (before moving to Frank Warren), and now finds himself potentially one year away, if not less, from a possible world title shot.
“It’s ground and pound really,” said Campbell about his continuing development since making his professional debut on July 7, 2013.
“I’ve had to change my body and the way it’s been running for the last so many years. The big thing is training in the gym. I’ve gone from three-threes to building up to twelve-threes in the gym. It’s been a real grueling transition but I feel like I’m doing it a lot better now, doing it with ease really. The longer rounds and all that type of stuff. It’s been going well.”
Campbell admitted to The Fight City that there were some fears about going from the amateur code to the professional one. The transition can be a difficult one, and even many fighters who were expected to excel and go on to accomplish greatness minus the head guard and vest, have failed to do so. Names that come to mind are the likes of Audley Harrison and Michael Carruth.
But Campbell viewed the move into the rougher stuff of professional prize-fighting as a challenge, as an opportunity to see what he was capable of doing and not doing.
“I did everything I wanted to do as an amateur, and while I was out for ten months or so after the Olympics, there was a big passion inside. I knew I wasn’t finished learning or getting better. We’re putting that to the test in the pros now. You do see some fantastic amateurs who haven’t really done it in the pros and I’d never realized it was such a different sport. I just thought boxing’s boxing, whether its three rounds or 12. But it is different and you have to adapt and change.”
And change he has. As noted earlier, Campbell has a zero in the L column of his record, in this the infant stages of his professional career to date. Eleven fights down, barely a sweat broken, no crisis suffered, and his legions of fans – particularly in his home city of Hull – have always went home happy and yearning for more.
“I’ve been having some good impressive stoppages, stopping kids that haven’t been stopped before. So people have been saying, ‘not only is he fast and a good boxer, but he can punch too,'” says Campbell. “You need to be rough, you need to be physically strong and you need to be able to punch in the pro game. Maybe they didn’t think I was much of a puncher as an amateur, but so far I’m proving it in the pros.”
Maturity is a key word to take out of this interview with Campbell. Physically, there is still development to be had. The words “man strength” are uttered from many a boxing commentator’s mouth and Campbell said that he only started seeing significant strength development the year of the 2012 Olympics.
“But I feel as though I’m still maturing and not reached my full potential yet. I could always punch as an amateur but you never really get knockouts in the amateur game. But I’d hold myself against anyone for strength in the amateur world and I proved that as I went along, winning the Europeans, silver in the worlds and winning the Olympics.
“I’ve put a little bit more weight on than I was at the Olympics. That’s showing a hell of a lot in the pro game and that’s what you need, you need that physical side, the endurance to do the rounds and change little bits and bobs. I’m still new to the pro game but each day I’m getting better and yeah, like I say, the progress is good and I love the team I’ve got around me.”
Whilst the physical phase may not be complete, it can be argued that his mental development is much further on than anyone should expect. Luke’s father, who suffers from cancer, is a story that has been well documented. And whilst, out of respect, The Fight City chose not to discuss it at length, the part it has played in Campbell becoming mentally stronger is undeniable.
Yet, Campbell has had to deal with mental adversity in the past. His father’s poor health prompted him to take a break from the sport in 2014 to spend time with him. Did that enforced sabbatical encourage thoughts of retirement? No, because, as he explains, he had already dealt with that question in 2010.
“I’d come off a career high in winning the Europeans at the end of 2008 and then I had a terrible 2009. I damaged my hand and split a tendon in a knuckle. And there was a change of coaches in the Great Britain team and it weren’t working for me. There was new kids coming on board, while I was sat out, not being able to do anything and I hated being away from home. I was homesick.
“I wasn’t getting on with some members of staff and it was just horrible. Then when I was back I had a few bad outings and I wasn’t really performing, so I was at rock bottom and I’d experienced being at the top and then being at the bottom. I suppose if it weren’t for me hitting the bottom I wouldn’t have hit the top, because maybe I wouldn’t have been wise enough and had that mental strength to get to the top.”
That period in his life allows him, now, to get on with his boxing and get the best out of himself for both he and his family. But that’s not to say dealing with his father’s illness hasn’t been difficult.
“Oh, it’s been really hard, but it’s showing what I can do under some real mental pressure. There’s nothing more valuable than family and, as you know, in this boxing game, 80 per cent of it is mental. As you can imagine, it’s been difficult. It’s pushing me to be the best I can be and to keep moving forward and winning.
“When I’m winning the family’s happy. Everybody’s doing their normal thing and not stopping, just trying to continue in normal life but it is very hard. It’s really tough when I’ve gotta go to work and training camps and not be with the family. I’m doing it for them as much I am for me.
“They’re aware I’m training hard, they’re happy and if I know they’re happy, then I’m happy. Success doesn’t make happiness, happiness makes success and I’ve always believed if I’m happy, then I’ll perform. Every time I’ve performed I’ve been in a good place and mentally focused. You’ve got to be happy in what you’re doing to be successful.”
Professional success seems to be a matter of if, not when, for Luke Campbell and he’s confident 2015 will be the year we’ll see him in big fights. I asked him if that all important break-out match was needed this year and he agreed. At time of writing Campbell said there were a couple of “big things” in the pipeline that, unfortunately, he was unable to elaborate on.
“I don’t know if I’d get in trouble, so I’ve got to stay a bit quiet,” he laughed. “I’m excited because there are questions that are still unanswered. I know what the questions are and I know I can answer them. The boxing fans haven’t seen it yet and I’m excited to show them what I can do.”
Campbell’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, has something of a stranglehold on the British lightweight scene. Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla feature in world title fights in the coming weeks on home soil and Ricky Burns has re-established himself as something of a force not to be taken lightly. Should Crolla and Mitchell come through successfully with belted glory against Darleys Perez (WBA) and Jorge Linares (WBC) respectively then it would be foolish not to think that Campbell could well find himself in the mix to face one of them sooner than later.
However, Campbell, dismissed the idea of facing Mitchell when it was put to him.
“I doubt I would ever box Mitchell,” he revealed. “We’re good friends and we help each other out in sparring. It’s a little different with Kevin. But any of the rest, yeah. There’s a few world title fights coming up for the lightweights and I’m hoping they win it, I really am, because then we could make some big fights in England.”
The one “big fight” that Campbell finds himself continually linked with is against Tommy Coyle, a fellow Hull lad who puts bums on seats and then pushes them to the edge of them with his rollercoaster performances. Campbell welcomes the fight and would happily take it on but says it’s something that would benefit Coyle greater than himself.
“It is true. I could move on a lot quicker in my opinion, but we are in this sport to give the boxing fans what they want. If Hull wants to see it and the general boxing fans want to come to Hull and see this fight then I’m happy to do that. I don’t need this fight. Tommy needs this fight. For me? I don’t need Tommy Coyle. I can fight up and down the country and be in bigger and better fights no problem. Great if the fans want to come and watch it because I’ll go out and put on a great performance.”
Taking on the likes of Coyle, Crolla or Burns wouldn’t be a problem for Campbell. But a match with Mitchell would. So that raised the question of friendships in boxing where men and women slug it out against one another and then the following week can be sharing a coffee and a laugh. Myth? Maybe not. But Campbell dispelled any fantasy that some may have of he and Coyle being good friends, as so often has been the theory from some members of the boxing media.
“What is true is we’re friends sort of, but we don’t go out and socialize. We see each other and stop and say ‘hello’ and that’s about it. I know him and we boxed in the same gym, but I hung about with different kids. He’d just be in the same gym, and that’s it.
“The amount of times he’s come on and said, “Oh yeah, we’re good pals,” it’s so tiring. He’s boring me. He’s made it out to the public that we’re massive friends. Just peel the paper back a little bit, we’re associates, that’s it.”
Luke Campbell is becoming all business. — Shaun Brown