By John Evans
Unsurprisingly for a fighter nicknamed ĎThe Hammerí, former British welterweight champion Craig Watson enters the ring to the strains of M.C Hammerís ĎU Canít Touch Thisí.
For his upcoming local derby with Manchesterís David Barnes, 26-2-2 (11), another slice of prime 1990ís mainstream hip-hop might be more appropriate. Apart from the obvious mean intentions of the title, L.L Cool Jís ĎMama Said Knock You Outí begins with the line ĎDonít call it a comebackí.
Casual fans could be excused for thinking Watson, 22-5 (9), had left the sport but, although he has been restricted to just two starts since a second successive stoppage loss to Lee Purdy 21 months ago, his absence has been largely due to promotional difficulties. Now, having left Hatton Promotions and joined Dave Coldwellís burgeoning stable, Watson sounds as if he is enjoying a new lease of life. He made his first appearance for Coldwell in March, and his career finally regains some momentum when he faces Barnes on June 1st at Manchesterís Bowlers venue.
ďIím super excited and happy to be in a big fight,Ē Watson told BoxingScene. ďIím champing at the bit and a win will open a lot of doors for me. It was all down to Hatton Promotions [struggling to find a TV deal]. I loved working with them and they were really helpful, but Iíve got to look out for myself first. Iím with Dave Coldwell now and heís really enthusiastic. Thatís what I needed, someone who really loves the sport. Daveís looking to push me on. Daveís putting on some good stuff in the North West and heís doing it without TV.Ē
Coming straight outta Oldham, 30-year-old Watson has enjoyed a successful career. He is a former British champion at 147lb and a two-weight Commonwealth champion but, although itís clear he would take great pride in regaining his beloved titles, a recent addition to the family means that as well as glory, Watsonís career is now all about the Benjamins.
ďIíve had a little baby girl now and a lotís changed in my life,Ē he said. ďWeíre looking at buying a bigger house. I have a nice house but I want a big back garden for my little girl as she grows up. The only way to do that is to make some big money boxing. Iíve been there, done it and I want it back. I let myself down and made mistakes. I know how to correct my mistakes now.Ē
Coldwell Promotions have billed the show ĎBring The Noise!Ē† but ó and, as eagle eyed readers may have realised, weíre sticking with the 90ís music theme here ó maybe stealing a line from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and titling the event ĎTha Crossroadsí would have been better. Watson and Barnes are both former British champions and an impressive victory will see the winner primed for another title tilt. The loser may have to face up to the realisation that their time at the top is ending.
ďAll he [Barnes] seems to be doing when he pops up on twitter is running. I hope heís not going to run in the fight!Ē Watson laughs as he talks about the importance of the fight. ďI will catch him and when I do catch him Iíll hurt him. Iím desperate for this. I want it more than anything. Thatís all I keep saying to myself in the gym. Iím vexed about it. Iím going to go out there and be evil.Ē
Iíve spoken to Watson on many occasions and always found him to be a quietly spoken and friendly. The way in which he speaks about Barnes both surprised me and illustrates the seriousness with which he is treating the fight. Watson is looking to bring the pain.
ďI know what kind of fighter he is and, to me, heís a sh*tbag. He likes to use the back foot, pop the jab and run. As soon as I catch up with him, heíll know heís been in a hard fight. He might pick and move for the first couple of rounds, but after those two or three rounds are over heís in for a shock.
ďIím vexed. I want to get in there and do it now. Iíve been sparring with Martin Murray [before the St Helens middleweight took on Sergio Martinez on Saturday] because Iím a southpaw. I wasnít a pushover for Martin and I stood with him at times. At the end, I was his main sparring partner. Craig McEwan came down too but they chose me over him.
ďIt was an amazing confidence boost for me. The other day I did ten rounds with him with 30 seconds rest and that was six or seven weeks before my fight. They wanted me to be flashy, box on the back foot and be slippery but there were times when I stood there and tried to push Martin back. Trying to push a big middleweight back and then trying to push David Barnes back, well, thereís a big difference. I believe Iím going to be stronger than him by a million miles. Iím looking forward to showing him how strong I am. I donít think heíll realise until heís been in there with me.Ē
Watson and Barnes are both slick southpaws and have forged their reputations by cleverly counter punching their way to success. Watson is adamant that those expecting a cagy, negative clash will be pleasantly surprised by the destructive outcome he has in mind. If Watson is successful in pinning down Barnes, he is extremely confident that his local rival will be unable, and unwilling, to fend him off. Hopefully for the friendly former champion, it wonít be a case of Barnes being ĎHarder Than You Thinkí.
ďThereís not one bit of needle. Itís a big fight. Iím eager to get in and grasp it with both hands. I think heís very scared. I think his confidence isnít there anymore,Ē he said. ďI donít think heís as confident as me and Iím very confident.
ďHeís pulled out of a lot of fights and to me he sounds like he does not really want to fight the bigger names, heís happy to potter around on the undercards. I couldnít say that but Iím looking forward to getting in there and proving it. I hope he turns up on the night and itís a good fight. I hope he doesnít run away. If thatís his gameplan heís going to have a shock.Ē
ďA lot of people will look at this fight and think that weíre both counter punchers and that itís going to be a stinker. At first, I was thinking that but the mind-set Iíve got and the work Iím doing in the gym isnít boxing ó itís fighting. Iím looking for a fight. Iím going to be right on top of him for 10 rounds and I just hope he can stand it. I know 100% Iím gonna win. Itís just whether heís man enough to take the punishment heís going to get for 10 rounds.Ē
It is only after I have put the phone down that I realise that Watson is right in choosing M.C Hammer to provide his entrance theme. The title of the album his walk out music is taken from? ĎPlease Hammer, Donít Hurt ĎEmí. Seems appropriate, doesnít it?
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