By John Evans
Unsurprisingly for a fighter nicknamed ‘The Hammer’, former British welterweight champion Craig Watson enters the ring to the strains of M.C Hammer’s ‘U Can’t Touch This’.
For his upcoming local derby with Manchester’s David Barnes, 26-2-2 (11), another slice of prime 1990’s mainstream hip-hop might be more appropriate. Apart from the obvious mean intentions of the title, L.L Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ begins with the line ‘Don’t call it a comeback’.
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 Coldwell’s 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 Manchester’s Bowlers venue.
“I’m super excited and happy to be in a big fight,” Watson told BoxingScene. “I’m 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 I’ve got to look out for myself first. I’m with Dave Coldwell now and he’s really enthusiastic. That’s what I needed, someone who really loves the sport. Dave’s looking to push me on. Dave’s putting on some good stuff in the North West and he’s doing it without TV.”
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 it’s clear he would take great pride in regaining his beloved titles, a recent addition to the family means that as well as glory, Watson’s career is now all about the Benjamins.
“I’ve had a little baby girl now and a lot’s changed in my life,” he said. “We’re 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. I’ve been there, done it and I want it back. I let myself down and made mistakes. I know how to correct my mistakes now.”
Coldwell Promotions have billed the show ‘Bring The Noise!” but — and, as eagle eyed readers may have realised, we’re sticking with the 90’s music theme here — maybe stealing a line from Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and titling the event ‘Tha Crossroads’ 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.
“All he [Barnes] seems to be doing when he pops up on twitter is running. I hope he’s not going to run in the fight!” Watson laughs as he talks about the importance of the fight. “I will catch him and when I do catch him I’ll hurt him. I’m desperate for this. I want it more than anything. That’s all I keep saying to myself in the gym. I’m vexed about it. I’m going to go out there and be evil.”
I’ve 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.
“I know what kind of fighter he is and, to me, he’s a sh*tbag. He likes to use the back foot, pop the jab and run. As soon as I catch up with him, he’ll know he’s 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 he’s in for a shock.
“I’m vexed. I want to get in there and do it now. I’ve been sparring with Martin Murray [before the St Helens middleweight took on Sergio Martinez on Saturday] because I’m a southpaw. I wasn’t 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.
“It 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, there’s a big difference. I believe I’m going to be stronger than him by a million miles. I’m looking forward to showing him how strong I am. I don’t think he’ll realise until he’s been in there with me.”
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 won’t be a case of Barnes being ‘Harder Than You Think’.
“There’s not one bit of needle. It’s a big fight. I’m eager to get in and grasp it with both hands. I think he’s very scared. I think his confidence isn’t there anymore,” he said. “I don’t think he’s as confident as me and I’m very confident.
“He’s pulled out of a lot of fights and to me he sounds like he does not really want to fight the bigger names, he’s happy to potter around on the undercards. I couldn’t say that but I’m looking forward to getting in there and proving it. I hope he turns up on the night and it’s a good fight. I hope he doesn’t run away. If that’s his gameplan he’s going to have a shock.”
“A lot of people will look at this fight and think that we’re both counter punchers and that it’s going to be a stinker. At first, I was thinking that but the mind-set I’ve got and the work I’m doing in the gym isn’t boxing — it’s fighting. I’m looking for a fight. I’m going to be right on top of him for 10 rounds and I just hope he can stand it. I know 100% I’m gonna win. It’s just whether he’s man enough to take the punishment he’s going to get for 10 rounds.”
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? ‘Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em’. Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?
Follow on twitter @John_Evans79