By John Evans
Nowadays, name value seems to hold almost as much value as ability inside the ring. Whichever level you choose to look, there are fighters who seem to bounce from title shot to title shot. Those fighters are the lucky few; the one’s whose profile’s guarantee that they will never be more than one win away from another big fight.
Other fighters are forced to operate under the radar, quietly going about their business and patiently waiting for their chance to grab the limelight. British welterweight champion Craig Watson is one of those fighters.
As well as being the current domestic boss at 147lbs, Watson is also a two weight Commonwealth champion, he holds a comprehensive victory over recent world title challenger Matthew Hatton and floored Amir Khan when the pair competed as amateurs yet the 28-year-old receives scant attention.
Things could be set to change. After recently claiming the British title with an impressive win over John O’Donnell, Watson’s first defence is slated to take place on April 16th on the undercard of Amir Khan’s upcoming fight against Paul McCloskey at Manchester’s M.E.N Arena. Watson, 20-3 (8), will face Lee Purdy and is intent on not just winning but making people sit up and take notice.
“It’s amazing. It was only five weeks ago when I won the British title and to get my first defence in my home town’s unbelievable. I’ve had a couple of hundred tickets and they’ve gone in a couple of days. I’m chuffed to be on a really big bill and get some good exposure,” says Watson.
“He’s a very good, tough durable fighter – I can’t take anything away from him. I’ve seen the fights where he fought Denton (Vassell) and Peter McDonagh and I think his style’s gonna suit me down to the ground. I think I have the perfect style to beat him and look good doing it.”
Watson is under the Hatton Promotions banner and finds himself competing for titles and attention with fellow welterweights Matthew Hatton and good friend Denton Vassell. With Hatton holding the European belt until recently and Vassell in possession of the Commonwealth strap, welterweight title shots have been hard to come by since Watson dropped a controversial decision to O’Donnell for the Commonwealth belt in April 2009. After an uncertain start with the company, Watson feels much happier now.
“At first I was a bit dubious of them but now I’ve won the British title they’re really getting behind me. Richard Poxon [Hatton Promotions’ Director of boxing] did a great job getting me the British title fight and they’re doing wonders for me at the moment. They’re keeping me busy, giving me every chance they can and getting me the exposure I need. I’m happy to be with the Hatton’s now. I think they’re doing a really good job with me.”
It is easy to understand Watson’s early frustrations when you cast your mind back to May 2008 and his dominating victory over Hatton at the City of Manchester stadium. Whereas his victim that night went on to win and defend the European belt and lose an unexpected shot at the WBC light middleweight belt, Watson had a lengthy spell out of the ring before returning to lose a disputed split decision and his title to O’Donnell. The last 18 months have been spent battling his way into the mandatory position for the British title while seeing his now stablemate enjoy success at a higher level.
“It was a little bit frustrating but he’s having his turn now and hopefully I’m next in line. I was told he’s giving up the European title to fight Saul Alvarez so I think I’m gonna defend the British title and they’re gonna try and get me a European shot by the end of the year” says the Oldham-based boxer.
“They’re trying to keep us all (Watson, Hatton and Vassell) away from each other but they are trying to put Matthew first, me next in line and Denton behind me so that when I give up the British title, Denton will fight for that. They’re trying to do it individually like that. It’s like a little chain reaction really.”
It’s clear that avenging the O’Donnell defeat gave Watson a great deal of pleasure. Some pre-fight trash talk from the London-based Irishman fuelled the fire of injustice burning inside Watson from their first battle and it must have been extremely satisfying to set the record straight?
“It really was. I thought I won the first fight by two rounds. Afterwards, everywhere I looked he was slating me in magazines and on the internet. After the fight he said we would have to do it again but he never wanted to fight me again. I had to go my own way about it and get to the British title fight as a mandatory. I had to go down there and fight him again because I knew there was no chance of him coming up here so I just told my promoters ‘Get the best money you can and I’ll go down there and fight him’,” he laughs.
“I knew I could beat him. I was confident and as fit as a butcher’s dog in the gym. Nothing could take it away from me that night. I knew I had the upper hand.”
As is often the case, the bad blood has been forgotten since matters were settled in the ring. Watson admitted, “After the first fight we weren’t very good mates but after this one I spoke to him and we’re on friendly terms now. I’ve gained his respect. I hadn’t after the first one and I really wanted him again.”
When it’s suggested that with Kell Brook set to move into world class, 2011 may be year he cements his position as Britain’s best welterweight, Watson is quick to cut in and make his thoughts on that matter clear.
“I’d like to fight Kell Brook now to be honest. I don’t believe he’s been tested or gained a world title opportunity. I don’t think it’ll happen though because he’s with Frank Warren and I’m with the Hattons,” states Watson.
“Two of the opponents he fought for the British title, I’ve beaten before. I stopped Barrie Jones in four; Kell Brook stopped him in seven. I beat Lomax, Brook beat him too but it was a premature stoppage. The only good fighter he’s fought was Michael Jennings and he never got into the fight really. Just as he was getting into it, the fight got stopped because of cuts. He should fight him again, really.
“Since then he’s boxed one African guy [Philip Kotey] and doesn’t deserve a world title shot. I think I’ve boxed the better calibre of opponents. When you look at Matthew Hatton, John O’Donnell twice, Ali Nuumbembe [who Watson beat for the Commonwealth title] was a class fighter. I’ve beaten the same lads he has but I don’t seem to get the rave reviews Kell Brook does. Its crackers but that’s life. I’ve gotta keep chipping away at my own career and hopefully I’ll get the opportunities I deserve.”
The ambitious southpaw sees his future being played out above domestic level and is chomping at the bit to step up to the next level. While many British fighters long to own a Lonsdale belt outright, Watson is already planning his next move.
“You see a lot of fighters stay at British level too long. Look at Lenny Daws. He stayed at domestic level defending his British title too long. He should have pushed on a bit more” he says. “I don’t wanna be kept there just waiting to defend the British title. If there’s the opportunity to be pushed forward then there’s no doubt about it, I’ll push forward. Jamie McDonnell’s a prime example. He won the British and went straight on to the European. I’d like to do that.”
The future looks bright for Watson and he is intent on making 2011 the year he fully emerges from the shadows. Time will tell if he is given the opportunity to do so.