By Nick Halling
Olympic gold medallist and unbeaten as a professional, Luke Campbell has made impressive strides since his professional debut in his home town of Hull last July. Yet when industry insiders look at the names of the top British prospects for 2014, Campbell’s is not a name which readily floats to the surface.
You can blame the boxer himself for that. Campbell is a young man of quiet determination. Soft-spoken, deceptively slim, handsome and understated, the Yorkshire lightweight is not one to beat his own drum.
“Boxing is a tough enough business without calling people out, and thats just not in my nature,” he says. “Anyway, if things go the way I want, I won’t have to do that anyway. People will start calling me out.”
Some were surprised when Campbell turned pro at lightweight, when options were there for him to come in at a lower weight. The fighter gives away something about his nature when he says that lightweight is where he wants to be because of the intense nature of the competition within the division.
The British lightweight scene features an abundance of talent. Glasgow’s Ricky Burns reigns as WBO boss; former challenger Kevin Mitchell is rebuilding impressively; one-time British champion Anthony Crolla is quietly manoeuvring himself into a strong position ; Welsh tough guy Gavin Rees is a former world champ with hopes of regaining his position at the summit; Manchester southpaw Terry Flanagan is unbeaten and avoided; prospects like Tommy Coyle and Scotty Cardle are starting to find their rhythm, and it would be a foolish person who dismisses Liverpool’s Derry Mathews as a spent force.
“And that is exactly why I want to be in the lightweight division,” said Campbell. “It’s the best division in British boxing. It’s where the talent is, it’s very competitive, a really hot division, and I want to test myself against the best. I’m an extremely competitive person. I wouldn’t be in this sport if I wasn’t.”
After three straight stoppages, Campbell was finally taken the distance in his last fight of 2013 in November, when the tough Welshman Chuck Jones came in at short notice and did enough to stick around. Jones is the kind of fighter who’d back himself to go the distance with an in-his-prime Mike Tyson, yet Campbell said he was unhappy with that performance, such are the high standards he sets himself.
Nevertheless, he puts it down to part of the learning curve. “I’m 26, so I am a late maturer, but I am still getting stronger month by month. And in training we work on everything. Inside, outside, footwork, there’s no stone left unturned. Before I turned pro, I always believed I could punch, and that I had good accuracy and timing. Now, with a little more weight, the power is certainly there.
“I haven’t set any targets for 2014. There are goals I have set myself which I need to reach first. I could be ready for the British title now, but it’s up to my team what they do with me. It’s always about one step at a time. This time next year, I’d like to be wiser, and be in a better position than where I am now.
“But the ultimate goal is very simple. It’s about being the very best. That’s the only target I set for myself. It’s not about titles, it’s about being the best.” With that level of single-minded determination, combined with an intriguing skillset, it will be interesting to see how long it takes Luke Campbell to get there.
Sometimes a fighter comes to a promoter’s attention because of his skills and championship potential. Other times, its because he can sell a lot of tickets, a quality which always endears a boxer to the men in suits.
Ricky Boylan falls into the latter category. The Carshalton light welterweight inked a promotional deal with Matchroom Sport last week, in no small part to the fact that he personally sold over 400 tickets on a bill last month, when he won the Southern Area title against local rival Tony Owen.
Such was the depth of that bill that the contest didn’t start until after midnight, but the atmosphere inside the ExCel Arena was nevertheless a bit special as Boylan and Owen, good friends outside the ring, settled the issue of local pride.
“Eddie (Hearn, Matchroom’s promoter) spoke to me afterwards, and we struck a deal right there and then,” said Boylan. “It’s a real achievement for me just to be signed up by Matchroom, because when you look at who they have on their books, its all gold medallists and potential world champions, and I don’t have that kind of pedigree.”
Hearn will not have signed Boylan up just for some easy ticket sales, however. He clearly recognises the potential the 25-year-old brings in what promises to be a seriously fiery domestic division in 2014. Unbeaten in 10, with four stoppages, the Carshalton man has yet to take a false step in the pro game.
“I’m contracted for six fights this year, so I am going to be very busy,” said Boylan. “But to be honest, I need to be. It’s probably true that there are six or seven of us at the same level in the division right now, and we’re all ready to make the next step up.”
A perforated eardrum, sustained in the Owen fight, is keeping Boylan on the sidelines for now, although he hopes to have a tune-up six rounder in late February or early March. After that, he is to defend his area title against John Wayne Hibbert. If he wins that one, things could get interesting in a hurry.
“I’m not ready for (British champion) Darren Hamilton yet, although I’ve sparred him a few times, and we’re friends,” said Boylan. “But Darren defends next month, and if he wins, he’ll have the belt outright and maybe he will be ready to vacate.
“If I beat Hibbert, and that’s going to be a very hard fight, then that will shoot me right up the rankings,” he said. “ I might be ready for the British title after that. You have to have ambition, but you also have to be realistic too. If I can win the British title, I’d be very happy, and right now, I’m on course to do it.”
Nick Halling is a commentator for Sky Sports.