When assessing the credentials of a potential world champion, there’s almost always a temptation to merely pore over a widely used website that documents a boxer’s record. Naturally, a record is important and to state the obvious, is factual but will it show you how multi-faceted they are? Does it exhibit their courage in adversity? Can you identify just how technically gifted they are and the skillset they possess?
The answer is invariably ‘no’ which begs the question, how do we quantify whether a fighter has it in their make-up to become a world champion?
In the case of Luke Campbell, it’s important to explore further that notion of being courageous in adversity. Courage is not always a question of being brave or ‘plucky’ if you like, plenty of boxers have had attempts at a world title and shown those qualities. It’s about having the courage to trust in your own ability when you are up against the best and Campbell has done that.
During his first world title attempt against Jorge Linares, Campbell showed his steely, courageous qualities through his boxing. He remained calm and focused despite the obvious emotional chaos that you would imagine he was enduring as-after the fight-it became clear that he had suffered the loss of his father just two weeks before the WBA lightweight showdown.
The man from Hull lost a narrow, split decision after recovering from a second-round knockdown after shipping a big right hand from Linares. Following the knockdown, Campbell regained composure and showed he had ability in abundance as he fought back with clean shots of his own, showcasing his straight left body shot on numerous occasions from that familiar southpaw stance.
It wasn’t quite enough on the night but the idea that Campbell didn’t want anyone to know about his father before the fight, shows a strength of character that very few people possess. He refused to be excused and didn’t want anyone to expose a perceived weakness, showing his single mindedness and dedication to the cause. He knew he had the ability and skill to come through and he trusted it. That courage very nearly prevailed, he was only just squeezed out by the two judges who scored the bout 114-113 and 115-112 in favour of Linares, (Victor Loughlin scored it 115-113 in favour of Campbell).
In black and white, it was a failed attempt however most saw that Campbell had arrived on the world stage against one of the best pound-for-pound boxers around at that time.
That defeat wasn’t the first of his professional career. He had already suffered at the hands of tough Frenchman Yven Mendy in 2015. An off night for the ex-Olympic Gold medallist served as a bump in the road to becoming champion and meant a rebuilding process that saw him win his next five fights on the spin, with a knockout victory over Darleys Perez setting up the Linares clash.
Following defeat to Linares, Campbell surreptitiously went about his work again, climbing the rankings and searching for another world opportunity which included avenging his defeat to Mendy. A classy, masterful display at Wembley on the undercard to Joshua v Povetkin gave him redemption in what was a mature display, easily outpointing the Frenchman in his first outing under the guidance of Shane McGuigan.
The fight showed the subtle tweaks he had made in order to ensure he wasn’t beaten again. Mendy hadn’t altered his game plan and bulldozed forward, hoping to overwhelm the Hull fighter. A disciplined Campbell fought at distance and the gulf in class proved too much for the Frenchman to bridge on this occasion, giving credence to the insinuation that McGuigan would enhance Campbell’s tactical prowess as well as honing his already well ingrained technical ability.
In fairness, there didn’t seem too much wrong with Campbell’s approach pre-McGuigan but the attraction of working with a flourishing stable with good technical fighters that included the likes of George Groves, Josh Taylor etc coupled with McGuigan’s growing reputation was difficult to ignore.
In August 2019 Campbell was offered another shot at a world title, this time against a fighter who has quickly established himself as one of the biggest stars of the sport Ukrainian Vasily Lomachenko.
He was written off by many the moment the fight was made, that didn’t perturb Campbell who quietly prepared and conditioned himself meticulously, believing wholeheartedly that he had the talent to beat the diminutive superstar.
A chess match of the very highest quality ensued in front of a packed O2 arena, Campbell measured the distance beautifully, circling his jab, feinting high and low with it before unleashing two and three punch combinations with that straight left body shot being used to full effect. It’s a shot that has become synonymous with Campbell’s attacking artillery. Unlike most body punches, it is brought through almost like an uppercut that comes through straight and nestles right in the centre of the midriff as opposed to being whipped around the side. He doesn’t crouch low into the shot either, he delivers it in a relatively upright position maintaining perfect balance and poise.
Despite the early success of Campbell, Lomachenko gradually got closer through the implementation of his exquisite head movement and ability to create angles. The snap in his shot managed to find Campbell but the surge in success just served as a reminder for Campbell to stay on task and continue to enforce his own intent on proceedings, sporadically hurting the champion and gaining his respect with the odd nod from the Ukrainian giving the impression he acknowledged his effectiveness. The problem that he had was that whenever he ‘hurt’ or troubled Lomachenko, it was often met with retaliation of the fiercest order and was floored in the eleventh round as his chances began to evaporate.
It looked like the fight may be over in the cruellest manor possible after fighting so gallantly but he managed to once again regroup and attack with gusto in the final round gave every ounce until the final bell. For Lomachenko it meant he was now a three-weight world champion adding the WBC lightweight title to his WBA and WBO belts. For Campbell it meant yet more praise without the reward he so richly deserves.
Boxers, trainers and fans of the sport from around the world acknowledged that against most other fighters in the lightweight division Campbell would have prevailed that evening.
Occasionally, boxers who have had multiple unsuccessful attempts at a world title are labelled gatekeepers to the division’s elite. That can’t be said of Campbell who-for my money-is a champion in waiting. That belief will be tested when he meets dangerous Dominican Republic lightweight Javier Fortuna for the vacant WBC world lightweight title in what will be his third attempt at world honours. The cliché is third time lucky, in my opinion Campbell doesn’t need luck, he just needs to reproduce that courage in his own ability.
We are obviously in times of uncertainty, not just regarding sport, but regarding the health and welfare of everybody that the coronavirus has the potential to affect. The reality is that lives have already been lost, the hope is that people will, at some point be able to return to doing what they love once it is safe to do so.
Scheduled fights will no doubt be cancelled for the foreseeable future whilst the ramifications of what is happening continue.
We hope to see these sportsmen and sportswomen on our screens again soon, providing the entertainment we as boxing fans regularly take for granted.