GRINDING TO THE TOP: THE LINUS UDOFIA STORY

‘’People said I can’t really punch, I don’t have that much power, I’m not that kind of fighter. Now, they are saying the opposite. And that’s what I wanted. I wanted to make a statement. I’m here. Don’t ever doubt me. I’m ready. Put me in hard fights and see what happens.’’

Linus Udofia is taking the hard route to the top, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

In an in-depth chat with FightTalk.net, the 24-year-old middleweight dicusses how adaptation has become second nature to him, the importance of staying loyal to self-principles, the intricacies of boxing, and everything else in between.

Battling a severe case of man flu and fresh off a two-hour nap, Linus Udofia was in high spirits as he answered my call. A holiday away with a partner beckoned as a well-deserved respite to signal the end of another busy year for the Steve Goodwin fighter.

‘’I’m feeling good, I’m feeling really good. I feel like it’s been a busy year. I have fought in March, then in July and then in September. Ideally, I wanted to fight in January, March, July, September and then the October card. I’m not old, I’m not the back of the my 20’s so I don’t mind three fights this year.’’

Now unbeaten six fights into his professional career, Udofia looks to 2018 with a great deal of optimism. A devastating knockout of Ashley Dumetz back in September caught the attention of punters and other professionals alike. The hunger was clear. He was the first the fighter I had spoken to who was not satisfied with three fights in a year. Workhorse.

‘’Next year, my manager and coach are telling me that it’s going to be a lot busier. I’m always ready. I take what I can. I will take whatever fight comes my way. It’s been a good year. The one point I wanted to make this year was I wanted people to start talking about me.’’

A theme throughout the conversation was the reluctance to let his genuine, polite persona be overridden by the ‘trash talk’ and ‘call outs’ which dominate modern day boxing. Regardless, the focus was clear and I gained the feeling that Linus knew exactly who he wanted in the ring moving into the new year.

‘’I don’t like to talk too much about stuff like this. Before he [Grant Dennis] got the belt [Southern Area vs Nick Jenman, 2016], he messaged me asking me for sparring. Then he went cold. He was on my radar. He was a champion and he had what I was going for. I went to one of his fights in York Hall. He looked really good. I couldn’t fault him for anything. I thought to myself if I fight him I am going to have to be ready. He is not a joke. He has that heart. So, I thought you know what? He is not someone I want to shy from’’

The domestic middleweight scene is teeming with talent. Of course, Billy Joe Saunders tops the pile as WBO world champion, but the situation developing beneath him becomes ever more intriguing. Methodical in his practice and concise in his words, Udofia described his plan to pick them off one by one.

‘’I want those hard fights. I want people on the level of Tey-Lynn Jones, Nick Jenman etc. etc… I want to fight people who want to knock me off where I am. So why don’t we have those 50/50 fights? I want the testing fights. I don’t want to say too many names. That’s my manager’s job. But I see 4/5 guys ahead of me and I am thinking ‘That’s what I want.’ In this game you must fight the best. And I will do that.’’

Moving from Nigeria as a child presented Udofia with challenges from a young age. With little knowledge of the English language at the time, the Luton resident found himself learning on the job. Now, over 15 years later and a fluent speaker of the English tongue, he described how his attitude does not change regardless of the problem or task.

‘’The best way to learn is to jump in deep water and swim. Boxing is one of the hardest sports in the world. Jumping in and getting babysat is something I don’t understand. After the fight, Tey-Lynn Jones came up to and congratulated me on my win and asked when we were going to get it on. I went straight to my manager and said ‘’I want that Tey Lynn Jones fight. Make that fight happen.’’ But the next day it all went quiet. He must have turned it down. I think he wanted me to sell tickets and pay his purse too. It’s just one of them.’’

Fighters can often let emotion get the better of them. Personal feelings can cloud judgement and often distract from personal development. Not Udofia. A blueprint was clearly in place. A plan was set in stone.

‘’I don’t want to chase anyone. My career isn’t going to be defined by one person. I want to get the experience in. I want to make a lot of noise in the sport. Waiting for my time and when my time comes I will be ready. Give me my title.’’

‘’I think Steve Goodwin has done an excellent job with me. He has put me in fights at the right time; challenging me with hard fights. I don’t want him to protect me. I want him to test me and he has done. With the Dumetz fight, I said that I wanted it and Steve said ‘’are you sure you want that fight?’’ I said yeah put me in. After the fight he came up to me and said ‘’I respect you as a boxer and as a man for taking such a hard fight’’.  And the fact he listened and put me in shows that the mutual respect is there. I respect Steve for everything he has done for me. His shows have been absolute fire this year. They have been heated. I am really excited to see what’s coming in the New Year.’’

The world-famous York Hall has played host to all six of Udofia’s victories as a professional. A recurrent theme developed as Linus began to detail the pros and cons of plying his trade at the historic London stomping ground.

‘’I like to fight. Period. York Hall is the place where it’s just happened to go down so far. I like it there. Good venue. In an ideal world I would love to be fighting on bigger cards, on bigger name shows. Wembley. Copper Box. SSE. But it’s not for me. It’s for my followers.’’

‘’York Hall is not always the most convenient place for people to get to. People get more excited at names like the O2, Wembley, Indigo. They see a bigger a night out. It doesn’t matter to me though. I haven’t fought at the O2, I haven’t fought at Wembley. But unless you are AJ or Josh Warrington in Leeds, sometimes the atmosphere isn’t right. I’ve walked out at York Hall and the atmosphere is just incredible, I couldn’t believe.’’

We were both quick to agree that a fight on a ‘bigger’ show did not necessarily equate to more entertainment. The conversation quickly turned to the Cello Renda vs Leon McKenzie bout, a strong contender for Fight of The Year and a bout that will go down in Small Hall folklore. Everyone’s inspirations in boxing differ. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr are among some of the regular responses I receive. Udofia fought on the same bill that night and described the respect he held for perhaps his lesser known hero.

‘’Leon McKenzie is genuinely one of my inspirations, not just in boxing but in life. He is someone I aspire to be. If I was half the man he is, I would be a happy man. Everyone needs to look up to him and put respect on his name. What he has done in all aspects of life, is incredible. He is the perfect role model.’’

As the dialogue between myself and Linus continued, it became clear why McKenzie was described as a person of note. I saw a lot of similarities. The calm and collected nature of Udofia shone through, portraying a personality that perhaps differed from the classic ‘rough, tough, hard man’ stereotype that has been built up in boxing through the years. An admirable feature and a desirable quality in a man, but in a world of Conor McGregor’s, Tyson Fury’s, and Adrian Broner’s, sometimes ‘’Mr Nice Guy’’ is not the what the fans want. Linus did not seem concerned.

‘’The way to get yourself paid is to sell yourself. I respect the hustle. I respect the guys who talk shit and make it exciting because you need them. You need people like Ohara Davies to get interest going in the sport.’’

‘’Personally, I don’t have it in me. I would end up talking and laughing and stuttering at myself. I don’t have that bone in me. Some people are quick witted and can come up with a comeback straight away. I need a bit of time to think of a comeback! But I like being quiet, I let my talking be done in the ring. And if you talk shit to me in the build-up, I will make you pay in the ring. The only problem is if you talk yourself up and get noticed, it’s only harder when you lose.’’

As our phone call continued, and conversation ranged from current affairs to personal opinions, I had to remind myself that Linus was only 24. The measured, calculated responses resembled that of a professional who had been in the game for years.

The reality of the situation is that Linus Udofia stepped into a boxing for the first time seven years ago. In what has been a whirlwind love affair with the sport, Udofia began to reflect on his time as a professional as 2018 beckoned as his third year in the paid ranks.

‘’It’s all been good. I have really enjoyed every aspect. Except the politics. In the amateurs it was a case of get up, get to the fight, go home. Now as a professional, you have to bring a certain number of people to make the fight even happen. It’s a bit annoying but it stops you sitting on your arse.’’

‘’We have to promote ourselves in a certain sort of way and get a following behind you. Some people like to be mouthy. I like to take the route of, make noise and they will come. But you have to be a bit clued up with it.’’

Combat sports are notorious for being the most demanding. Many who follow boxing will only see the comfortable, lavish lifestyles of the Joshua’s and Mayweather’s of the sport. The harsh reality is that only a small percentage of fighters reach that level, whilst the rest work tirelessly juggling pugilism with many other aspects of life.

‘’In boxing, there is always sacrifice. No matter what. Time. Family. Friends. Your missus. There is always something that’s got to give. When I am on social media when I am sat with my girlfriend… I am with her but I’m not. I have to promote myself and that is the sacrifice. I feel like the whole boxing life is hard. I am a full-time electrician as well. But I am enjoying it. I am soaking it all up. I am trying to learn as much as I can from people who have been there and done it before. It’s difficult but it’s manageable.’’

A grafter in every sense of the word. Steely determination and focus flowed in every sentence relayed to me in our half an hour phone call. The desire is there, and the attitude is right. 2018 promises a lot for Linus Udofia; the man who thrives from the grind.

Written by Tom Humber
@thomas_humber

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