Cruiserweight is fast becoming the new ‘glamour division’ in domestic British boxing. As the curtain falls on what has been a great year for boxing, we can look forward to fighters from across the country taking that next big leap in their careers over the next twelve months. This notion does not ring truer for any division more so than the 200lbs weight category. This notion does not ring truer for any man more than Luke ‘Duke’ Watkins.
Talking exclusively to FightTalk.net, Commonwealth champion, Luke Watkins reflects on another year unbeaten in the professional game and looks ahead to what promises to be another memorable 12 months.
Growing up, Luke’s life was like many other young men trying to find their path. The temptation of parties, alcohol, and young romances cloud vision in the adolescent years. However, it was only a matter of time before boxing was to be introduced into the life of Luke Watkins. Sure enough, it became a vital part that he can no longer live without.
“Well, growing up I was up a normal kid who loved sports, the occasional scrap and causing mischief now and then. Swindon was a lot smaller when I was growing up, everyone knew everyone. I’d always been an avid sportsman from as early as I can remember. I took part in loads of sports (football, rugby, basketball, ice hockey, roller hockey, athletics) and always wanted to be the best and win. It got to my college days, the only reason I finished college was due to me playing for their football academy.’’
“After I finished college, partying too much and indulging in way too many late-night feasts, I put on a few stone. As you do, causal. Someone suggested boxing to lose the ‘puppy fat’ which I did and immediately became obsessed. Now the rest is the history that I am writing!’’
I remember once talking to a friend’s dad at the pub. He cynically quipped, ‘the parent is just as much an athlete as the child who is competing’, referencing the long, often gruelling hours of travelling, spectating, and supporting their young children. A sense of responsibility with which many families can relate. Often a strain, but always done with love and affection, Watkins laid tribute to the efforts of his family in his early sporting pursuits when asked for his heroes in his younger life.
“My Mum and Dad. my Dad took me everywhere and made sure I could get to any trail or game no matter how far the opportunity. My mum, because I had two younger brothers who she’d always make sure were seen to. Travelling around with the whole family could be hard so she had to stay home with them most of the time whilst myself and Dad would travel.’’
Fast forward to present day, and the re-emergence of the Cruiserweight division must be noted as one of the highlights of the past year in boxing. The World Boxing Super Series has seen the popularity of the long dormant 200lbs weight class sky-rocket. Oleksandr Usyk, Murat Gassiev, Yunier Dorticos and Maris Briedis make up the final four competitors, who are slated to finish their business in May 2018.
All champions. All distinguished amateurs. There can be no question over whether the best are really fighting the best. The result? A knock on effect that has seen homegrown talent once again bubble in a division once labelled ‘dull’ and ‘lifeless’.
Turning attention back to the current crop of domestic Cruiserweight talent, ‘The Duke’ finds himself in good company. Matty Askin currently reigns supreme as British champion, and the likes of Arfan Iqbal, Simon Vallily, Lawrence Okolie, Isaac Chamberlain and Chris Billam-Smith lead the pack of hungry young fighters keen to assert their authority in the hurt business.
The saga of Lawrence Okolie vs Isaac Chamberlain has dominated social media and boxing forums alike. With the negotiations for the fight stalling temporarily, the rumour mill began to circulate citing Watkins as an opponent for the hotly tipped Matchroom prospect. Dignified and professional, the unbeaten man gave his turn of events.
“I think it’s good for Boxing, we need fights like this. It’s good for both of them. Regarding my name and February 3rd, I was asked to fight Okolie which I accepted but I was just back-up incase Isaac didn’t sign. Now I’m enjoying my Christmas the right way. Family, friends, and food.’’
A fighter not only interested in furthering himself, but furthering the sport as a whole. A refreshing change to the narrative that certain over-confident and self-entitled fighters have forced into modern day boxing. A fight with either Okolie or Chamberlain will have no bearing on the exciting career of Luke Watkins. The unbeaten Swindon man did not discriminate as he cast his views into a new year, detailing his ambitions and desires for 2018 and discussing potential domestic opponents.
“Hmmm, anyone who’s in my way I guess. The one thing I know though is, I’m going to fight them all and clean up the division which leads me to your next question. Next year I’m going to win the British, I’d like to unify the division with the Commonwealth. And put myself in a better position for the European and so on.’’
‘I’m going to win the British.’ Note the confidence. Note the certainty. Note the absence of ‘I hope’ or ‘all being well’.
Now brimming with a hard earned and deserved confidence, ‘The Duke’ took his first steps into the pool of title contention in 2017. Boasting an impressive 100% knockout ratio from his two Commonwealth duals, power and ferocity shines through as one of the most notable strings on this young man’s ‘boxing bow’. A stoppage win over Robin Dupre in early December marked the end of the year with a bang, and spoke with a measured with a levelled confidence as he began a self-critique of his own ability.
“It is what it is, my power has prevailed in the last 4 fights and is a good attribute that I can call upon, but I don’t believe you’ve seen my full fighting style yet. There is lots more to come which excites me.’’
Paddy Fitzpatrick is the man guiding the exciting career of Luke Watkins. He has been for the past nine years, and most likely will be for the next nine. Currently, Fitzpatrick is most recognised for his work with current WBA Super Middleweight champion, George Groves. The breakdown of Fitzpatrick and Groves’ trainer/fighter bond was rather public to say the least, and the distaste each man shared for the other was evident in the comments made after the split. Groves was listed as a manager of Watkins for a period, and with the fragile nature of the Fitzpatrick break up in mind, I was keen to investigate the relationship between Watkins and the Hammersmith man.
“The relationship was cool whilst it lasted, he was my manager on paper whilst Paddy was working with him. George was the man on paper, but Paddy was pulling the strings and made all decisions. We haven’t spoken since then.’’
Boxing is a business. This year more than any has taught us all that. Colleagues come and go. Partners enter then exit. For Watkins, Groves was a short interlude in a career that right now is promising so much. Magnanimous and respectful, Watkins began to muse over his former ‘manager’s’ upcoming World Boxing Super Series semi-final against Chris Eubank Junior.
“Regarding the fight, I’m back at 50/50, ha-ha! The other day I said 50/50 thought about it for a while edged with Eubank to win on points due to his relentless pressure. But right now, thinking about it again, George one of the smartest fighters I’ve put there. He can fight, box and do pretty much anything needed to win. All I know is I won’t miss it for anything!’’
A blockbuster event. An event that must motivate Luke Watkins every day when he steps into the gym and every time he hits a pad. Having tasted the big stage on Matchroom and Cyclone shows this year (Haskins vs Burnett and Yigit vs Hughes undercard), the 28-year-old can stride proudly into 2018 with hope and expectation.
The Commonwealth title is a crucial and sought-after jewel in the current Cruiserweight crown. A host of young prospects are scrambling to make a name for themselves and leave their mark, and in today’s day and age, belts matter. To be quite honest, there are worse positions for a young, explosive, and exciting fighter like Luke Watkins. Just a normal lad from Swindon, with a massive year ahead of him in boxing.
By Tom Humber