2012 gold medallist must not be drawn into a dogfight with the heavy-handed, undefeated Californian and has to take contest into late rounds
A truly intriguing fight to start the year: Luke Campbell, the winner of an Olympic gold medal in 2012, who has already fought, and lost, twice for a world title at lightweight against elite opponents, meets an exciting up-and-comer in the unbeaten Ryan Garcia, who has heavy hands and a massive social media reach.
The Hull fighter, Campbell, is the underdog yet under pressure to win this contest in Dallas, on Saturday night, staged earlier for a late night audience in the UK on the digital broadcaster DAZN.
It is a genuine first step up in class for Garcia and a risky fight for both men. Age may be a factor – Campbell is 33 and comes up against an ambitious 22-year-old with 17 knockouts in 20 victories in the United States. Campbell has 17 stoppages himself in 20 victories.
Campbell, having spent Christmas in America, must not be drawn into a dogfight. He has to take it late, win rounds. Boxing Garcia ought to be the key, forcing the young Californian deep into the bout.
“I haven’t even thought about Christmas. All my focus is on the fight,” Campbell told The Telegraph. “I’ll do Christmas in January. Why not! We’ll have a couple of little ones before Christmas but they’ll open the majority of them on the day. My wife won’t be going to this one. It’s like the old days.”
By the old days, Campbell is alluding to his amateur career, strewn with honours as the most decorated amateur in British boxing history – he won gold at the 2008 European Championships, silver at the 2011 World Championships, and the Olympic gold eight years ago, all at bantamweight.
“I’m not out to prove something to anyone. I’m out to try and be the best I can be and make me happy. I want to perform and be the best I can be. It’ll be satisfying I’m sure,” he said.
The lightweight division, globally, is replete with huge, fan pleasing fights at present, and much chatter. “Any of the biggest fights, I’m up for them all. Teofimo Lopez [the divisional No1 ] would be a fantastic fight but I’m up for any of them. There’s big names in this division. There are other talented fighters in other divisions but they’re not big names.”
For now, though, the very real challenge of Garcia. “He’s won all the fights he’s had, had some fancy knockouts. But then again he’s not really fought anyone. His fights have been easy to look good in,” Campbell said.
Garcia, meanwhile, said that he thrives on pressure. “There is a lot of pressure but, like they say, pressure makes diamonds – if you’re able to handle it.”
The Campbell challenge is one he is relishing. “It’s a very exciting moment. This is the moment where I know it is the most defining part of my career so far. This is either going to be my era or I’m going to take a step back and re-evaluate. If he’s ready, I’m ready. He said he’s going for the knockout, you know I’m going for the knockout. It’s going to be a hell of a fight. This is going to be a great fight. I’m going out there swinging. I’m going to leave my whole heart in there. This is it. I feel like this is like a championship fight. It’s not officially a world championship fight but it feels like it is to me.”
The young Californian certainly has an alter ego in the ring. And 7.8 million Instagram adore it. “Outside the ring I’m so happy and charismatic but when I’m in the ring I’m completely the opposite. I get to be myself and I love it. I can’t explain it. It’s where I’m supposed to be. The idea of being in the world is cool but being in the ring is where I get to be who I am.”
“Fans need a storyline. Is there a good guy? A bad guy? Is there a young, up and coming, charismatic kid like me? They either love me or hate me. They see me as a young rock star, knocking people out and some people want to root for me and some people don’t like me because I’m cocky and arrogant. In reality I’m not but when I’m in the ring I do hold that ego or arrogance. It’s not like, intentional. In my mind I know he’s trying to knock me out and I’m trying to knock him out so we can’t really be friends here.”
Oscar De La Hoya, Garcia’s promoter, an Olympic lightweight gold medallist himself in Barcelona before a long, decorated professional career, says his man has the ‘It’ factor. “You can say it’s about his abilities to perform in the ring, to adjust. He has the speed and the power but he has that it factor, that you’re basically sometimes born with it. It’s an instinctual ability he’s bringing to the ring. Fighters like Sugar Ray Leonard and myself and Floyd Mayweather and Canelo, they have it. Luke Campbell is a dangerous fight. You can make the argument that it’s Ryan’s first real fight. So we don’t know what’s going to happen. But if he does pull this one off obviously the sky’s the limit for Ryan Garcia.”
Campbell stands in the way. “I’m excited for 2021. My New Year’s resolution is to win this fight and celebrate with the family. There’s two straight away. And be crowned world champion,” Campbell said.
Garcia vs Campbell is on DAZN from 8pm, with the main event scheduled for 11pm