Clitheroe’s Luke Blackledge (21-2-2, 7 KOs) has hankered after a showdown against either Paul or Callum Smith for a while now. He was penciled in to fight Paul when “Smigga” held the British 168lb belt, but that one never came to fruition as the oldest Smith brother had some world title action on his plate.
Now, though, Blackledge will get his chance after the BBBoC revealed that Eddie Hearn has won the right to stage a showdown between Callum, the current incumbent, and Blackledge, who holds the Commonwealth belt.
It caps a remarkable turnaround for the 26-year-old, who did not have a single amateur fight and learned his trade on the unlicensed scene. After turning pro without any fanfare, he made a name for himself when he went over to Denmark and stopped the experienced Mads Larsen in four in 2012.
A second trip to Denmark resulted in a decision loss to Erik Skoglund the following year. A technical draw and a win (TD 2 and W4 against Alistair Warren and Iain Jackson respectively) helped him get back to winning ways and into title contention.
However, a stunning single stanza reverse against Rocky Fielding at short-notice for the Commonwealth belt in November 2013 left Blackledge all at sea and sent him back to square one. Changes followed, he left trainer Kevin Maree and hooked up with Bolton-based former pro turned trainer Alex “One Man Riot” Matvienko.
He has won seven on the bounce since that night and told Britishboxers.co.uk that naivety contributed to his loss to Fielding, not to mention the fact that he took it on short-notice and fresh on the heels of some hard sparring sessions with Carl Froch.
“Back then, I was a bit naive and young,” he said when looking back at that night. “I had the wrong people around me telling me the wrong things, that I’d beat anyone anywhere. I’m getting the right information now from good, educated people who know and can teach boxing so I won’t make bad mistakes like I’ve done in the past.”
“Froch is a big guy anyway and we were knocking shit out of each other, I did 12 rounds for the last one I did with him,” he added. “Then I got the call saying the [Paul] Smith fight was gone, so Kevin tried getting me another fight, but I ended up sparring with Ronnie [Heffron] that week then took the Rocky fight on the Friday.”
“Without a doubt, yeah—I’ll never make that mistake again,” he said when asked if lessons were learned.
“Alex’s experience is something money can’t buy. Having Alex and Oliver (Harrison) in my corner and advice from Jamie (Moore) gets me on fire.”
After getting into trouble following a string of street fights as a youth, Blackledge moved from the off-circuit scene through to the professional ranks; he credits his love of fighting and willingness to learn when discussing his rise to title contention.
“I always liked fighting,” admitted Blackledge. “I’d watched and loved boxing and MMA, so I just walked into the gym and it gave me a goal to work towards. I trained like a pro from the minute I walked in there and was dedicated—I wouldn’t have had this success without that. I pick stuff up fast, too, so I learn and gain experience.”
He added: “All my family are proud of me. I’ve got signed to BoxNation, got the Commonwealth title and have made my family happy.”
Family pride is important for the former street fighting hell raiser. He was raised by his mother following the death of his father. As he got older, he brought plenty of trouble home with him before settling down. Blackledge insists that children do not have to go off the rails, they can head to the local ABA and set the building blocks for a successful sporting career. He may have done things his own way, but he is also well aware of the benefits of a successful amateur grounding.
“Boxing does save people, I know other people who have been saved by it as well,” he said. “A lot of kids are bored and they get into bother because of that, I’d recommend boxing to them.
“You do see a lot of kids in boxing now, I missed out on that ABA circuit but get to see it now. Some of the young lads are like pro fighters, it is some experience for them and I do regret not being able to do it as a kid, some of them are beasts by the time they’re 20.”
It was a steep learning curve for Blackledge, he experienced the travails of the small hall circuit early on, not to mention the fact that non-title fights on smaller shows often throw up weight disparities. He had fought decent bigger men from early in his career, so he was confident that he could beat someone his own size when the title shots came along.
“When I fought Carl Wild, he was 13-and-a-half stone. He’s fought everyone and was walking around at cruiserweight but after five fights I was fighting people like Phill Fury and doing a number on them on away shows, so they had to give me the win. But a lot of people still underestimated me.
“I am around different types of fighters. A few of my mates have had losses and feel like jacking it in. I tell them to keep going, keep ticking over. Some of them can’t afford to live, so I tell them to keep going until they get an opportunity.”
Blackledge took his own counsel following the loss to Fielding, recent Commonwealth title wins over Liam Cameron, Lee Markham (both W12) and Ishmael Tetteh (KO 5) have set up a showdown with Smith, which could land in Liverpool on October 15 as Smith is due to fight on that date.
Whatever happens in that one, Blackledge can look back with pride on what he has achieved so far and forward in anticipation to the type of stadium fight that few believed he would feature in during those modest early professional engagements.
Follow us on Twitter: @Britishboxers