BN: Rumours persist that you will fight again – how close have you come?
I won’t fight again. I want to, but everything I’m trying to build outside of boxing I’d have to stop. The only reason I retired was because I was sick of being away. I’ve got three kids growing up – I was constantly away – my little one’s only two. I’d rather miss boxing than miss my kids growing up. I still love the sport and have a passion for it, but I’m trying to create a life for myself outside of boxing, and that’s the hardest bit. When you’re away it’s just you you have to deal with – I know the routine, who I am and what I’m doing and there’s only me to please. When you fit into a family lifestyle, and then you’re out at work and deal with so many other people, it gets very challenging. No one’s approached me to say, “Do you want to come back and fight this guy?” No one’s tried to entice me out of retirement.
There’s been many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because I’m in an environment I’ve never been in before, and I’m saying to my wife [Lynsey], “I need to go back to boxing – it’s the only thing I know, it’s the only thing I’m good at”. But then it’s like, well then what? Go back and just have a fight? For what? Am I going to fight for a world title? There’s a long journey back, and it’d mean me going away again and being away from my family – that’s why I stopped. She supports whatever I want to do, but I put a lot of stress on the family while I was competing. Every time I had a fight she came down ill afterwards, ‘cause of all the stress – she couldn’t handle it. [She’d be] exhausted, and sick for a week or two afterwards.
I’ve got a 24-hour, fully functional [fitness] gym – a good membership base – and plans to do a couple more with my brand Coolhand and a partnership with another brand. I’ve got a property business as well. The rest [of my time is filled with] golf. The only other boxer I’ve played with is Josh Kelly – he was much better than me.
I always said to myself, “Luke, once you retire, you can’t be one of these fighters that comes back and goes at it again”, and I see a lot of these fighters that just stay in there, ‘cause it’s all they know. You’re getting smacked around the head all the time. I don’t want that. I want to be older where I’ve got my health; my kids around me. There’s boxers who come out, younger than me, and they slur their words, and I just thought, “I don’t want that”.
BN: How much did reports of Kell Brook’s struggles resonate with you?
I always looked at Kell Brook – and I know some of his friends, and he’s only down the road from me – that boxing saved Kell Brook. Sometimes the stories I’d hear in between fights – he’d go out on benders, liked a drink and partying, and every man to their own. But it was boxing that brought him back into a stable life; a routine; a healthy way of living, and structure. I’ve always had a stable life – I didn’t drink in between fights and was always very dedicated. I look at my difficulties, and think, “I’m struggling”, so for someone like Kell, who needed boxing to get that structure – fuck me, if I’m struggling, how’s he getting on? He needed boxing in my opinion – I might be wrong – to get focus and routine. I did feel for him.
I feel more sad for him that whoever he had there with him actually did that to him [sold the footage that led to those reports]. Whoever did that to him really stabbed him in the back. I don’t even feel like he needed to apologise. [Plenty of] men who go out on the weekend do that anyhow – you wouldn’t have needed to apologise for no one, mate. You’re going through a tough time; adapting. I feel you. You haven’t gotta apologise for that.
BN: Did you leave boxing financially secure?
Yes. That was my ultimate goal, more than anything else. I always followed the money. I’d have five opponents lined up. “Which one’s paying the most?” “Him, but he’s the hardest fight.” “Okay, I’ll fight him.” I’m in a very good position through boxing – through my dedication and hard work – and I secured my family. I never need to work again.
BN: You’re one of the best British fighters to never have won a world title. Are you at peace with that?
I thought I beat [in 2017 Jorge] Linares, and so did a hell of a lot of other people. Going over there, under all the pressure and circumstances in my life at that time – I fought a pound-for-pounder and won, minimum, seven clear rounds of a 12-round fight. I out-jabbed him; I out-landed him; I beat that guy, but they give it to him on a split-decision on his show. That was a real disheartening fight. “Everything I’ve been through – my dad passing away two weeks before; that was my fairytale; for my dad – they didn’t give it to me”, which hurt the most. I fought the elite of the elite when I fought for a world title, and I’m proud of that. There’s many out there who are world champions and no one knows who they are. Everyone knows who I am – fans say, “You was in the best fights”. The second most important thing in boxing, for me, is that – I fought the best and never ducked anyone. There’s sadness, but I’m content.
I was getting so much praise, but then absolutely zero follow-up. I don’t understand, from a promoter’s point of view – great fight, fans loved it, but then nothing. I was ready to fight again straightaway, or try and get a rematch, and I didn’t fight again until months after that, and it was on two days’ notice and way down an undercard. I don’t understand it.
BN: Reading between the lines, it sounds like you’re frustrated Matchroom didn’t secure home advantage for you, as they did for Kevin Mitchell and Anthony Crolla when they fought Linares?
I was an Olympic champion, a household name, but every time I had a big world title fight they sent me across the seas. I wanted the Crolla fight so many times, but they never give it to me. Crolla’s a great guy and a great fighter, and I’m not disrespecting anything he achieved, but he was nowhere near in the class I was in, and it’s not like I couldn’t sell tickets – I sold 8,000 for my debut. That’d be a question you’d have to ask the promoters. I can’t say nothing bad about Matchroom, because I made a hell of a lot of money. I was with Matchroom when I fought [Vasyl] Lomachenko [in the UK] on pay-per-view – that was a very big payday – but the majority of my biggest paydays weren’t with Matchroom, they were on Golden Boy shows.
BN: What do you reflect on as the highlights of your career?
From going into boxing from day one, my goal and dream was to be an Olympic champion [which Campbell achieved at London 2012]. I always wanted to be an Olympic champion – I never had any intentions of turning professional – I don’t know why. “If I win gold at the Olympics I’m gonna retire.” Months afterwards, I thought, “I don’t want to look back and think, ‘Where could I have gone?’”, so I went into it. I came out, financially secured my family forever, and won a lot of respect from the fans – I’m content. I’ve got a beautiful family; beautiful wife. What more do I want? My Olympic gold medal, and fighting Lomachenko – he was a two-time Olympic champion – at a soldout O2 Arena, on pay-per-view [were the highlights]. I fought the best amateur in history over 12 rounds.
How good was Jorge Linares?
Unbelievable fighter. Unbelievable warrior. There’s word I broke his rib in the ninth round – he was an unbelievable fighter. He had the biggest right hand out of everyone I fought. He had the strongest right hand – more power than anyone else. His speed; his boxing ability [are his strengths]. Even though, weirdly, I thought I was beating him with the jab all the time, and stepping round him. He caught me with a flash shot in the second round – as he come in I leaned back with a hook, and he followed through with a right hand and knocked me on me arse. I wasn’t physically hurt – my legs didn’t go. He just literally put me on my backside – knocked me off-balance – and when I was down I said, “Luke, you’re embarrassing yourself – get up”, so I got up, switched on, and from there I thought I took the fight. Everybody [had] told me I was going to get knocked out.
BN: Should you have pulled out?
Probably. Mentally, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind whatsoever. I was going through panic attacks and things like that with my dad. The only reason I went through with that fight, in my mind, was, “He would want me to do it”. I didn’t take any consideration in for, “How am I feeling? Can I handle this? How’s my mind playing?” I had a team around me that was in their own little world. Jorge [Rubio, my then-trainer] is a lovely fella; he didn’t have a clue what was going on [with logistics and managing]; I had to handle everything. I had to sort everything out; organise the team; organise the flights; organise my training camp. If I’d had a proper team around me, like in my last years with Shane McGuigan, then they would have advised me whether I should have got in that ring or not. At one point, as much as I love Jorge, he was over there praising [Ismael] Salas like he’s a god, and I’m thinking, “Is he for real? That’s our competition. Fucking hell.” It was my fault [I didn’t have the right nature of team until working with McGuigan]. No one else.
BN: …what about Vasyl Lomachenko?
He was the smartest fighter out of ‘em all. Every time I went to attack him he would just block and move away, and not engage. He wouldn’t try and counter me. Sometimes I was trying to look – to draw him and counter him – and he just don’t give you the shots to counter. The only time he really attacked me was when he threw at the same time as me. The one thing I’d change is for me not to commit with the jab. Every time I tried to commit with the jab I got timed with a left to the body. If I’d flicked the jab instead then stepped back, or something like that, I could have teased him with it and played with him a little bit more. It was when I committed to the jab, he timed me to the body, southpaw v southpaw.
Your focus needs to be switched on all the time. The second you lose focus he’s getting to you. I had to throw a lot of feints and keep him thinking and on his toes all the time. The biggest challenge, mentally, was staying alert and focused.
[It] was an unbelievable fight. The better man won. But a lot of them rounds was very close; very competitive. He hurt me; I hurt him; the fans loved it, and I fought the very best. It was an incredible fight.
At one point Johnny Nelson’s saying to me, “How do you think you can even go in there and win?” “You seriously just said that to me?” I look back and I’m thinking, “How I’ve gone in there and did what I did anyhow, against these guys when literally everybody was writing me off and no one had any confidence in me…”. “I’m glad you think he’s unbelievable; this is where I get on that level and prove to myself and everybody else I can mix it with the elite of the elite.”
BN: …and Ryan Garcia?
Garcia will be a pound-for-pounder. He was a lot better than I thought he was. He has power in both hands; hard punches in both hands. His speed and his timing is like nothing I’ve been in with before – he’s faster than Lomachenko, and has better timing. You can hit Garcia, but his timing and speed is his best quality. He can punch much harder than Lomachenko. I hurt Garcia; was hitting him with hard shots, and he was shrugging them off, backing himself. Single shots, I can punch very hard – harder than a lot of people think.“Once I start hitting him and hurting him he’s not going to want to know”, but he was tough.
I thought I was five rounds up. I dropped him in the second round, and I have never, ever seen anybody recover the way that man did. He was put to sleep in the second round; his arms was behind his back and he was out. He bounced up at five, fully recovered. “I’ve hit people with half the shot I’ve hit him with, and they haven’t recovered.” I was looking across, and his corner [Eddy Reynoso was then Garcia’s trainer] was all panicking, and he was trying to calm them down. “That’s a bit weird. He’s fully recovered – be careful, because I’m going to walk on to a right hook or something.” People ask why I didn’t jump on him. I jumped on him carefully – I know if someone’s there or not.
The weight killed me. I’ve never struggled with weight like that before, and if I was to continue I’d have moved up after that fight. That was the hardest it’s ever been – and I’d never ever been hurt with a body shot. Lomachenko hurt me, but not with one shot.
BN: The Garcia fight happened in the middle of the pandemic. To what extent did its timing, and the landscape around it, contribute to your career as when it did?
Seven weeks before that fight I had Covid and was in bed, written off, for two weeks. My camp was going great until I got Covid. I think I got it off a sparring partner; it doesn’t really matter where I got it from. Then I’ve got five weeks to get ready for this 12-round fight over in California. The second I felt better I was straight back in camp, hammering my body again. I had 16 months with not going in the ring before that fight, and I was training all the time. A hell of a long time. What I should have done was, “I don’t want that fight yet – I need to go in there and get the cobwebs off and be a little bit more active”. I asked for fights so many times.
I was three weeks off fighting [Javier] Fortuna for the world title. I’d have gone there and I’d have whooped Fortuna – again, over in America. Covid hit, they took the fight away from me, and the title I was fighting for they gave to [Devin] Haney. That moment is where I lost a lot of love for boxing. But everything happens for a reason. It’s a real shame, but it is what it is.
BN: Who wins when Garcia fights Gervonta Davis?
Garcia wins. He’s the bigger man – Tank’s always fought bigger guys anyhow, don’t get me wrong, [but] I don’t think Tank’s got the work rate to keep up with Garcia for a start. Tank’s made for Garcia – he’s shorter, got a smaller reach. He’s fast, but with Garcia’s timing and his speed he beats Tank. If he don’t knock him out, he beats him on points.
Tank’s a beast; he’s technical. He’s got the power – that one shot to pull out of a bag. When he fought [Rolando] Romero he was six rounds down, then he got a little bit careless and walked on to a shot. Usually a big puncher doesn’t have a massive work rate. But with Garcia’s athletic ability, his speed and timing and his punch ferocity, he beats Tank – and he certainly can take a shot. His best shot’s his right hook.
Boxing really needs a fight like that. If any YouTubers want to call me out… I’ve watched more entertaining white-collar fights. This fight is what boxing’s really needing right now.
Interview: Declan Warrington