IT was hard during all the hoopla that surrounded Tommy Fury vs Jake Paul not to spare a thought for the domestic cruiserweights who would sacrifice an arm for a fraction of the attention those two novices received in the month of February.
One such cruiserweight is Luke “The Duke” Watkins, whose pro career has been something of a slow-burner, thanks in no small part to the fact he calls Swindon, hardly a boxing hotbed, his hometown. Nevertheless, Watkins, now the English cruiserweight champion, says he would be more than happy to entertain a fight against either Fury or Paul if they wish to be taken seriously anytime soon.
“I would beat Tommy’s arse and Jake Paul’s arse on the same night,” Watkins told Boxing News. “I can’t even think about that type of thing, it would be so easy. I would beat the hell out of them both. It just comes down to experience. These two might have a bit of salt but I’ve got the full fat, the salt and pepper, and the extra seasoning. Over time they will get it, if they stick at it, but right now they don’t have what it takes. There are levels to this game and experience is so important.”
Despite insisting that neither man would be a match for him, Watkins speaks with no envy when commenting on Fury and Paul. Instead, though it would be easy for a fellow cruiserweight to bemoan their relative lack of opportunity, Watkins is full of admiration for Fury and Paul, not so much for their boxing ability but rather their ability to capitalise on good fortune and privilege.
“It is what it is,” he said. “They put bums on seats and when you put bums on seats you can make money. Good luck to them both. If you’re envious, it’s a bit of a victim mentality. I always try to think about what they were both born into. Tommy is the younger brother of the world heavyweight champion which automatically brings him some form of platform. That has allowed him to become a celebrity of sorts in the UK, and the same goes for Jake Paul, who has also had certain opportunities. It’s all just circumstantial. Some people are born poor in Third World countries, whereas we can consider ourselves lucky to have been born in England. You’ve just got to let them do their thing and concentrate on your own path.”
As for Watkins’ own path, the next step along it will see him face Jordan Thompson, 14-0 (11), in Cardiff on April 22. It is, he admits, a fight and a showcase he has been craving, one more essential than ever now that he has turned 33 and finds himself again in title contention.
“I wouldn’t say this is the fight I’ve been waiting for – because I don’t wait for things – but it’s the one I’ve been hoping for,” Watkins said. “Now it’s here and I have to take advantage of it. Jordan is a Matchroom boy and they’re backing him, which is good for me. It gives us that limelight and that platform.”
Unbeaten but untested, Thompson has built his 14-fight record primarily by stopping journeymen. In his most recent fight, however, and his stiffest test to date, he was taken the full 10 rounds by Vasil Ducar, a wild man from the Czech Republic familiar to UK fans.
“I do my due diligence,” Watkins said of his next opponent. “You always keep an eye on what is going on in your division, but he (Thompson) wasn’t someone I kept close tabs on. However, I will go back and watch more of him and get to know his strengths and weaknesses. He’s a competitor. He’s 14-0 and he’s got the belief of an unbeaten fighter. I’ve been in his position. I know what it felt like when I was in his shoes. I have to respect that and also go out there and do what I’ve got to do.
“I see what Matchroom are trying to do. They’re backing him and see me as the outsider stepping in to give him a good test. They are asking the question: ‘Can Jordan get past Luke?’ They know I am a good fighter and they want to know if their man can beat me. The thing is, I’ve got my own career, my own belief, and my own aspirations. I won’t allow their plan to materialise.”
Never one to expect anything to be given to him, Watkins, 16-2 (11), is a cruiserweight accustomed to operating in the shadows and doing his best work to little or no fanfare. Last time out, for instance, back in July, he snared the English cruiserweight belt with a sixth-round stoppage of Ian Martell, an opponent previously unbeaten, in a fight only those in attendance at the Civic Hall in Grays will have seen.
“It was good,” Watkins said. “He started strong, which I expected. You’ve got to give respect to an unbeaten opponent and take them seriously. He was coming in there undefeated and hungry and wanting to be a champion. There was no doubt he believed in himself. However, I’m more experienced, so once the fight settled, I just started picking him apart with the jab. I got into gear two and then that was it. I broke him down and finished the fight.”
Touching on the lack of attention, Watkins added: “The unfortunate geographical truth that falls on me is that I live in Swindon. They’re not thinking about me. They’re thinking about the guys in the big cities. My career slowed down due to that but I’ve stayed true to the game and to myself. I have always continued training and I have taken fights when they have been presented to me. Now I’m here ready to get back into the mix and get my career rolling again.”
To get his career rolling again Watkins will, on April 22, need to snap the unbeaten record of Jordan Thompson, just as he did with Ian Martell last year and just as he did with Robin Dupre in 2017.
“I expect to see the best Jordan Thompson there has ever been,” he said. “On the flipside, you’ll see the best version of me. I expect an entertaining fight and I expect to knock him out.”