Linus Udofia

Reece Macmillan
‘How tall is a tree going to grow?’
 
It’s not the standard philosophical question I am used to hearing from a 22 year old boxer.  But then, Linus Udophia doesn’t come across as the standard 22 year old boxer.  Polite and well spoken, he tells me that his route into boxing isn’t the usual backstory of a troubled upbringing and a route out of a darker pathway.  Instead it was a reflection of his financial prudence and a matter of fate.  “I didn't come from a struggling background, I had a good upbringing” Linus tells me.  “I walked into it because my mate invited me to a club which had just opened up. At first I thought I didn't want to do a fighting sport where you can't kick someone! He told me it would be good, then told me the first session was free! Being a cheapskate I went for it to see what it would be like. I did it and just fell in love with it, it was amazing. Then after that I trained in the second session and they asked me if I wanted to pay to fight or pay to train. Paying to fight was cheaper, so what did I do? I paid to fight, but never thought I would actually fight! Then three months into training they got me one, and that was it. As soon as I got the taste from that win I never ever stopped. As soon as I got the applause for it I was sold. I said to myself this is what I want to do, this is what I want to make money with. It's what I want my career to be.”
 
The young man from Luton had a decision to make though.  Boxing was a new love, but there was an old acquaintance that was still in his life and causing a conflict.  Football.  One of them had to go and as he explains, his desire for personal responsibility and achievement was the driving force behind the decision.  “In football I kept getting injured, meaning I couldn't box. I had to pick one, it wasn't worth the risk. I knew I could get further with the boxing, I was definitely better at it. I played football to a good level, but certain factors stopped me enjoying it like I did my boxing. Say you're all playing well and one person lets the team down, you lose and you all lose as a team. It's not like one person lets you down but you still get your individual win because you did well. In boxing I put in all the hard work, the only person who can let me down is me.”
 
Once the decision was made that the football boots were to gather dust and the gloves were to be laced (after a brief 12 month overlap) Udofia took naturally to boxing.  He was still clinging to his teen years when he started the sport, an age at which some of the top amateurs have amassed ten years of experience.  So has his late arrival to the sport been a disadvantage?  “I had 33 fights. I started when I was 18, so you could say I was late. You'd think being later to it would be a problem, but imagine beating people that have done it for 12 or 15 years. I've beaten people I should never have been beating if you're taking it from that side and that's how I see it. It doesn't matter how long I've been doing it, what matters is how much you put in. I've only been doing it four years but I've put in enough to win stuff and be here.”
 
There was success achieved in his brief amateur career that many more experienced boxers will never see.  Victory in the Under 20’s of the ABA tournament and a loss in the finals of the seniors were the highlights to Udofia.  Many boxers talk of the politics of the amateur sport ruining the enjoyment or a decision that they felt went against them being the catalyst for a change to the professional version of the game.  But again, Udofia isn’t the usual boxer.  He only has fond memories of his time in headguard and vest but ultimately it was only geared towards one avenue:
 
“The amateurs was good, it was a learning curve. But ever since I started boxing I always wanted to be pro. That was always my objective and what I was going for. In the amateurs, nothing made me say 'that's it I'm done, I'm turning pro'. It wasn't a loss or anything, in fact I left the amateurs on two wins back to back. Two seasons in a row I won 11 fights. The last season I won nine and lost two. 33 fights and 29 wins, I know a lot of people who have boxed for 15 years who haven't got a record like that, but at the same time I was also learning how to prepare myself for the sport. A lot of people would be boxing for years but wouldn't learn all the little details to do outside the ring, the things they need to do properly.”
 
The meticulous level of preparation that Udophia was applying to his amateur career would put to shame some of the best professionals.  You hear about those who have the talent but don’t ‘live the life’, but that is something the Luton middleweight can’t be accused of, even from a young age.  “I had people to help me diet, certain trainers to help me train individual things.” Says Udophia,  “In football you can break your leg and things like that happen but this is boxing, this is getting hit in the head. I need to make sure that everything is 100%. Even in the amateurs it's still getting hit, I don't want to get hurt. As crazy as it sounds I don't want to get hurt. The only way to avoid that is to do every single thing I need to do; diet, train hard, running, everything. If I don't do my running I could end up getting tired in a fight and get beat on. I don't want that! I need everything in my arsenal. I don't want to feel weak one day because I haven't eaten the right type of food, I want everything to be right.”
 
So what was the training regime like before he made the decision to turn professional?  “A lot of the time I would be training four days a week, doing my running every single day and preparing for a twelve round fight. I'd spar 12 rounds in the gym. I knew I was going to turn pro, so when that time came I wanted it all in the bank, to be ready.”  It shows the level of planning that he has put into his career already, well in advance of the bright lights and glamour of a professional career.  Another sign of how well calculated the transition from amateur to professional; his training setup.  Udofia’s amateur coach Paul had been taking another Luton fighter, Kay Prospere, down to Club KO gym in London.  Udofia said he had noticed “how well Kay was coming along” under the tutoring of Terry Steward at the gym.  Two years ago Udofia tagged along, going to a gym where he could mix with professional fighters as he prepared for his own amateur bouts.  “Paul took me there once and I always insisted on going back!  I loved it so much, I didn’t care how far away it was I just had to go back” he tells me, reflecting on the journey from his home town of Luton and traversing the tricky M25 to get to his training.
 
As with most newly turned professional, Linus also has the issue of fitting the training around a full time job.  Nearly all of those on the first rung of the boxing ladder have to make ends meet with other forms of income and being an electrician is that trade for Udophia.  How hard is it getting the balance between the day-to-day work and the aspirations he holds of a boxing career?  “I start at eight and get away around half three. On a good day I can finish then get to the gym and be home early afternoon. I will never work late enough that I don't make it to the gym. My employers, J&B Electricals, are a sponsor of mine, a lot of what they do for me other companies never would. They've helped me when I was an amateur too, giving me time off for championships. They've really helped me out.”
 
A supportive employer is a God send to an aspiring boxer and Udophia has landed on his feet.  To that end he has placed himself well with his boxing employers, teaming up with Leighton Buzzard based promoters Goodwin Boxing, headed up by boss Steve Goodwin.  Geographically the two are closely located, 15 miles separate Luton from Leighton Buzzard, but as Udofia tells me, he was completely unaware of the British promotional scene and the ‘other side’ of boxing.  So how did the link up come about?
“It comes down from when I first went to KO Gym with Terry Steward. I was speaking with some people and they kept mentioning Goodwin and a number of them were with him. I'd heard people mention him before, local fighters that had been on his shows so I thought 'who is he?' and then I saw he was coming up and getting his name out there, doing his own thing. I had no idea who he was, I knew he was a promoter but the only people I had heard of at the time were the American promoters; I didn't even know who Eddie Hearn (boss of Matchroom Boxing) was! I didn't know about all that side of boxing, I only knew about the training and if I'm honest I had no interest in it. I just wanted to do my thing and make sure I was 100% all the time. “
 
In a recent article with Steve Goodwin (read it here), the head of Goodwin Boxing picked out Udpohia as one of the three fighters from his stable to keep an eye on this year.  With over 90 that he could have potentially picked from, does being picked as a potential breakout star bring any pressure to the young man?  “Without sounding arrogant or cocky, when I first started I was nothing and then I was suddenly meant to be someone and I was put in front of everyone. A lot of the time it's been like that. At one point before the ABA rankings I was number three in the country behind the England boys. It's not pressure, it's incentive. I need to prove it. I believe in myself and if I didn't I wouldn't be doing the things that I'm doing. Steve recognises that I'm good, now it's my job to show everyone that he's telling that I'm good. It's as simple as that, an incentive. I'm not worried about not performing as I'm so ready, the way I feel.....I wish I turned pro years ago!”
Linus Udophia oozes confidence.  Not arrogance, confidence.   I should interject at this point and point out that I have seen first hand this young man in action having been witness to sessions of his at the KO Gym and being an observer to his levels of dedication in fitness sessions as well as his natural ability in sparring.  He carries himself with a swagger, the look of someone who knows that they have the tools to be able to complete the job; they are just waiting for the right assignment to present itself. 
 
His debut as a professional has been set:  March 19th at York Hall, London.  Goodwin Boxing have made a niche product at the home of English boxing by investing in the product of what they put on, big screens show entrance videos and a new ring walk has been created to lose the leisure centre feeling and make the punters believe that they are witnessing an ‘event’, not just a boxing show.  So how excited is Udophia to be making his debut on the show of the most innovative small hall promoter in the country? 
“I've never been more excited about anything in my life! Honestly, when I first started all I ever thought about was getting into a pro ring. It's not like I didn't care about the amateurs, but I never looked at the amateurs like that. I always wanted to turn pro and win titles.”
 
I have spectated Udophia in the ring already in sparring sessions.  He is a young man chiselled in muscle, one of those in the gym who has no qualms with whipping the vest off when the temperature rises.  If it is true that boxers develop their man strength into their late 20’s then Udophia’s body structure is misleading.  He looks fully developed already, the almost perfect frame for a middleweight fighter and certainly with the potential to move through the weight divisions as he ages.  Having seen what he is capable of in the ring he is the real deal.  He is tricky, works to a plan dictated by Terry Steward.  He is elusive.  Bigger fighters than him struggle to pin him down and pressurise him as he looks for the angles out of trouble and get off his own counters.  It is certainly a style that seemed more at home in the professionals that the traditional ‘tap tap’ of the amateurs.  What style of fighter does he perceive himself as and can fans anticipate?
 
“Expect counters, putting punches and combinations together. When it comes I put the power in and try to take someone out. I do all of it, believe me. When I'm ready to take someone out I will. My boxing ability is my major strength. A lot of people have something outstanding about them but for me it's just boxing ability, I can adapt. I adapt to whatever is in front of me and I picked that up in the amateurs. I was having 11 fights a season, that was a fight every weekend at times. You're never going to get the same person or the same style over two weekends, it was always different.”
 
Given this is someone that, by his own admission, had little interest in boxing before he picked up the gloves at the age of 18, his natural boxing ability and fitness is what he is highlighting as his strengths.  Inspiration wise, which fighters has he invested his time in studying?  “Floyd Mayweather was the first one as he was one of the only ones I knew. Erislandy Lara, Miguel Cotto, Andre Ward; good boxers, ones that don't get hit a lot, that's what I wanted to watch. No offence to the ones that just want to go in and have a war, but I didn't want to watch someone throw 100 punches and take a few as well. Even in sparring, I learn watching people that throw hundreds of punches a minute but they're taking shots. I don't know about you, but I don't like getting hit! I don't like it at all. That one punch I take makes me want to hit you four more times. That's how I've always been.”
 
It’s a who’s who of the artists of the current day.  Lacking perhaps only Guillermo Rigondeaux from the list, it is a selection of the modern fighters with highlight reels in defensive trickery.  Each of those has reached elite levels within the sport, world championships and the acclaim of millions of fans and the income to match.  So for Udofia, how far does he see that he can go?  “I won't set myself goals. I will work my hardest and let hard work and dedication take it where it needs to take me. I personally find when I set goals, it can create limitations. Say I wanted to get to a British title, that's all I may get to. If I say I want to get to a world title, that's all I might get to. If you set yourself limits then you accept it. I don't set limits, I think I can go as far as humanly possible. How tall is a tree going to grow? Who knows? I feel I'm going to shock the world and come out of nowhere. Nobody really knows who I am. In my town people know me. Nobody did before I fought Jordan Reynolds (English amateur captain), but then I gave him a fight and controversially lost to him and people knew who I was. But still I'm not known in the big time. I will be, but I'm not yet.”
 
So we know what he is looking forward to, we know what style he will bring and we are even aware of who he has studied.  So finally, what is it that is the driving force for Udophia, what gets him out on those runs and driving back down the M25 to get to the gym?  “The achievement of 'he did that'. People to say 'you remember that guy Linus from Luton? He won a world title, remember him?' - that's what drives me.” He says.  “The money is great, give me more! Everyone loves money, but that comes with success. Titles are objects; I have a lot of trophies in my living room cabinet and they're cool but I want a legacy, something to leave behind. I was thinking this the other day; all I achieved in my amateur career and I got sponsors come in and gave me money and it was all new and it was all exciting and great, but I got it and that wasn't what I was looking for. Getting these trophies, these belts and everything that came with it and that still wasn't it. Trophies are great to fill a cabinet and then you never look at it again. Then I started seeing write ups about me in papers and that was it. That's what I wanted. I thought 'bloody hell, that's what I want'. People talking about me on Twitter and.....bloody hell that's it, that's what I want. I was going on a Home Counties trip to fight Guernsey and Three Counties radio emailed me and asked if I would like to go in and talk about my career and my fight. That was amazing. The recognition was great. Even in the gym, just sparring alone, I want to be that guy nobody wants to spar! That's what I'm aiming for. I work hard, I want it.”
 
How tall is a tree going to grow?  It’s a valid question.  When the seed is planted, who can tell what height it will stop at?  A tree doesn’t know limits other than where it will naturally stop progressing.  For Udophia the seeds have only just been laid in the ground.  Confident without arrogance, the body of a full grown man with the freshness and enthusiasm of a new starter.  The meticulous preparation of a fighter who has been involved in the sport for years.  There is no doubt that Udophia has something special about him; mind set, old head on young shoulders, natural ability and fitness.  He’s witty and sharp with charisma in abundance.  It’s too early in the journey to say how far he can go in the sport and as he says himself, why set limitations?  Udophia wants to blaze his own trail, and it is going to be a brave person betting against him.
 
Linus wished to thank his sponsors, who he acknowledges he has been lucky to engage with at such a fledgling point of his career and that he would struggle to continue his progression with their support.  These are:
Sports Codez
MyMovingCompany
Dowles Fitness
J & B Electricals
KD Electricals Ltd
Retrome
Kate Todd of Physio First
Logia Design
Maximum Nutrition