Luke Blackledge

It’s a busy life as a boxer.  Training, dieting, media commitments and then ultimately, fighting.  Luke Blackledge has an integral fight coming up on October 10th at the Manchester Arena, making the first defence of his Commonwealth super middleweight title won back in April versus 2015.  “Is that all it is, ten days?  Bloody hell” he exclaims as I let him know how long until he steps in the ring against Lee Markham at the Manchester Arena.
It’s no surprise that he is struggling to keep on top of everything.  We speak just after he has been interviewed by Barry Jones of BoxNation, the channel that will be screening his fight.  The prospect of that exposure seems to have revved the engine of the 25 year old from Accrington who sounds pumped to fight now, not wait the week and a half.  “I’m buzzing – it’s on Box Nation.  Frank Warren is the best promoter out there, he’s been in it the longest.  I just can’t wait to be on a big bill in Manchester on Box Nation and fight in front of thousands of people on TV.”
He is absolutely correct to state it is a big bill, despite the headline fight between Billie Joe Saunders and Andy Lee being cancelled.  There are still two world title fights featured – Terry Flanagan making the first defence of his WBO lightweight title against Diego Magdaleno and Liam Smith fighting John Thompson for the vacant WBO light middleweight title.  On the night though, Blackledge (19-2-2) has his hands full against Lee Markham (14-2-1) of Essex.
The Southerner is a heavy hitter, but has struggled when he has made steps up in class.  One of his two losses was to Jahmaine Smyle (11-4-2) for the English super middleweight title where he lost via split decision and his last outing was a draw against Frank Buglioni in May for the WBO European title.  What is Luke Blackledge expecting of Markham on October 10th?  “You never know what to expect from Lee Markham - that fight with Buglioni was the best Lee Markham I’ve seen, but you just don’t know which version is turning up.  If he turns up at his best and I turn up at my best then it will be a good fight on the night.”
On the back of the fight with Markham, Buglioni unexpectedly got a shot at Fedor Chudinov for his WBA title.  Many were surprised the opportunity presented itself to Buglioni, but he was happy to accept the challenge and fought to a brave 12 rounds points loss.  In hindsight perhaps the fight came too early for Buglioni – so if a similar opportunity presented itself to Blackledge would he take it?
“That was his only shot to get a world title.  There’s no reason for me to take a world title fight if I was in the same position – I’ll take a world title fight when I’m ready and I know 100% I can win it.  Buglioni got the draw with Markham and jumped at the chance of a world title – fair play to him, but he got a good hiding.  A lot of fighters wouldn’t come back from that – he showed a lot of heart.  I’ve made a lot of mistakes already in my career so I’m learning and I have the right people around me.  I’ve jumped levels and it didn’t work out – I’m doing it right this time.”
One of the mistakes that he alludes to he tells me is a fight with Liverpool’s Rocky Fielding (16-0-0 at the time).  Fielding has since gone on to pick up some notable wins and is in a position to challenge for the British title in an all Mersey dustup in November against Callum Smith.  Looking back at the fight with Fielding in November 2013 there are certain lessons for the Accrington man.  “Everything was wrong with it – I wasn’t supposed to be fighting, I took it at two days notice” he says.  But the way he talks about it in his Manchester accent isn’t with regret, instead a very to-the-point fact that he knows the situation was wrong.  “I underestimated him as well.  If the fight came around again then that’s fine, if it doesn’t I don’t mind.  I’ve sparred him since that fight and even he’s said I improved a lot.  At the time I was chasing the big fights, but I’m in a position now when I don’t have to do that – all I have to do is turn up and win.”
He makes it sound like a simple process.  As the old adage goes though, train hard fight easy.  As far as the training is concerned, Blackledge is in as good a place as he can be.  “Everything has gone perfectly.  When I won the Commonwealth that was a good camp – but this training camp has been perfect.  My sparring has improved more than anything – I’ve had one bad spar in the whole camp.  I’ve done hours of training, my diet is bang on, I’ve done loads of strength and conditioning – everything has just been mint.  Only thing I need to do now is do what I’ve done in the gym and in sparring on the night and I’ll perform.” 
Bradley Smith
This will be the first time that Markham has fought outside of the London area in his professional career, so how much of a difference will the home support of Blackledge make on the night?  “He’s form London, so I’m the home fighter and he’s coming to my yard.  It will make a big difference on the night.  I’ve got a good following on the 10th – there’s me and another lad from the gym, Jack Flatley, he’s a good fighter.  We’re bringing down easily 500, probably more.  It’s going to be a good ‘un”

Blackledge approaches October 10th on a five fight winning streak, his last outing being where he claimed the Commonwealth title against Liam Cameron (18-4-0).  It was a unanimous points decision at King George’s Hall in Blackburn against the man who is a former ABA champion.  To be able to outscore a man who has won the premier national amateur competition on all three judge’s scorecards shows the pedigree of boxing ability that Blackledge possesses.  How does he look back on that performance?  “I was really pleased with it.  People don’t realise but Liam Cameron is a good fighter – if I didn’t have the right game plan for him he could have made me look stupid, he’s an awkward fighter.  I had to be really strict and stick to what my coaches told me.  Their team were shocked and didn’t realise how good I was and how much I’ve improved.  I’ve had a lot of hard fights – that was one of my hardest.”

2015 has at points been frustrating for Blackledge – this will be only his second fight of the calendar year.  “I’ve had a few issues to be honest, a few problems with my hands.  Everything is 100% now though and this is the quietest year I’ve ever had.  If you look at my record I’ve had some years where I’ve had seven fights.  It’s been an inactive year, so I would love for next year to be more active.” 

The year could end on a high for the super middleweight though, a victory over Markham would mean that there are potentials of defending the Commonwealth title, looking for honours at British level or moving on to the European scene.  Before then though he is clear where his focus is.  “I don’t want to look past this fight like Frank Buglioni did – I thought he got beat in that Markham fight but they gave it a draw.  I’m not going to do that, I need to do the business first and then sit down with the team, my manager Steve Woods, my trainer and everyone involved.”

With many doors and routes being open to Markham, October 10th is a big fight on a big card.    Blackledge is confident that there will again be marked signs of improvement as he progresses his career – “In a few weeks everyone will see how much I’ve improved and I’ll be ready for the next step up” – the man from Altrincham is happy to take baby steps this time, having learnt the risks of leaping in levels.  He is still young enough to put those lessons in to practice – if he can wins on the 10th and can stay active through 2016 he could get the opportunity.
Luke would like to acknowledge the sponsors who have been pivotal through his career, which include AJ Woods, The Sixes, New Age Hydroponics, Home Run and NR Demolitions.