WITH a bit more luck, Bradley Skeete could be WBO world welterweight champion right about now. It was all looking so good for the Londoner. There was a December 2017 fight against champion Jeff Horn in the works. He was happy to go to Australia. He was preparing to become a world champion. But then it all just as quickly fell apart.
Skeete, on the verge of a title shot, was suddenly left with nothing. Now, as he gears up for his first fight since July, he can’t help but think what might have been.
“Who knows, if Jeff Horn and his team didn’t swerve me, I could be sitting here as a world champion on the verge of fighting Terence Crawford,” Skeete told Boxing News. “It’s all ifs, buts and maybes, but that’s the reality of it. That’s how close I was to getting that fight.
“Basically, Horn was meant to be fighting Manny Pacquiao in the rematch but then Pacquiao pulled out the fight and they were looking at opponents. I was one of the opponents they were looking at.
“We had all the terms sent to us and we agreed to them all. Literally everything was agreed and we were waiting on a contract to be sent. It went quiet for a day or so before we were told they were looking elsewhere for another opponent. I then got told Gary Corcoran was the opponent they picked.
“I think they went away and watched some of my fights. In the press it got released that I was looking like the opponent and even Australian press were picking me. I was the slight favourite with the bookies. Twitter went mad and they obviously thought, right, we’ll swerve this one and take another fight. We don’t want to mess up our chance of holding on to our belt and getting a mega-fight.
“That was a big knockback for me. I was ready. After that, it was just one thing after another really. Shows got cancelled, opponents pulled out and I wasn’t getting fights. It was a bad time for me. It was so frustrating. I kept getting told to be patient but I was ready to go. I was so ready.”
For Skeete, 27-1 (12), a fight with Horn wasn’t just an opportunity to experience Australia and tell everyone back home he was good enough to box for a version of the world welterweight title. It was, instead, his chance to win one. Not only that, it was the key he required to unlock doors in the future.
“Don’t get me wrong, it would have been a hard fight,” he said. “He’s a tough fighter. You’ve only got to look at his fight with Manny Pacquiao to see that. He was able to grind out a win against Pacquiao. But his style of fighting is made for me. On my day, with my style, I know I would have beaten him.”
Horn is now in Skeete’s rear-view mirror. He has to be. To labour the point, to think what could have been, would do the British welterweight champion no favours.
Besides, Skeete has other things on his mind. Three days away from challenging for the vacant European welterweight title, Skeete is thinking not of Jeff Horn but of unbeaten Spaniard Kerman Lejarraga, the man he must defeat in Bilbao, Spain this Saturday (April 28).
“This opportunity has come up and I’ve grabbed it with both hands,” he said. “I have to go away from home to fight for this title but that’s fine because it’s what I want to be doing in the future anyway. The level I’m going to be fighting at, my fights are not always going to be at home. I’m just looking at this as a stepping stone for the future.
“From what I’ve seen of him, I think his style suits me. He’s a come-forward puncher who looks for the big punch. I’m a counterpuncher, I’ve got long arms, and I think my jab will be the key to this fight, as it is for most of my fights. If I get the jab going early, and walk him on to other shots, I’ll be in a good place.
“He also marks up and has been cut before. He was cut in sparring. If I let my hands go and bust him up, I’ll be looking to get him out of there in the mid to late rounds.”
Lejarraga, 24-0 (19), has fought only once outside his native Spain – beating Jose Antonio Abreu in the USA last year – but can clearly punch and clearly feels comfortable boxing in front of his fans in Bilbao. His biggest win to date is a fourth round stoppage of Denton Vassell, the former Commonwealth champion, in 2016.
“I’ve just got a good feeling about this fight,” said Skeete. “He’s an unbeaten fighter with a good knockout ratio. From 24 fights, he has knocked out 19. But, no disrespect, the only name on his record that stands out is Denton Vassell. And that was the end of Vassell’s career. He’d already been stopped by Sam Eggington and Frankie Gavin.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a tough fight, he’s a hard puncher, and I’m sure he’s unbeaten for a reason. I’ve got to be at my best. But, to be honest, if I’m shouting out that I’m world level and I’m good enough to win a world title, I can’t be losing to people like this. That’s no disrespect to him. These guys I should be beating and beating well.”
To beat Lejarraga and beat him well, Skeete must rely on both his boxing ability and also the fairness of the officials. He has maximum faith in the former but can only hope for equality when it comes to the latter.
“I just want a fair crack at the whip,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s a vacant title. I’m not the challenger; he’s not the champion. I’m going to his hometown to fight him.
“I’m sure the judges and referee will be fair and that’s all I ask for. If I go out there, do a job and come home empty-handed because I’ve been cheated, it will be disgusting. But I believe my style will be more than enough to get the win. If I win on points, I will make it convincing. If not, I will win by stoppage.”
Bradley Skeete, more than anyone, knows not to take anything for granted in this sport. But when asked if he can win a European title on Saturday night in Bilbao, he’s certain of it.