BRADLEY SKEETE is still in Spain. He’s not there against his will, nor is he wallowing in the disappointment of a second round stoppage loss to Kerman Lejarraga last Saturday (April 28). Instead, Skeete has swapped Bilbao for Alicante – “I got on the first fight out of there” – and is using a few days of sun, beer and normality to put his second career defeat in perspective.
It figures to be a long, painful process, but Skeete, as grounded as any boxer in Britain, is already making good progress.
“We knew he (Lejarraga) was a big puncher, so going in there my game plan was to get behind my jab, get that going, suss him out, and see what he had,” he told Boxing News on Tuesday (May 1).
“But he had a great jab himself. Very, very powerful. He caught me with a good jab in the first round and it kind of got me off balance. It buzzed me a bit. I’m not going to lie.
“I knew from that point on I needed to respect his power. But I tried to keep my composure and I don’t think the first round was too bad.
“Going into the second round, he came on a lot stronger. I was on the ropes and pulled away with my hands down and he caught me with a shot on top of my head and that caused the first knockdown. It scrambled me a bit.
“I got to my feet but the second knockdown was when things went pear-shaped for me. It was a body shot and it just took it all out of me. He was a good finisher. He got the job done.”
There’s no need to elaborate. Skeete, 27-2 (12), remembers the European welterweight title fight in clear detail and, because of the swift nature of the finish, is able to remember each and every one of the punches. There was, to his relief, no prolonged beating, nor any real damage. It was simply a shot he didn’t see coming in much the same way it was a defeat he didn’t see coming.
“I just didn’t get going,” he added. “I’m not making any excuses. I had a great training camp and everything went well in the lead up to the fight. I got beat by the better guy on the night. It just wasn’t me in there.
“I’m not taking anything away from him. He’s a great fighter and a great champion. I give him full credit. I really hope he goes on to do big things and gets the credit he deserves. That will make my defeat not look so bad. Before the fight I wasn’t being disrespectful. I’m not a disrespectful person. But maybe I didn’t give him the credit he deserved and maybe I was talking a bit out of turn when I said he hadn’t boxed anyone on my level. I genuinely believed I was the better fighter but on the night he proved I wasn’t.”
Although wrestling with the trauma of defeat, Skeete’s honesty is commendable and his refusal to offer excuses, when many do, is a testament to his level-headedness. He needed this level-headedness last weekend. He needed to be able to stay calm under pressure. He needed to be able to see beyond the masks and the war cries that greeted his ring walk at the Bilbao Arena.
On reflection, it was this aspect, as much as it was Lejarraga’s heavy punches, that shook Skeete to his foundations.
“Being away from home didn’t faze me one bit before the fight,” he said. “But it was so hostile in there it was unbelievable. I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. That was an experience in itself.
“It wasn’t violent, I wasn’t abused, but it was hostile. They (the Bilbao fans) are so pro their man. The ring-walk just proved it. I was almost rushed to the ring. There were no barriers up. I couldn’t see the ring. The crowd were surrounding me. They had masks on their faces and were making these crazy noises. It was so hostile. I’d never experienced that before.
“But I wouldn’t change it. To be a world-class fighter and to be a champion, you’ve got to go through those kind of experiences. If I got the opportunity to do it again, and be in that situation again, I’d do it. I want to be at that level.”
The assumption, certainly on the part of Skeete, was that Saturday night would deliver a European title and open up a new level in his professional career. With victory, he could go on to defend the belt; he could improve his world rankings. Then, in time, he could perhaps even fight for a version of the world title.
But now the Londoner is stuck. Still champion of Britain, he has defended the Lonsdale belt three times, winning it outright as a result, but will, for as long as Lejarraga reigns over Europe, seemingly have to wait to advance up the ladder.
“It’s a learning curve,” said the 30-year-old. “It’s not like I was battered and beaten up for 12 rounds and I’ve got injuries. I’m fine; I’ve got my health. I’ll go again. And I’m sure I’ll be back.
“I know all domestic-level fighters will be shouting my name and calling me out, but I still stand by it: I’m not domestic level. I’ve still got my British title but I don’t feel I need to drop back to that level to prove anything. No disrespect to those guys on the domestic scene, but they’re not going to touch me.
“I think I’m beyond that level. I want to get straight back at European level. There are some great fights out there for me. I’m sure I’ll be back. I just need to sit down and speak to my manager, Andy Ayling, and my promoter, Frank Warren.
“One thing I would say, and I’m not looking to make excuses, is that not fighting since last July is not good enough if I’m going to be winning fights at the level I want to get to. I boxed twice last year – June and then July – but it wasn’t like I had two camps. That was basically one camp. He (Lejarraga) boxed five times in 2017 and his last fight was a 10-rounder in November.
“That’s the only thing I’m disappointed about. That’s one thing that needs to change.”