THERE is an aura about Vasyl Lomachenko. He trains like nobody else, he fights like nobody else and nobody, you’d think, can beat him right now. But Hull’s Luke Campbell isn’t going to let himself get swept up in the mystery. “We’re here now and this is what’s happening,” the Yorkshireman says simply. “The story will be better at the end of it.”
“It just feels like I’m getting ready for another fight. That’s exactly what it is. It’s just another fight,” he continued. “I’ve always been one of those people regardless of who I fight, whether it’s a big fight, a small fight, I always feel the same. Even if I’m fighting a little fight or whatever I always feel the same feelings, emotions, nerves, whether it be that or a big fight. To be fair I’m more excited for the big fight. The experience from the Olympics taught me a lot. The big crowds there, I’ve always thrived off that. For me I’m more in my comfort zone the bigger it is.
“That’s what everybody dreams of, being involved in huge fights like this and fighting the best.”
Even when it comes to praising Lomachenko, Campbell is about the only person who manages to make it sound matter of fact. “He’s number one for who he’s beat,” he states. “He’s not there for his style, he’s there for who he’s beat and he’s a three-weight world champion.”
But regardless of Lomachenko’s mystique, Campbell sounds a note of ferocity. He has a vicious edge when he insists he can get to and he can hurt the great man. He’s been alongside the Ukrainian at press conferences and face-offs ahead of this fight. “I just think in the back of my mind I’m going to hit you hard, I’m going to hit you hard. I’m going to hurt you,” he notes.
Perhaps Luke is unawed because he’s been boxing along with the Ukrainian for years. Lomachenko is rightly celebrated not only for his professional exploits but also for being a two-time, two-weight, sensational Olympic gold medallist. But Campbell is not short of his own amateur credentials, one of the best in fact that the UK has produced. His career has followed an intriguing parallel path to Lomachenko’s, leapfrogging one another’s weight divisions but not boxing each other until now in a professional title unification. The first time Luke saw the Ukrainian was in Saratov, Russia, 15 years ago at the European Cadet championships. Luke was only 50 kilos and, after first outpointing the Ukrainian in his division, ultimately took a bronze medal. Lomachenko was competing down at 46kgs. He won naturally of course.
“All the way back then, he was a different weight from me back then, but very cool, very skilful, always has been,” Campbell remembered.
In 2008 both were in Liverpool boxing in the European championships. By now Campbell was in the division below. Luke won at 54kgs, becoming the first Englishman to win a European gold medal since 1961, while Lomachenko was, of course, victorious at featherweight. Both boxed in the 2011 World championships. Campbell was held to a silver medal, Lomachenko won gold. Both triumphed at the London Olympic Games in 2012, the Briton at 56kgs, Lomachenko at lightweight. It’s taken until 2019 but on Saturday (August 31), they will fight at the O2 Arena in London, for Lomachenko’s WBA and WBO titles and the vacant WBC championship belt.
“I’ve always thought about it and I’ve got it,” Campbell said. “I see certain things. We’re preparing for me to be the best I can be on that night. We’re not preparing for Lomachenko pivoting off to the left or Lomachenko pivoting off to the right or attacking. We’re preparing for everything and for me to be the best I can be. He’s ranked number one pound-for-pound for a reason. I think he’s the very best out there at the minute. It’s exactly where I want to be. I want to go in there and fight the best and stamp my authority.”
“Everybody’s going to be an underdog against him,” he continued. “But I’ve always been underestimated, the whole of my career, from the day I started boxing. It doesn’t bother me that. I’m just excited now to go out there and show everybody what I’m capable of doing and how good I am. I’m fighting the best and I believe I’m one of the best, if not the best.”
For most observers Campbell is attempting the impossible, so formidable has Lomachenko appeared to be in recent years. But the Englishman is adamant that he is the man to do it. “There is no blueprint out there for him. I’m going to beat him by being me. He’s fighting me,” he said. “I can see that a lot of his opponents were already in disbelief that they’re going to win. That’ll give him an advantage he didn’t really need. I believe a lot of his opponents will go in there not believing. But I’m not.”
However, their professional records so far suggest that Campbell has been operating at a level below. They have a mutual opponent. Lomachenko stopped Jorge Linares to win his first lightweight world title in May, 2018. Campbell had lost a split decision to Linares in California eight months before. But Luke is now in a very different place, in his mind and in his training.
When Campbell lost that, his first world title fight, he had been training in isolation with Jorge Rubio in Miami. In the week of his fight with Linares, Luke was mourning the death of his father. Two years on from that dark episode, the Yorkshireman has established a new camp with trainer Shane McGuigan. Their partnership has been successful, with Luke avenging a previous loss in beating Yvan Mendy and then knocking out Adrian Yung in Philadelphia.
“There’s a lot different. I’m happy. I’m in a very good place. I’ve had a great training camp. I’ve got Shane in my corner,” Campbell said. “I’m settled. I feel like I’ve finally got a solid team around me for the first time in my professional career. I’m happy in the gym and I’m happy I get to go home every weekend and see my family too,” he continued. “I feel like I’m in a great place, physically, mentally, in the gym, training, everything. I feel like now I’m coming into my best. I feel like these next couple of years I’m really going to be in my zone and I feel like I can go out there and beat anyone.”
‘I’ve always thrived off that. For me I’m more in my comfort zone the bigger it is’
He can see the fight – “probably a bit of everything. A bit of a chess game. A bit of a tear up. A bit of everything really. I think that’s why this fight is so exciting because I feel like we can bring everything to the table” – and he has a vision for the outcome. “I just see myself as the champion. Beating everybody’s pound-for-pound king. I see the way people will react to me after beating him,” he says. “It’s certainly all my dream come true as well. Winning a world title, three belts in one go and also beating the guy that’s ranked number one pound-for-pound. Certainly I can tick a few boxes there on my bucket list.”
When he puts it like that, it sounds almost simple.