“WHAT the f*** am I going to do with my life?” Luke Willis struggled to find a fraction of hope sitting in his car parked by the factory where he alternated mind-numbing shifts every fortnight. Willis wanted more. Examining his co-workers, men in their 50s with over 30 years of service which had left them bitter, but too regimented to make changes to a familiar lifestyle, Willis demanded better and he finally convinced himself that he had the talent to go out there and achieve it.
Perfecting his boxing craft at various Liverpool fight schools, most notably St Aloysius ABC, which was founded by his father Kenny, Willis had flirted with a variety of amateur tournaments. But success at senior level had cruelly eluded him as he suffered multiple hand injuries. Unable to participate in the 2012 ABAs due to a slight fracture in his right hand, Willis, an impulsive figure, bizarrely neglected boxing altogether. Now he is wise enough to admit that the decision to storm out of his beloved sport was wrong.
“I swerved boxing because I had a daughter to raise,” reflects Willis. “I’m one of those lads who has to give something my all if I’m going to have a go at it and boxing was just giving me problem after problem with injuries so I went home and told my mum that I was finished with it and I started looking for a job straight away. I was working for a few years and hated every job I had, but it brought money in and looking after my little girl had to be the priority. Do I wonder where my career would be now if I would’ve been a bit more patient back then? Of course, who wouldn’t?”
Dreams of fistic glory, the staple of Willis’ adolescent existence, reappeared in brief glimpses. Willis couldn’t let go of boxing entirely, but he would have to relinquish other aspects of his life.
“I nearly had a breakdown. Honestly, that’s how bad it was. I was making airplane parts in a big factory and the older fellas in there knew I boxed amateur and they’d be telling me to go after it and not have any regrets, but it was decent pay and I’d become used to it. Two grand a month for an easy job was perfect for me, but when I tried to add training to that then it became a nightmare. I’d run at about 5am, go straight to work, and then head straight the gym before falling asleep at home. I’d do similar when I was on nights, but obviously at different times. After three weeks, I didn’t know who I was anymore because everything was just up the wall and I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I made the decision there and then to stick with the boxing and try to figure out how I would support my family along the way,” he said.
In 2016, Willis finally made his professional debut and he’s been winning ever since. Despite the occasional social media tantrum where Willis has no issue letting his followers how frustrating his chosen vocation can be, it does appear that an opportunity, something Willis desperately craves, is lingering on the horizon. Climbing steadily up the domestic lightweight rankings, Willis is eager to make an impression in 2019 and he hopes Steve Wood, his manager, can make things happen for him over the next 12 months.
“I need a big fight right now. Something that is going to make people sit up and take notice. I’ve had my apprenticeship now and I know I’m ready to move on and fight for titles. I’d love the Lewis Ritson fight more than anything because I’ve watched him for a while and I know I have the skills to make it an easy night’s work for me,” he said.
“Joe Cordina is another fight that I’d like and that one would be more of a chess match, but it’s a fight that I know I would win. This is where I’m at in my career right now. I don’t want to be one of those fighters who spends his days calling out names, but I’ve got to be heard now because I don’t have a big deal with Eddie Hearn or Frank Warren, and I never went to the Olympics, so I’ve got to get myself noticed by calling people out and then getting in the ring and showing people exactly what I’m capable of.”