London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Luke Campbell has spoken about the resilience needed to make it in sport, admitting he had to hit ‘rock bottom’ before rising to the top.
Speaking at the Sport Industry Private Dining Club, Campbell opened up on numerous topics such as his fight in front of a sold-out O2 Arena against Vasyl Lomachenko and his thoughts ahead of his next bout, against Javier Fortuna, as well as his own ups and downs throughout his career.
He entertained the room with his sense of humour as well as his unparalleled insight into life as both an amateur and a professional, but despite his affable demeanour, it was his mental resilience that came to the fore when he talked about his struggles in the years building up to the Olympic Games London 2012.
“I had my best year in 2008, when I won a European gold medal, becoming the first Brit to do that in 47 years,” he said. “That was my best ever year - I don't think I lost once that year. And then, weirdly, 2009 was the worst year of my career, and it got to a point where I was about to quit the sport completely because it was that bad.
“I fell out of love with it. I didn't want to be away from my family every week, my results and performances were way out, but my family would say to me, ‘You’ve worked so hard for this all your life, don't stop now.’ It was 2009 and then into 2010 , they’d be saying ‘You've got two years to the Olympics, stay on and try to make it there, because the last thing you want to do is live with regret or to be thinking what could have been.’”
“So I went from having the best year of your life to the worst year: I was out with an injury, I was watching others go to tournaments and get medals and I was just falling down the pecking order.
“I guess I needed to hit rock bottom, in 2009 or 2010, in order to reach the top. But when I was at the bottom, I realised: ‘What's so scary about this? I'm at the bottom, but I’ve still got my health, my family, my friends - it’s not actually that scary being at the bottom.’ So I gave it everything for the next two years and qualified for the Olympics.”
Campbell, who has had success in business away from his sporting career, with numerous interests in property and boutique gyms as well as launching his own healthy eating chain called Feast, makes bouncing back sound so simple. But his story shows that all is never quite lost. Qualifying for the Olympic Games after his own annus horribilis wasn’t the end of a long road, but it was only the end of the beginning. Winning gold on home soil alongside a select group of British boxers to medal at a home Games - including Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams - propelled him into a professional career.
Given his enviable record in both amateur and professional boxing, Campbell's background as well as his expereinces show he's an expert in all forms of the sport and is actively pursuing media work especially with Tokyo 2020 around the corner.
He still has plenty to give in his own career, however, and his obvious mental strength and resilience, might well have been a factor in his ability to overcome the 2019 defeat to Vasyl Lomachenko, bouncing back for another title fight this year. He came away from the bout against the Ukranian, a man who is widely regarded as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, with credit in the bank.
Lomachenko’s amateur record saw him win 396 times and lose only once - though he would later avenge that loss twice. Ahead of the world title fight, Campbell sold out London’s O2 Arena and won plaudits for his performance against one of the best boxers in the world, despite defeat. However, the Olympic gold medallist says it was hard to get his head around the praise when, in his own mind, he knew he could’ve done better.
“That's one thing I couldn't grasp: after the fight, people were coming up to me and saying ‘Oh, you did amazing!’ and all I could think was… “I lost!”
“So it wasn't good enough. And, I look back at my performance, and I do see that I can be so much better than that.”
Campbell, however, has another opportunity to win the vacant WBC world title against Dominican Republic fighter Javier Fortuna. The as-yet unconfirmed fight - which was subject to some joking between Campbell and Frank Smith, the CEO of promoter Matchroom Boxing who was also in attendance at the event - will be officially announced soon, and is reported to take place in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. It would be Campbell’s third attempt at winning a world title.
That resilience and mental strength, coupled with the experience of having attempted to win world titles in the past, should serve Campbell well in his next attempt, which he’ll be hoping is third time lucky.
“I do believe that this is my time,” he said. “It’s against a very tough opponent, a former world champion himself, and it won't be an easy fight. But I really believe it's my time now to get this title.
“It’s my third attempt, and I'm going to win this belt - and then i’m going to keep it.”
The determination in Campbell’s words is unmistakable, and given his previous record at overcoming adversity, you wouldn’t bet against him.
Sport Industry Private Dining Club is an invitation-only members club that meets four times a year at some of the best venues in London, providing top level representatives from across the sport industry with the opportunity to network and socialise in an informal and relaxed setting.