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Laurence Gill
Sports Writer
3:41 PM 29th December 2020
sports

Can Hull’s Own Luke Campbell Defeat Rising Superstar Ryan García?

Ryan García was recently named the Number 12 most marketable Sportsman on the planet by SportsPro; Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury were only number 31 and 32 respectively. With 7.7 million Instagram followers and over 700,000 subscribers on his personal YouTube channel García is a huge attraction with lucrative sponsorship deals with multiple companies including Gymshark.

Being promoted heavily by Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions and coming off two headline-catching 1st round knockouts against top opposition in his last two fights; a lot of important people with a lot of money are riding on this 22-year-old Superstar’s train of success.

Luke CampbellLuke Campbell
Ryan GarcíaRyan García

This Saturday, Luke Campbell has an opportunity to derail this train. The fight is on García’s turf in the US and Campbell is an almost 3/1 underdog with the bookies, but with the winner of the fight mandatory for a chance at the world title, Hull’s finest will be looking to overcome those odds.

It’s easy to write-off Campbell in this fight due to the whirlwind of hype and excitement surrounding Garcíá; a whirlwind of a magnitude that García probably hasn’t quite earned with his current level of achievement, but Luke Campbell is still an Olympic Gold Medallist, MBE, and one of the best boxers in the UK today, and this should not be forgotten.

Campbell is the best opponent Ryan García has ever faced, but García is not the best Campbell has ever fought. In his most recent fight Campbell went 12 good rounds with one of the best technically boxers in history in the form of Vasyl Lomachenko for the Unified Lightweight World Championships, and a few years earlier very narrowly lost out to Jorge Linares, another top Lightweight World Champion. Clearly anyone writing Luke Campbell off prematurely in this fight is going to be in for a rude awakening next Saturday with the level of quality he will undoubtedly show in the ring, but whether that quality will be too much for a young, hungry, utterly self-confident Ryan García is the great unknowable question that will cause so many to tune in to watch this fight on Saturday, with the timing of the fight actually being altered to better accommodate British fans, with ring walks expected at 11pm GMT, rather than the stupidly early hours of the morning you can usually expect from a fight hosted in the USA.

Since his successful amateur career, that of course culminated in perfect fashion with his Olympic Gold medal, Luke Campbell has consistently been there or there abouts as a professional fighter in recent years, consistently displaying that he is up there as one of the top Lightweights in the world. Campbell turned in less than a year after his London 2012 glory, only pausing along the way for a quick appearance on 2013’s series of Dancing On Ice. Campbell progressed well for the start of his career, dispatching of his first 11 opponents pretty easily, scoring 9 stoppages along the way.

Everything looked perfect for Luke Campbell and his rapid rise to World Championship contention seemed guaranteed, achieving mandatory challenger status with the WBC after knocking out fellow Hullensian Tommy Coyle in his 12th professional fight. But then, just four months later, in a fight designed just to stay active before a World Title challenge, Campbell fell short for the first time in a long time, and the years of unbounded success suddenly came crashing down around him as he lost to the solid but notably undazzling Yvan Mendy, with the official decision being a close one, but with most observers easily giving the fight to Mendy, who knocked Campbell to the canvas in the 5th round on route to his victory, the first time Campbell had been knocked down in his professional career at that time.

Campbell’s performance was far too tentative, lacking aggression and offensive capability while also failing to make his opponent’s punches miss, which allowed Mendy to walk Campbell down in the ring, who didn’t show the punch power or footwork to stop it. This performance was uncharacteristically poor from Luke Campbell and everyone knew it, with many claiming they’d have to consider their level of respect for his ability. Recovering from this devastating loss he was never expected to take, and losing his position as mandatory challenger for the world champion was the first, and most definitely, not the last time Luke Campbell had to show real heart and determination in his career.

Campbell improved greatly after his loss to Mendy, becoming a more aggressive fighter who mixed the disciplined boxing of Campbell’s amateur pedigree with the forward movement and slicker footwork that better suits the professional game. Campbell campaigned for a rematch with Mendy over his next five fights, where his further aggression got him four knockouts against quality opposition that included former World Champions.

This was enough to gain a world title shot of his own without a rematch with Mendy, and so it was scheduled that in September 2017; Luke Campbell would get his opportunity to fight for the WBA World Lightweight Championship against the best Lightweight in the world Jorge Linares.

Campbell fought valiantly in this fight, with no shame in his coming up in a close split decision loss against the best in the world while dominating stretches of the fight. Campbell was dropped by a perfectly placed overhand right in the second round, and did wonderfully to recover after that. So, it seemed that Campbell had fought well, but just come up short in the first world title fight of his career and the second loss, but it was only the day after the fight that Luke Campbell revealed the heart-breaking truth that his father had passed away due to cancer in the UK two weeks before the fight, while Luke was training in the USA where the fight took place.

To carry on from this devastation, and put on such an amazing performance while still in the throws of grief for his father was another example of the stunning strength of character Luke Campbell possesses, who readily admitted he was utterly devastated by the situation where all his family were at home grieving while he had to stay focused and alone in a foreign country. Campbell didn’t reveal the passing before the fight because he didn’t want to show weakness to his opponent.

Despite the circumstances, Campbell had still lost the fight and still had to now rebuild again, having one comeback fight before jumping back into a rematch with Yvan Mendy in front of 90,000 people at Wembley Stadium, on Anthony Joshua’s undercard. This was a high-risk move for Luke Campbell, a win would avenge his previous loss to Mendy, and put him well back on the road for another attempt at the World Championship, the top prize of professional boxing that had still evaded him, in a way the top prize of amateur boxing (his Olympic gold medal) had not. If Campbell had lost this fight he would have been in No Man’s Land and would have shown himself to firmly be Mendy’s inferior.

Campbell put on a serious and professional performance, starting a little slow but adjusting well as the rounds went on to win a lopsided unanimous decision, consistently keeping Mendy on the end of his jab and peppering him with shots as he tried to get closer to Campbell. This was enough to get Campbell another world title fight in August 2019, now being consistently one of the best lightweight talents around, against generational talent and arguably one of the best boxers in history Vasyl Lomachenko. A Ukrainian 2-time Olympic Gold Medallist who had knocked out Jorge Linares the previous year to become a world champion in a third weight class in just 12 professional fights. Campbell had all the backing of the home crowd with this fight taking place at a packed out O2 Arena in London but Campbell was relatively comfortably beaten via unanimous decision by Lomachenko. Campbell pushed the Ukrainian champion hard in every round for 12 rounds, but Lomachenko had the skill to overcome him, as he had done to so many other top fighters in his relatively short professional career.

With the loss to Vasyl Lomachenko we are brought up to now, and the fight with Ryan García that Luke Campbell faces this Saturday. Campbell is tall and reachy for the weight class, which he uses to great effect fighting with a classic European style of a high, tight guard paired with fast, neat jabs and straight left hands from a distance as the vast bulk of offense, however, especially in recent years he has incorporated more hooks to the body into his output to great effect.

Campbell’s footwork is also incredibly neat and tidy, never crossing his feet or allowing himself to become immobile in the ring, as you might expect from someone of his Olympic amateur pedigree. Campbell pairs this well with his naturally awkward, lanky, southpaw style which makes him hard to hit, and easy to be countered by. Campbell will happily trade technical jabs from range if his opposition wants, using his punch speed, disciplined defence and boxing intelligence to beat them to the punch every time and avoid almost everything they throw back at him, but he also works in more damaging hooks and left hands against opponents that try to close the distance, using his perfect footwork and movement to stop them pinning him down at any part of the ring, and timing their movement to unleash clubbing counter shots.

Basically, Luke Campbell is a very well-rounded fighter who’s very tricky to break down in the ring, Vasyl Lomachenko managed it by even faster, slicker evasive movement in the ring with him, and Linares combined solid movement with punch power to allow him to trade relatively evenly with Campbell, but having the power to get a knockdown in the 2nd round which was just enough to win the decision.

Luke Campbell isn’t much of a gritty inside fighter, and could be viewed as having a weakness there, but that’s just not the style of fight he likes to fight, and doesn’t let his opponents make his fights like that, so it’s not much of a salient criticism as it is unlikely to ever actually be an issue, and even then, Campbell, especially recently has shown a much greater ability at closer ranges, increasing his punch power and volume of hooks thrown. Anyone with aspirations to be the best Lightweight in the world, as Ryan García seems to, then they have to be able to beat Luke Campbell.

Ryan García started boxing at the age of 7, and turned professional at only the tender age of 17, after over 200 junior amateur fights. Golden Boy Promotions are good at what they do and built García well over his first 14 professional fights, getting eyes on him on the undercard of bigger fighters like the megastar Canelo Álvarez, and giving him the right quality of opposition for a young fighter still very much learning their craft. García more than showed his worth scoring 13 stoppages in these 14 fights. In his 15th fight, and still before the age of 20, García faced off against former World Title Challenger Jayson Vélez and won via a lopsided unanimous decision, winning 9 out of the 10 rounds on all the judges’ scorecards. Garcíá showed great ringcraft and wisdom beyond his years in this victory, using his reach and punch speed advantage really well against Vélez from distance, while not being afraid to do the dirty work and clinch up with Vélez when he was able to close the gap, rather than fighting risky when he didn’t need to or allowing himself to get unsettled by Vélez’s relentless pushing forward. García then slightly stalled in his ascension by fighting 3 opponents much weaker than Vélez who he dispatched of pretty easily but gained nothing as a result.

However, by far the most impressive performances of his career so far, and the ones that have forced even his biggest detractors to admit he clearly has some level of top talent, are Ryan García’s most recent pair of first round knockout victories. His first, against against a strong fighter in Romero Duno, showed García could handle someone of real quality going at him fast from the very first bell; Duno was relentless for the 100 seconds the fight lasted, seemingly having no desire to reach the 2nd round, let alone the 12th.

García stayed calm and swatted Duno away with fast jabs, and then smashed Duno with right hands and powerful hooks if he got really close, before pivoting away and creating more space. By far the most impressive victory of García’s career came against former 2-time World Title challenger Francisco Fonseca in February of this year. Fonseca had fought well in both his world title fights and was a fighter absolutely considered to be just about part of the world level scene, certainly a huge step up from anyone García had fought before, and García ended up blasting him out of there in 80 seconds. García beat Fonseca with essentially his left hand alone, consistently able to time lightning-fast jabs and thudding left hooks to Fonseca, before perfectly reading an attempt at a big overhand right from Fonseca and landing a savage counter-left hook that instantly leaves Fonseca unconscious.

García is most generally lauded for his hand speed, and rightfully so, as it is his most outstanding asset. He achieves this speed through a relaxed style of a lose guard with a notably low left hand, tall stance and willingness to leave his chin exposed in order to land punches more quickly, clearly banking on being able to land on his opponent before his opponent can land back. This speed obviously brings huge concussive knockout power, as demonstrated by the 2 previously described 1st round knockouts, so not only does he back himself to hit without being hit, he also knows he can do more damage with his punches than his opponents can do to him.

García obviously combines this speed with his size very well to be an utterly imposing opponent at Lightweight, being 5’10 and having a 70-inch reach, which usually allows García to tower over his opponents and use the length of his arms to hit them while they can’t reach him. Counter-punching is also one of García’s known skills, using head movement to avoid the incoming punch, and hand-speed to land something in return, as he did so perfectly against Fonseca, often combining a left hook with a left pivot to counter-punch and re-establish distance simultaneously. García is hugely impressive both physically and in terms of skill, with his speed and power having rightfully become part of his marketing, and the explosive nature of his knockouts snapping up public attention; he has never lost and has never even looked close to losing a professional boxing fight before, and Luke Campbell has to change that.

The first point of confidence Luke Campbell can draw is that he and García have very physically similar builds, with García being an inch taller, while Campbell has in inch in reach advantage. The confidence in being able to hit without being hit that García’s height and reach advantages usually bring him will no longer be there this Saturday night, and instead García will be facing someone who can hit just as far as he can. This equality of physicality means that establishing the jab comes down to two main things: speed and timing.

For Campbell all evidence suggests he will be outclassed on punch speed, and trying to win a battle of reflex jabs with García is a recipe for failure, instead Campbell should try to use his vast array of experience, sit back and stay out of García’s reach using his footwork to pop in to range when García doesn’t expect it, fire off a jab and back out again before García can stop him.

This is especially notable as Luke Campbell is a southpaw, a stance García has no experience fighting at a high level which Campbell could exploit through awkward movement and angles, bouncing between either side of García’s lead foot to throw punches.

Moreover, García’s low guard means Campbell could do serious cumulative damage just by landing jabs over the 12 rounds of the fight, consistently popping García’s head back with a piston-like right jab. Luke Campbell essentially needs to make this technical, he has much more experience than García, with his top-tier amateur pedigree as well as 11 years difference in age, and therefore would do best to have this be a relatively, slow, awkward battle of jabs, with some more varied offence mixed in only when safe and appropriate.

García only needs a split second of opportunity to hit Campbell with something huge, as he has the speed and power to take that opportunity and potentially end the fight from it. While Campbell shouldn’t seek to be too defensive in this fight, he certainly shouldn’t go out headhunting García, that’s what Duno and Fonseca did and García has counter-punching ability to knock anyone out who is too gung-ho against him. Usually Garcia’s opponents are forced into this by their physical disadvantages but not Campbell, who’s best option is to try to counter-punch the counter-puncher, if Campbell can keep García away from him, using his footwork and jab, then García will get frustrated and forced to move forward recklessly in order to actually use all his great punch speed and power, at which point Campbell can use some counter-punching skill of his own, which he absolutely has, cracking the often vulnerable García with left hands and right hooks. Campbell can’t lose focus for even a second through all this of course, with García just being too dangerous at any moment; Campbell should keep a high, defensive guard and tucked chin for the whole 12 rounds if necessary.

So that’s Campbell vs García, the Mexican-American megastar vs the pride of Hull, but of course there are so many other factors that are impossible to know. Luke Campbell hasn’t fought in 16 months, compared to 10 months for Ryan García, especially getting on to an extent in his career, could ring rust be a factor for Luke Campbell, having never had half that long of a gap between fights in his career in the past?

How García has been able to train for a left-handed fighter like Campbell which he’s not really faced before is also a hugely important factor, although with his money and profile cost presumably wasn’t a factor. The fight being in America with a small crowd also could play a role if the judges come into play, generally judges will lean more towards the home fighter, and travel restrictions mean the crowd might be vocally more supportive of García which has been known to sway judges in the past.

Both men are under huge pressure to win this fight and become mandatory world title challenger, if Campbell loses it’s probably unlikely he will ever get to fight for a world title again, which usually would put the pressure on him, but the sheer hype surrounding, and corresponding scrutiny of Ryan García also puts huge pressures on him, with a loss seeming to totally shatter his aura of invincibility and jeopardise his status as ‘the next big thing’.

An opponent the quality of Campbell is much more than García has ever faced before, and plenty around him will be wondering if this was too soon as the fight draws nearer. No matter what Luke Campbell has a great chance at victory on Saturday night, which will cement him as one of the best boxers in the country as he has been for the past 8 years, and one of the finest sportsmen in Yorkshire.