Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins – An Exclusive Interview
By Cai Bradley – @AstarBoxing
The British and Commonwealth cruiserweight scene is one that has been simmering for quite some time, with the likes of Matty Askin, Wadi Camacho, Isaac Chamberlain, Lawrence Okolie and none other than the well-spoken and highly exciting Commonwealth champion Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins.
Professional boxers remain some the most accessible athletes in the sporting industry, so it came to no surprise that the Commonwealth champion, Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins, was more than happy to help myself out with a quick interview when I so elegantly slid into his DMs.
‘The Duke’ made his debut back in 2014 and has certainly made his mark in the sport at a domestic level, successfully challenging the undefeated Robin Dupre (12-0-0) for the Commonwealth title in his 12th professional fight. It was this 6th round TKO that announced him as a real talent to the boxing community, becoming one of the British fighters to keep a close eye on.
The 6ft 1 Swindon-born boxer went on to end 2017 with the first defence of his coveted Commonwealth Cruiserweight Title against Mike Stafford (16-3-0), in a fight that saw the champion dig deep to force an 8th round retirement of his opponent.
When I asked him about this first defence, which came just two months after he won it, Watkins summarised: “Overall, I was happy with the performance, I believe there are positives and negatives to take away from every fight”.
Watkins was hurt in the 4th round, rocked heavily by a swooping overhand shot from the challenger, but came through to find a way to get his opponent out of there. Stafford, who had never been stopped before fighting Watkins, posed a good challenge and showed huge amount of courage, but could have been punished badly had the fight gone on any longer.
It was not the first time that Watkins had shown some minor vulnerabilities, as he was put down in the 2nd round against the relatively unknown Renis Porozovs before finding a way to stop the game opponent two rounds later. Watkins can be compared with Frank Buglioni – a man that he has worked closely with in recent times – in the sense that entertainment is always guaranteed.
As is the case with the majority of hard-working, upcoming professionals like Watkins, he did not wait around before returning to training. “[Since that December fight,] I’ve been training. I was back in the gym after one week off”, he said.
The 28-year-old cruiserweight, to his long-term benefit, has featured in a number of learning fights. Tough, competitive fights that have seen him overcome adversity and find a way to win in the heat of battle. Watkins honestly expressed that “it is important to be in learning fights, and I think every fight should have a risk factor. The higher level of opponent, the higher the risk, but that comes with greater rewards”.
Watkins reiterated his ability to find a way to win, whatever it takes, when he explained to me his goal to improve every element of his game, to be as well-equipped as possible for when the going gets tough. “I aim to improve all-round. We spend time on weaknesses and strengths because you never know what you’re going to need from your arsenal until fight night”.
Having knocked out 69% of his opponents, I wondered whether Watkins felt any pressure to fulfil the greedy needs of us boxing fans with a KO, he maturely responded with “it’s nice to get the KO’s, but I’m always prepared to do the rounds”.
His slick skill-set and great adaptability are just a few of the many traits possessed by the Commonwealth champion, and it is refreshing to see a young boxer acknowledge his deficiencies, as well as the evident strengths that overshadow them.
As the number of British contenders in the division continues to rise, Watkins looks forward to the potential of domestic title fights against the likes of Wadi Camacho (20-7) and Matty Askin (23-3-1), who both impressed recently with stoppage victories.
On what it would take to beat Camacho and Askin, the Swindon man replied confidently, “I have the skill set to beat them both, it’s about implementing the right game plan for the individuals”.
With the amount of good quality fighters in the division at the minute, it would be a shame to miss out on some potentially great British dust-ups. Watkins-Askin would be for two titles, The Duke’s Commonwealth title as well as Askin’s BBBofC British title, adding a significant amount of gold to the table.
The British scene is impressive at the minute, but perhaps even more impressive is the rise of the elite cruiserweights of today, primarily due to the World Boxing Super Series (WBSS) providing such a brilliant platform that us fans have been waiting for.
The final of the cruiserweight tournament is set to take place in May this year, with the best of the best in Usyk and Gassiev promising to deliver a real barn-stormer in, you guessed it, Saudia Arabia. When I asked Watkins who he favoured in that potentially-legendary bout, “Usyk” was his sharp response. Usyk is a slight favourite according to the bookies as of now, but if there was ever a 50/50 fight, it seems that this is it.
The WBSS officials have made their hopes of hosting a second cruiserweight tournament known, a tournament that Watkins could well be in contention for if all goes to plan. I put the possibility of this to ‘The Duke’, a possibility that he seems to be truly excited by. “Absolutely,” he said, “by the time they get back around for the second cruiserweight tournament, I’ll be a seasoned professional ready for the tournament”.
If the first tournament is anything to go by, then I seriously look forward to the prospect of the Cruiserweights 2.0, with certain British contenders on track to make an impact on the world scene, Watkins included.
Luke ‘The Duke’ Watkins is likeable enough as a person to make a fan out of me, so the entertainment value of his fights, and the genuine potential that he holds only adds to the numerous reasons behind watching him perform. #WarDuke – spread the word!
Since this interview Watkins has been scheduled to fight fellow prospect Lawrence Okolie in June