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Luke Campbell v Ryan Garcia: Christmas, grief and titles

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Luke Campbell quote: "I was on fire inside, with so much anger. I was horrible to be around."
Luke Campbell now hopes to help those struggling with grief

Luke Campbell believes that sacrificing Christmas with his family is a small price to pay if he puts on the display he expects against Ryan Garcia.

The Briton, 33, takes on Garcia in Dallas on 2 January.

Campbell is an underdog against the Mexican-American, 22, and has spent Christmas and New Year away from his family in order to prepare in the US.

“I will not put any status to any day. Christmas Day was just a Friday for me,” Campbell told BBC Sport.

In a wide-ranging interview in which he opened up about grief, re-thinking the meaning of a world title and his opponent’s social media fame, Campbell added: “I had Christmas in our house in early December. I had the dinner, the pudding, a glass of wine. We had gifts. I’m ready for next year’s Christmas.”

‘Grief was burning me inside’

More than three years have passed since Campbell lost his father to cancer. Bernard Campbell died two weeks before his son’s first world-title shot against Jorge Linares.

Campbell rebuilt, picked up three wins and then lost his second shot at world honours against Vasyl Lomachenko in 2019.

Fight postponements mean he has not competed in the 16 months since. Campbell has instead been able to work on launching his own gym in Hull and has become an ambassador for The Good Grief Trust after realising how deeply his father’s death affected him.

“I went through stages I couldn’t understand – personal problems – and I didn’t know at the time it was obviously grieving,” he said.

“It’s easy to go down that wrong path – start picking up the drink, abuse yourself, punish yourself. Grieving can cause all types of depression and problems.

“I had a massive burning sensation inside of me. I was on fire inside, with so much anger. I was horrible to be around. I’d be driving down the street, and if someone gave me a mucky look I’d pull the car over. I had so much horrible feeling, anger and aggression in me. It was horrible.

“The Good Grief Trust is a good fit for me. I can tell people what I went through and let people know that if you’re going through it, there is someone you can talk to.”

Does Garcia have what it takes?

Campbell and Garcia celebrate
Campbell has 20 victories from 23 bouts while Garcia has 20 wins from 20

The winner of Saturday’s fight with Garcia – set to take place at around 23:00 GMT – is expected to go on to face WBC world lightweight champion Devin Haney.

Garcia, who has 20 wins from 20 fights, has had hype build around him rapidly during his four years as a professional, not least because of his work in generating a loyal social media fan base – including 7.8m followers on Instagram. He was recently named boxing’s most marketable athlete.external-link

Asked if he watches the viral videos of Garcia throwing hundreds of punches in seconds in the gym, Campbell replied: “No. I see him getting knocked out.

“Has he ever done that in any fights – rounded off 100 punches? No. Let’s be honest, if I’d have boxed everyone on his record, I’d have knocked them all out.”

Garcia is aware this fight offers the chance to silence those who have marked him down as a social media star rather than a feared fighter.

Campbell knows a defeat would leave him with a daunting comeback path in one of boxing’s hottest weight divisions. He does however have the experience of tough 12-round fights compared to his rival, and knows what is required at the pivotal moments in close-fought contests.

“No one is saying he can’t handle it but Garcia’s not experienced any of that,” Campbell added. “In boxing, 99% of fighters will experience that sooner or later.

“It’s all good selling the fight, the rubbish you can talk. But when the bell goes, there are just two of you in there and it comes down to what you’ve got. I really do believe you will see the best of me.”

A belt or a legacy?

Luke Campbell

It is more than eight years since Campbell walked away from the London Olympics with a gold medal.

Anthony Joshua, Oleksandr Usyk and Lomachenko all won gold at the same Games and have gone on to win world honours as professionals.

Many in boxing have commended Campbell for facing Linares and Lomachenko in order to chase a world title – meeting Garcia looks a dangerous move too.

Asked if he feels he has faced a harder route to world titles than other British fighters, Campbell replied: “100%. You look at some fighters who are super stars and they’ve never been in a real fight. It’s mad but it doesn’t really annoy me. I wouldn’t change anything in my life.”

But after Olympic success, ups and downs as a professional and a handful of lucrative fights, could he now live with never winning a world title?

Campbell added: “How many world champions are out there who no-one cares about or haven’t got a penny? Would you rather have a belt on your shelf?

“When it’s all said and done in this sport, I want people to say: ‘He boxed the best and beat them. What a fighter he was.’

“I’m happy with that. If a title comes, 100% thank you very much, that would be the icing on the cake. I know there are some huge performances to come from me.”

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