HULL boxing star Luke Campbell will know exactly how Yorkshire punchers Qais Ashfaq and Mo Ali are feeling ahead of their imminent Olympic debuts.
Four years ago, that was him.
A 24-year-old Campbell set off to the London 2012 Olympics seeking a Games gold and planning to retire if he achieved it. Two weeks later, Campbell was top of the podium and heading for a life away from the ring.
Four years on, the Hull star is working towards a new incentive, with a dream to better Olympic gold by becoming lightweight champion of the world.
Campbell will form a key part of a stellar night of boxing at First Direct Arena in Leeds tonight when the southpaw takes on Argenis Mendez for the vacant World Boxing Council silver lightweight title.
Leeds fighter Josh Warrington will then take centre stage when battling Ireland’s Patrick Hyland in defence of his WBC International featherweight crown.
For both, world title shots are then the ultimate goal.
But Campbell can remember feeling rather different in the run-up to London 2012 and there will be few more avid viewers than Campbell ahead of Team GB’s boxing quest for gold in Rio.
Speaking exclusively to The Yorkshire Post ahead of tonight’s showdown in Leeds, Campbell cast his mind back to four years ago this week and recalled: “The Olympics for me was something I waited for all of my life. It was the only thing as an amateur, it is the pinnacle of an amateur career and I sacrificed a hell of a lot just to get my gold medal.
“No-one has seen the journey of what it takes just to get there.
“That being said, it is four years gone now and where has the time gone? It has gone just like that. I was on the Olympic cycle for four years but that four years is a lifetime when you are on there. Now I have come away from it and I have achieved what I wanted to achieve in amateurs, time has just flown by.
“Initially, my plan when I got the gold medal was ‘I am going to retire!’ But then, after having six months out after the Olympics, I had something inside of me that wasn’t finished yet. I needed to show how far I could go in the professional game, I needed to see what I was capable of and what I could do and I never want to live with regrets. I never want to live with ‘oh, what if?’ For me, no chance, so I am as much dedicated and passionate to be world champion as I was for the Olympics.”
Having been there, done that and worn the t-shirt, it means Campbell knows the exact emotions that will be coursing through the veins of Ashfaq and Ali. Both have already stressed their desire to turn professional and Campbell can see both excelling though the Hull fighter is adamant that the pro and amateur games should not mix.
Professional boxers are now being allowed to compete in the Olympics – unlike in previous Games – but Campbell said: “It’s a different ball game. They are allowing pros into the Olympics now and you are never going to get a professional boxer beating an amateur boxer over three rounds. I don’t think you are going to get it – it’s different.
“It’s a different game type thing and I just think it’s a shame really. The amateurs are the amateurs and the professionals are the professionals. It’s different. Keep them separate.”
Assessing how Ashfaq and Ali will be feeling six days short of the opening ceremony, Campbell mused: “Nervous, anxious, your mind drifts a lot. You are thinking a lot about who you are going to fight and what threats there are from other countries that you might come up against and everything else. But the key is to focus your mind on the present.
“Focus yourself in this room, in this conversation instead of letting your mind drift into ‘oh, I am fighting so and so next.’ It’s one step at a time.”
Yorkshire is bidding for a hat-trick of boxing medals in South America with Nicola Adams also defending her title in the women’s flyweight. Campbell believes all three White Rose boxers are capable of emulating his feat of London 2012.
“Most definitely,” he says, asked of their chances of glory. “I have trained with the team for the last four years, sparring hundreds of rounds with most of them on there. I definitely think it’s a very talented team and we can definitely get some good medals from it.”
For Campbell, it is the prize of the vacant WBC silver lightweight title that is immediately on the agenda at First Direct Arena tonight.
Mendez stands in his way but the Hull boxer says he is feeling in excellent condition.
“I think he’s a quality fighter,” said Campbell of Mendez. “He’s a former world champion, he’s got bags of experience, he’s boxed all of the best and it’s going to be a very tough test for me. But, that being said, it’s also a great opportunity for me as well.
“I’m feeling good. I’m happy in myself, I’ve worked really hard, I’ve pushed my body and I’ve given my all so I’m ready for whatever it brings on Saturday night.
“The pro game is different from the amateur boxing. It’s all about learning and changing and adapting and it’s a transition from the amateurs into the professional ranks and I think I have taken some really good strides. On Saturday night you are going to see another improvement from me from my last performance.”
Tonight’s fight will mark the 15th bout of Campbell’s professional career – 13 of which have resulted in victory.
His only defeat came against Yvan Mendy when defending his recently acquired WBC International lightweight title at the O2 Arena in London.
It says something about the quality of tonight’s card that Campbell’s bout is even considered second billing.
“It’s massive,” said Campbell of tonight’s line-up. “There’s 15 fights on the night and there’s some big fights as well. There’s some great fighters that are all on one card and usually you don’t really get that so I think for this the fans are in for a real treat.”
Tonight’s bout will also be Campbell’s first experience of fighting in Leeds but the Hull ace is relishing the opportunity and hopes that some of Warrington’s supporters will also take to him as a fellow Yorkshireman.
Hull City fan Campbell does not share Warrington’s passion for the city’s football team but he enthused: “I think Leeds is definitely a big sporting city.
“They have got some great athletes from this city and I think it’s growing and growing.
“They seem to really get behind their fellow Yorkshiremen and if I have got their support on my side it will give me that extra oomph to go in there and finish the guy off.”
Asked what the crowd would think to a Hull City fan, he laughed: “We’ll soon see. I have been to a Leeds show a couple of times and they always give an excellent atmosphere so I am excited for that.
“I stick with my city – Hull City – and I support them but Leeds are my second team for sure. I have got a few friends from Hull that support Leeds.
“Hopefully, I can win a few of the Leeds fans over and they will follow my journey and support me as well.”