Luke Campbell interview: Olympic champion and world title challenger fighting to resist urge to come out of retirement
The Olympic bantamweight champion from Hull is fighting the urge to go back, to feel the adrenaline of the ring walk, to hear the crowd chant his name one more time.
“When fans message me saying ‘you retired too soon’, I say to myself, ‘I guess that’s better than retiring too late’” the 34-year-old who fought for two world titles tells The Yorkshire Post.
“Because that’s what you get remembered for, for being on the slide, for being past your best.
“It’s nice when people tell me I retired too soon, that they’ve missed me, that they want me to come back. That pulls on the heart strings a little bit.”
But Campbell – for now at least – is resisting.
He quit boxing, the sport he had dedicated his life to, in the summer. It has left a huge hole, one he is trying to fill with a series of business ventures and successfully filling with his young family.
Being away from his wife and two young sons last Christmas preparing to fight Ryan Garcia for the WBC interim world lightweight title in Dallas was when the reality hit home.
“The reason I retired was because the road started to get lonely for me,” says Campbell.
“I wanted to be home with my family. I was constantly away all the time. I’d picture myself going into training camp and going away and I’d just think that’s wasting time that I could be having with my family.
“And my passion for boxing was going a bit.”
The business of boxing was wearing him down. As an amateur the product of St Paul’s ABC in Hull had won it it all; Olympic gold, a European title and a world championship silver medal.
Even in his finest moment, the timing was perhaps against him. Winning Olympic gold can be a tremendous springboard, but not so much when you win your medal the same week as a photogenic young heavyweight from London called Anthony Joshua.
Campbell’s career in the professional ranks was one headlined by a willingness to never shirk a challenge, but undermined by opportunities he felt he was denied.
He fought for the world title twice as a lightweight, against Jorge Linares in Los Angeles in 2017 two weeks after the death of his father, and against Vasyl Lomachenko, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world in London two years later. But the odds were never weighted in his favour when it came to scaling the mountain top. “I felt like at times I was hard done by in boxing,” reflects Campbell, who won 20 of his 24 professional fights.
“In an ideal world I could have been a three-weight world champion with certain things that were supposed to happen that didn’t.
“I thought I beat Linares, I thought I won seven of the 12 rounds, but I didn’t get the decision. I went to his back yard. With everything else that went on, that was hard.
“Then I was supposed to be fighting a Russian for a world title, he was ranked No 2, I was ranked No 1. The WBC kept me waiting for 16 months while no one fought for the title.
“They put me in with Lomachenko and I never shy away from a challenge, I always wanted to fight the best. I know I would have whupped the other guy and become world champion, but instead I boxed Lomachenko, it was an unbelievable fight and the fans loved it, and I can’t argue with that, he did win that one.
“Then during lockdown I was supposed to fight Javier Fortuna for the world title who I know I would have beaten, but that fight got cancelled and they gave the title away to somebody else. They just gave it to them.
“So I lost some love for boxing. The politics, the scoring, the judging, the business behind the scenes, little handshakes going on behind people’s back.
“But I’m also fortunate, I earnt enough out of boxing to never have to work another day in my life, and I’m very grateful to boxing.”
Even with the pull of family life and the growing frustration with the boxing authorities, retirement was still not an easy decision to reach.
“That six months was really hard and stressful,” he says. “A lot of those nights I went to bed crying and upset, not knowing what I wanted, whether I wanted to retire or keep going.
“I tried going away on a training camp but I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t do it because I didn’t want to.
“I could train from home, I could get coaches to come over here and train me, but I’ve never really trained at home.
“Boxing was all I did for 22 years, all I knew. For me it’s now the unknown. I dropped a big element of my life, so how do I now fill that passion for one thing and put it into another?”
Campbell is certainly trying. He always had an ‘exit plan from boxing’ as he puts it, and he is busy putting that into action.
An interest in property, opening a new gym that he hopes to make a franchise of over the coming years, and working with a broadband company in his home town called Connexin, are all things that keep him occupied.
He wants to help charities too, something he has always done ad hoc, but now wants to do with a cetrain structure to it.
“I’ve done all right for myself and I want to start giving back,” he says.
A future in coaching may scratch the boxing itch for Campbell. “I do think about coaching, it would fill the boxing void,” he offers. “I’ve always thought I would make a good coach, even when I was competing.
“But it’s another big commitment and when I do something I like to do it 100 per cent.”
No one he ever opposed in a ring would doubt that; certainly not Linares, Lomachenko, Garcia or the near 200 opponents he faced in a long career.
But that is the past, and Campbell is slowly learning to embrace his new future.
“I certainly have my ups and downs about the boxing,” he says. “It’s been a year since my last fight, so I’d like to think this year I can be better in myself, not having those ups and downs.
“Boxing is who I am, all I’ve known, all I’m known for, so I’m adapting to another identity.
“Boxing is still my identity in a certain way but then again it’s not, because it’s gone. I hate the word retire. It’s only old people who retire. I’m not old, I could go back and whupp these guys quite easy, I’m still in shape, but then I remember the other elements.
“It’s not just going in for 12 rounds and beating someone, it’s everything that goes with it.”