You often hear stories of boxing saving wayward kids from straying down the wrong path in life, but Luke Blackledge’s tale is one that could be turned into a movie.
The super-middleweight from Clitheroe has had his trials and tribulations in life and managed to come through all adversities to lift the Commonwealth title in front of a packed home crowd at the St. George’s Hall in Blackburn on April 4th 2015.
“It’s the biggest achievement ever, from not ever boxing to being a Commonwealth champion, it’s a dream come true, it’s amazing,” were the words spoken by the newly crowned Commonwealth super-middleweight champion after defeating a former ABA winner in Liam Cameron.
The 168-pounder moved up to seventh in the talent-packed division topped by former world champion, Carl Froch, also a sparring partner of his.
The 24-year-old Lanky has gone from chump to champ in as little as five years to reach this accomplishment in his career after spending his youth getting kicked out of every school that would take him, frequently arrested for scrapping in the streets, battling against grief and eventually having time out at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Known to friends as ‘Robbo’, owing to his real name being Luke Robinson, (at the time of turning professional he opted to box under his father’s name of Blackledge due to another boxer already named Luke Robinson in nearby Castleford) the delinquent was consistently offending and wasting his youth behind bars with no direction and very little hope in life.
The once troubled teen told his story from the start, “I was always in trouble at school when I was young, like five or six-years-old. It wasn’t that I was naughty but probably more because of what happened to my dad because he wasn’t around and I went a bit off the rails.
“He died young and I didn’t have any male influence in my life and when I was older I hung around with the wrong people as a teenager, drinking on the streets, got into a lot of trouble, always fighting and went to jail a few times.
“I probably went to jail from the age of 17 or even younger than that, I don’t know. I went in five times and spent a duration of about four years inside altogether.”
The taxpayer’s money that is spent on an expensive prison system is meant to serve as a deterrent, a form of punishment and a chance to reform. Each time, all three of these purposes were lost on the errant Luke Robinson and he found himself back on the inside more times than he would care to remember.
This is where the 2,700-year-old sport of boxing enters the fray and immediately works to turn his destructive life around.
“I just came out of prison that last time and went straight to a boxing gym,” he smiled. “I was just training and the coach came over and asked me if I wanted to fight straight away, I had my first fight after two weeks and then I had another fight two weeks after that!
“I was still young so as soon as I got into boxing it taught me some respect and got me back on the straight and narrow.
“In one week, I had four fights. I did a prize-fighter tournament one weekend and then another fight about five days after.
“Because I won all of the titles and I beat everyone, I was getting £400 – £500 per fight. I had around 60 fights in total over about two and a half years and only lost once.”
Anyone that fights 60 times in 30 months and only suffers one defeat is very likely to have accrued some crucial boxing skills, albeit a few inevitable bad habits to boot, built a decent fan following and caught the eye of at least one influential figure that could make a difference if impressed upon.
Local promoter, Steve Woods had been keeping an eye on the unlicensed star for some time but had his reservations about taking him on due to his colourful past.
“Steve Woods was the most important promoter in the area and I caught his eye,” Blackledge explained. “I didn’t ever even think of turning pro at any point. I think I had a meeting with him and he was a bit funny about taking me on, there were two other lads there at the time both saying they wanted to be a world champion, I just sat there all quiet. The other two lads had good amateur backgrounds and he kept asking me about my amateur experience.
“Then I went to Steve Woods’ gym for a meeting with the Board and they was there watching me in a demonstration spar and said I was good enough for the pro licence.
“I sparred against Brian Rose and I stuck it on him because the Board was there and I went in like a madman at first but in the second round he boxed my head off! I still managed to do the four rounds with him and that was enough for the board to decide.”
From that vital decision in 2010 emerged an exciting young prospect although a bit green, raw and rough around the edges with absolutely no amateur experience but clearly eager, motivated, willing to learn and wholly committed to dedicating himself to his craft.
That risky rookie quickly raced to 14 fights unbeaten in his first two and a half years within his new profession.
Along with this great start, Blackledge had also scooped up two Masters titles at two different weight – super-middleweight and light-heavyweight – and defeated Denmark’s ‘Golden Boy’ Mads Larsen 51-4-0 in his own back yard.
With his confidence at stratosphere levels, the eager ex-con took another trip out to the same Scandinavian country with the determined mentality to add another Danish scalp to his record.
Copenhagen’s Rudy Markussen 38-3-0 was the intended victim and at stake was the vacant WBC Youth World and WBO Youth Intercontinental light-heavyweight titles.
Instead, best-laid plans began to unravel in the week preceding the bout with a sudden opponent switch to Sweden’s number one light-heavyweight, Erik Skoglund 22-0-0.
“I had my first loss in Denmark against Skoglund,” said a deflated Blackledge as he looked back. “I was meant to fight Rudy Markussen which was a winnable fight for me but they swapped the opponent a week before the fight and it was either fight Skoglund at light-heavyweight or no one at all.”
Skoglund won unanimously on points with one judge scoring the contest just a single round apart.
“I actually thought I won the fight but I lost it by two rounds for the WBC Youth World title. He’s actually fighting for a world title next and he had over 200 fights as an amateur.”
Further disappointment followed when he returned home to fight Alistair Warren 8-9-4 and a clash of heads in the second round brought a halt to the contest that resulted in a technical draw for both boxers thus losing out on the chance to capture the vacant Central Area super-middleweight strap.
Things then began to look up briefly after a standard win over journeyman, Iain Jackson 4-27-2 set the Blackburn fighter up for a crack at British super-middleweight champion, Paul Smith.
On the way home from a hard sparring session with The Cobra in his Nottingham gym, Team Blackledge learnt of Smith’s withdrawal from the fight only to receive another phone call a few days later with an offer from the Commonwealth super-middleweight champion, Rocky Fielding.
“My other loss was Rocky Fielding,” clarified Blackledge. “I got the phone call two days before the fight and I took it. I had already done a hard 12 rounds with Carl Froch and another four rounds with Ronnie Heffron on the same week that I fought him.
“To be honest, I wasn’t that experienced and at the time I would have fought anyone and gone anywhere to fight them. I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I am now and I would even have fought Carl Froch back then. That was just me being uneducated, to do well in boxing you’ve got to be smart and choose well. I’ll not be doing that again, I’m more educated and knowledgeable now.”
The latter statement rings true as the inspirational sporting figure has clocked up five straight wins working under the tutelage of former pro, Alex Matvienko.
With the ‘One Man Riot’ orchestrating his training and masterminding his gameplans, the rejuvenated 24-year-old made history in his North West town by becoming the first boxer in 50 years to win a professional title in a Blackburn ring gaining him a reputation for the right kind after years of notoriety in his earlier days.
It was via a unanimous points win over tough Ghanaian, Philip ‘Sweet Pea’ Kotey in September last year and rewarded Blackledge with his first significant accolade – the WBC Silver International super-middleweight title.
“A lot of people started following me after that and more people have been taking notice since then,” he remarked. “I got a lot of support in my last fight, I sold over 230 tickets just in the local area and in my next fight I’ll expect even more support.
Blackburn Rovers FC have welcomed their local boxing hero to Ewood Park on a few occasions and midfielder, David Dunn could be seen walking Blackledge to the ring on April 4th holding his WBC belt aloft.
Since winning the Commonwealth strap, he has become the target for many others in the red-hot 168lbs division, ‘The Wise Guy’ Frank Buglioni being one of them.
The hugely popular North Londoner has made it public knowledge that he has offered the fight to the new owner of the Commonwealth strap but Blackledge dismissed the invitation claiming that the timing was not sufficient enough to prepare.
“They offered me the fight with about three weeks notice but after a hard 12 rounds it wasn’t right for me to take it especially in his own backyard,” he said. “I’ve fought in other’s backyards before and look how it turned out. I’m in the position to take my time and choose carefully now.”
The latest strap that adorns the Clitheroe fighter’s waist has indeed put him in a position to be a chooser for the first time as opposed to the chaser that he has been for entirety of his career so far. This should see the likeable Lanky finally end up involved in some big TV fights appearing in front of a wider audience who presently may only remember him for his first round loss to Rocky.
“I’d love to defend my Commonwealth title on a TV show against a good opponent in a 50-50 fight and maybe at the end of the year I could box Buglioni for the British title.
“It’s a beautiful belt and it’s the biggest title in Britain so that’s what I want,” he concluded.
Luke would like to thank his sponsors, AJ Wood Ltd, SAGraphics Ltd, Natural Sports Food, New Age Hydrophonics, Home Run Chicken & Pizza, and PR Manager Tim Rickson
Follow Luke Blackledge on Twitter @LukeBlackledge