The cacophonous roar of the wild Spanish crowd pinned the challenger to the floor. Surrounded by militant fans, it was an atmosphere designed to smother any slither of confidence. It worked. A tough task in Bilbao on a stuffy Spring evening proved a step too far, yet even the best and most respected within our sport have had to learn to rise again.
“It was crazy [in Bilbao]!” South London’s Bradley Skeete (27-2, 12 KO’s) told me during our exclusive chat for Boxing Social.
“I’ve never seen or been involved in anything like that. I’ve been to loads of shows around the country, but never… It was mad – I can’t explain it. They were just so passionate! He’s like their all-time favourite out there and they do come out and they do support him all the way.
“It’s just one of them things. In boxing, it’s maybe not the last time I experience that, so it’s just one of them. When you’re in the ring, they aren’t in the ring with you. Yeah, you can hear them all and see them all, but when you’re in the ring it’s just you and him. It was hard to deal with but, people have been saying I shit myself, or I done this or I done that… Yeah, it was daunting. But it was something you just get over, if I had the opportunity I would do it all over again!”
Struggling to find his feet in the heart of the Basque region, an area known for its relentless pride and semi-nationalism, Skeete had been humbled on his most important night. In squaring off against Kerman Lejarraga, the heavy-handed hometown hero with the straggly ponytail, Bradley had finally taken a step out of the domestic class that he’d handily dominated.
Before their contest, the London man had by far the more impressive profile and had been heavily mooted to face Jeff Horn for the Australian’s welterweight World title (more on that, later*). Skeete was refreshingly honest when discussing his assessment of Lejarraga before the first bell.
“There was videos and stuff on YouTube [of Lejarraga] and I don’t want to disrespect him, because since the fight we’ve kept in contact and he’s a nice guy, but watching him before and looking through his record, the only name that stood out for me was Denton Vassell. He boxed Vassell at the end of his career, so that stoppage I didn’t really take anything from. The footage I watched, yeah he was strong but he didn’t look that great.
“He [only] boxed outside of Bilbao one time, so I thought, “Aw, he’s only boxed outside of his hometown once!”! I was looking through thinking everyone he had boxed and beat, I would have beaten. So, maybe I did overlook him and didn’t give him the credit he deserved. I just thought I’ve had some good wins and I couldn’t see him causing any problems for me. I knew he had power, but I was thinking I’d just stay away from his power and get behind my jab, do what I do best, cut him up and I’ll be European champion.”
As he closed his analysis of the Spaniard he echoed my thoughts with a sad-but-sincere, ‘it just wasn’t [meant] to be’. With a return to the ring now set for October 20th, training habitually out of the iBox gym was in full-flow. The facility has been building its reputation with fighters such as Skeete, Johnny Garton and Lerrone Richards speaking highly of it. It would be Garton who would try and claim the British title that Bradley had left behind, a nice sentiment for two long-time stablemates.
At time of writing, it was almost thirty months since the British welterweight crown was seized from Sam Eggington in one of ‘Super’ Skeete’s cleanest performances. The movement and ability to judge the range had completely negated the aggression of the Brummie champion. That contest sparked the beginning of a reign at domestic level that seen the former Earlsfield ABC amateur capture the Lonsdale belt outright. Whilst some fighters prefer to win the British title and move on, Bradley had his plan cemented long before turning professional.
“I can say that truthfully, hand on my heart, there is not one bit that of regret that I chose to stay domestically at that level and win it outright. I got some good fights and good experience at the level I was fighting at. It was all part of the plan and for me, there wasn’t a problem waiting around and winning it outright.
“Don’t get me wrong there was opportunities there but, for me, I was stubborn. It was a childhood dream of mine to win the British title outright, not just to win it. Looking at the level at the time, I just knew there was no-one there that was gonna trouble me.”
“I knew I was the best domestic fighter there was [in my division] so I just wanted to put my name in the record books. I wanted to have it outright and not many people do that. I’ll always be looked on now as an outright British champion, whatever I do in my career. I’ll always have that Lonsdale belt to keep!”
He continued, “Even speaking to some World champions, they’ve said to me that even though they’re World champions, they regretted not winning the British title outright or even winning it [at all]. I’ve ticked the box now and it was a childhood dream so I can always claim that I was the holder of the Lonsdale belt outright.”
With one youthful aspiration fulfilled, it was time to move on. The risk of leaving the comfort of a British welterweight division in which he dominated was almost instantly off-set with an unbelievable opportunity. Australian champion Jeff Horn, fresh from his stunning upset victory over Manny Pacquiao, had been heavily rumoured to have selected Skeete as his first defence.
It’s imperative to reinforce how difficult boxing can be, as a form of employment. It’s not as simple as; turning up, working, going home and being paid at the same time every month. Currently there are 1,844 registered professional WELTERWEIGHT fighters alone (BoxRec recorded figures), involved in the sport. There are only four World championship belts. To reach the pinnacle of the sport and attain World honours is something that only an extremely small percentage of fighters can achieve, or come close to achieving in Bradley Skeete’s case.
As demonstrated in many other cases, the sport is unreliable, unpredictable and at times – unfair.
“I got a phone call from my manager and he said, “Would you fight Jeff Horn?” so I was like “Yeah, why Why are you asking?” and he’s said to leave it with him and he might be able to sort something out. He came back and said, “This looks like it’s happening! It’s this money…” I told him that I don’t care about the money – just get me over there! I agreed everything – whatever they’re saying, I’ll do it. We had a few things to sort out and we were just waiting on the contract, I was gonna sign it straight away and announce the fight.
“I was buzzing. You know there’s always someone who leaks something, so it was out on Social Media, people were talking about it. That was a big let down for me, really. We agreed everything. I was waiting on the contract to be sent over and signed. It was so close that Australian press had announced it, the bookies had odds out on me…
“Then I seen on Social Media they have announced [Gary] Corcoran and Jeff Horn. I called my manager and he said, “Yeah – they decided they didn’t want the fight.” That was it, basically. No fight. Not just a fight, a World title fight that I believed I would win.”
Again that sentence replayed itself – it wasn’t meant to be.
With his eyes firmly fixed on his return to the ring in The Brentwood Centre, Skeete had an idea of his career trajectory moving into the New Year. Of course, it was important to shake off the defeat he’d suffered overseas, but the eight-rounder scheduled later this month was merely a tune-up for a former champion starved of activity.
“We’ve obviously got the date now [for my next fight] which is the 20th of October. So it’s good! Since I won the British title outright last July, I’ve only boxed once and that was for the British title in April. It’s been a bit frustrating not getting the right fights. Hopefully I’ll be boxing again quite quickly in December, then I want to be boxing for titles. I wanna start the New Year fresh and just get back into the rankings, get back to where I was and hopefully have another crack at that European title!”
Promoted by one of British boxing’s stalwarts, Frank Warren, Skeete had been keen to climb the ranking’s of the main four governing bodies. He’d been ranked as highly as #2 with the WBO and #4 with the IBF, whilst sitting just outside of the top-ten with the WBC. His stock was continually on the rise during his dominant reign on home soil.
The Penge-based family man knew it was a matter of snakes and ladders, the boxing game. One week you could be on top of the world, whilst the next you’d be struggling for company in a hollow dressing room. He’d spent months lingering at the top of the division, catching glimpses of himself in headlines reporting proposed fictional fights that would have seen him secure his future. Those fights never happened and those rankings never helped.
“Frank’s took me from the start. I’ve won Masters titles, Southern Area, English, British, Commonwealth, WBO European, WBA Intercontinental and to win that European title would have been a great achievement because all I would have been looking to win would have been that World title. Now, he’s got BT and he’s doing these big shows and I just wanna be a part of it. I wanna be one of these BT fighters and be in the mix. I wanna get that exposure to get my name out there [on the World scene]. I believe the big fights will come but I just need momentum, really.
“In boxing, everyone wants to win a World title, so if you can get in that position and get close to an opportunity to win a World title you would grab it with both hands! Looking at all the champions, it’s mad to say that [Manny] Pacquiao is the weakest link of them all. I think the set-back is good for me and it means that when we do get that World title shot, we’ll be ready for it.”
Article by: Craig Scott
Follow Craig on Twitter at: @craigscott209