The demise was reminiscent of Tony Soprano in that final scene in the New Jersey diner. The fade to black: raw, unexpected and, for many, unsatisfactory. Liam Cameron’s world had been bright, recently filled with the promise of opportunity. And then there was nothing.
Early mornings pounding his feet rhythmically on the pavement and days and nights spent trading leather in the gym were replaced in a near-instant by tortured thoughts and endless bottles of spirits. Not even music proved able to soothe his condition as his mind calibrated its tones to disembodied cries and wails of despair. He would ask his partner Tanya why she was crying? Why were the kids crying? Only to be met with confusion. Cameron’s mind unable to trip the switch in order to navigate an escape from his private hell that was slowly sucking in those around him.
One night he woke up in an ambulance on the way to hospital. He recalls taking an overdose of pills; emptying the cupboards and gorging on anything he could find. It was the familiar cry for help, the search for inner peace. The desperation to find something to hang on to amidst the carnage of an identity that had been stripped away and removed, at the behest of strangers, and the merest flick of a pen. Bitterness and loss seemed destined to overwhelm him.
But he hadn’t reached the bottom yet…
Last July, his 20-year-old step-daughter, Tiegan, died tragically in a road accident. It could have marked the end for him as well. A final descent into the perpetual never-land of booze and prescription drugs, but out of it, like the little ‘London Pride’ flower that used to grow defiantly amidst the rubble of the burned-out buildings of the Blitz, this blackest of days has given birth to the first blinking, shards of light.
“When my step-daughter died I made her a promise that I would come back and that’s what I’m going to do,” a newly positive Cameron reveals to Boxing Social. “That’s the reason. It’s been a massively tough time. I can’t put into words how hard it’s been. But I’m getting better, finding ways to deal with it.
“I’m not ashamed to admit to it now that I were drinking a bottle of gin a day. It made me wild, turned me into a monster. I was a manic-depressive. I just absolutely lost me mind. It was like I wasn’t me anymore.”
A body weighing 19 stones and polluted by years of bad living finally found its way out of the darkened room and back onto the tarmac. Those feet heavier than they had ever been struggled to make their way around the Sheffield estate he calls home. His physical and mental cargo such that he could scarcely manage 15 minutes of light running.
The athlete’s physique of his 20s had gone to be replaced by the overweight frame of a man in his 30s. To anyone who didn’t know him, Cameron would have shown all the trappings of a confirmed couch potato; the kind who do a couple of hopeful runs and then permanently put the tracksuit away in favour of the fridge and the boozer. But for Cameron, this cannot be an option. Resolutely, he must find a way to get back. A promise wrought from life and death cannot easily be broken.
As the toxin-filled sweat drips from his hair and blinds his eyes, the hidden force pushing him onwards continues to be his step-daughter Tiegan. It would be easy to let revenge, bitterness or anger pave his road to recovery; but instead, it is a journey driven by love. A determination to honour her memory and make her proud. To finally deliver on a promise that he couldn’t make true in her lifetime at least.
The 19 stones have become 15 as Liam Cameron (20-5, 8 KOs) tries to claw his way back to the old fighting weight. “I’m getting there,” he says hopefully. “I know I’m still a fat fucker for a boxer, but I’m trying me hardest to definitely make a comeback. Boxing is all I’ve ever known. You really do take your fitness for granted when you’re in that boxing bubble.”
But there was a time when everything was so different. Where like Jay Gatsby the dream that he had held since he was an eight-year-old boy, ‘must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it’. “I’d got to number 10 in the world with the IBF and were number two in Britain. The world were truly my oyster,” he recalls of those distant, uncatchable days.
“I got offered thirty-grand to fight Martin Murray after Billy Joe Saunders pulled out. I absolutely thought everything were going to kick on for me. Everything I had worked me balls off since I were a kid to achieve. All that time just grafting to be a champion. Life just gave me a little sniff of success and then it kicked me down.”
The “kick” was provided by an envelope dropping through his letterbox shortly after a routine first defence of his Commonwealth middleweight title against Nicky Jenman in April 2018. The letter addressed from UKAD had confirmed that Cameron had recorded a positive test for a banned substance.
“It said I’d tested positive for benzoylecgonine. I thought ‘What the fuck?’ I Googled it and found that it was a metabolic acid that comes from cocaine,” recalls Cameron. “The mad thing is that it was me that paid for the test. He [Jenman] were a new opponent and I thought you just never know and it were right to be careful and that. But I couldn’t believe it. It were a massive surprise. I just didn’t know what to do.”
The rest, in many respects, is history, albeit one that he has had to live with every day for the past three years. The story of Cameron’s wrangle with UKAD – the test reflected less than a 10th of a recreational line in his system – and his subsequent four-year suspension from boxing has threatened to eclipse everything that he ever achieved in the ring. He continues to struggle to stop it defining him.
Throughout Cameron has been unshakeable in the conviction of his innocence. Even in a situation where an admittance of how the cocaine had come to be ingested would have resulted in a much-reduced sentence and seen him back in the ring already. UKAD publicly rebutted his protestations of innocence in their report that is readily available on the internet, describing Cameron as, “[Not a] credible or reliable witness.” but he remains unwavering in his defence.
“I can only put it down to it [traces of cocaine] being on the ticket money. Where I’m from it’s absolutely everywhere. Everyone’s on it in the pubs and stuff. The amount were so small you wouldn’t be able to see it with the naked eye. Did someone spike me in the dressing room? I aint got a clue. That’s the honest, gospel truth,” he says forlornly.
“But I can’t admit to something that I haven’t done. It doesn’t matter if the ban is 10 years, 20 years, or 30 – it’s just impossible. I had to stick to me guns. I’ve told UKAD that I’m happy to do a lie detector test, but they don’t want to know.
“I know there’ll be people out there that probably think I took it. But I’m not going to lie. I don’t need to lie. I’ve done me time. If I had lied, I could have been back fighting two years ago.”
What is unarguable is the severity of the sentence that was handed out to Cameron. Amidst a global backdrop of tame penalties, even for repeat offenders, among some of boxing’s most high-profile combatants; there is a nagging sense of inconsistency and that the authorities have sought to make an example of the 30-year-old. Lacking the profile and financial resources of some of his more gilded contemporaries, he feels that he has been scapegoated to deflect attention from earlier claims of undue leniency.
Boxing Social asks Cameron whether he feels abandoned by the sport? “They dropped me like a stone. Well, not a stone. It were more like the Titanic,” he answers unequivocally. “But I’ve got to show these people in the ring. Show them all. But you know, like I said, the reasons for doing it are deeper than that now.”
Not surprisingly, Cameron admits to a sustained period of loathing the sport that had previously been his focus for 20 years. Its presence on television a constant reminder of how far he had fallen and a source of unwanted fuel to further fan the uncontrolled flames of his resentment. “I thought it had just done nothing for me; that I’d wasted all that time. It’s all been so hurtful. I hated the sport; couldn’t watch it,” he says.
“It had been like working hard and buying a house. You’ve just made the last mortgage payment and then it gets ripped away from you. I felt like that. All that work just wasted.”
The terms of Cameron’s ban also prohibited him from entering any gym affiliated with professional or amateur boxing. He was entirely cut adrift and with what felt like his career being on permanent hiatus – at one point announcing his retirement – a life dedicated to boxing had left him with no money or any mechanism to make a living. The financial hardships have been significant and exacerbated his problems with alcohol and mental health. “There were days we’d wake up and there’d be no electric and stuff,” he reveals as an insight into the severity of these challenges.
Probably the hardest thing for the Sheffield man has been that the ban commenced at just the time that his career was finally gaining traction. With five defeats on his ledger including two failed shots at the Commonwealth super-middleweight title, it was beginning to look like the former ABA champion would never fully impose himself on the pro game. However, a switch to 160lbs, marked an instant change in his career trajectory, as he dropped Sam Sheedy five times on his way to an eighth-round stoppage victory and a capturing of the rainbow-strapped Commonwealth belt.
The man nicknamed ‘Cannonball’ attributes the change in fortune to finally getting his weight and diet under control. “I’d always struggled with it [weight],” he admits. “To be honest, I was quite deluded to be fair and was killing myself to make super-middle. I thought, ‘You know what, I’ll get a dietician’ and that proved to be so beneficial. I was under 12 stone near enough a week before the Sheedy fight. Whereas in the past I’d be a stone or more over. I know it sounds mad, but I actually found making middleweight easier than I did super-middle.
“To be honest, I don’t think it were ever to do with me ability, getting beat in those earlier fights. I just think it were me being stupid; making daft weights and not knowing how to diet.”
Cameron understands that the road back is a long one and he still has significant poundage to lose before he can contemplate a return. In any case, his ban prohibits him from so much as entering a boxing gym until May next year, let alone actually competing in a professional contest. He stays active by attending a local weight-lifting gym, where he hammers the treadmill, does his circuits and the proprietor takes him on the pads. Sparring and fighting are still locked in the far distance but he remains determined to reclaim them.
“I want to have two good eight-round fights and then just take a crack at someone good,” he says. “I’ll already feel like I’ve won my world title when I make my comeback for Tiegan. Anything above that is okay for me. But I definitely think I could still win a British title.”
Cameron feels like a man both simultaneously running from the past and towards it. His feet press it as they bounce off the pavement of his Sheffield estate and his lungs consume it in great big gulps. The tired legs carry him forward as they have done a million times: from the boy to the man, from the champion to the pariah.
“I could have been rich,” he muses. “But you can’t think like that; not in my position. The aim was always to fight for a world title. Win, lose, draw, or get battered, it was always the aim to box for one.”
He pauses for a moment, lets out a smile, and adds: “Everyone likes to see a comeback.”
Only the hardest of hearts would begrudge him that.
Main image: Twitter @liamcameron21