BOXING coach Kevin Maree has applauded the character, attitude and ambition of ferocious fighter Luke Blackledge in light of the recent twist in his protégé’s tale.
Blackledge cut a desolate figure following news of Rudy Markussen’s neck injury and consequent withdrawal from their April 13th showdown - a contest he’d worked remarkably hard towards - but the 22-year-old has been given renewed vigour after accepting a new, demanding challenge.
Sauerland Events, the promotional mastermind behind the Nordic Fight Night, has now matched Blackledge up with exciting Swedish prospect Erik Skoglund at Arena Nord in Frederikshavn, Denmark, for the WBC light-heavyweight Youth World title.
Skoglund boasts nine KOs from his 15 professional victories and has never conceded a round. The 21-year-old, who is currently undergoing a rigorous training regime in Berlin ahead of the bout, started boxing before entering his teenage years in Nykoping and went on to win 18 gold medals as an amateur, in addition to seven silver medals as he grew to become Scandinavia’s hottest property.
“It’s a big turnaround and a daunting task,” said Maree. “The Rudy Markussen fight was called off for a second time which was a huge blow for us because we’ve been working towards that contest for a while.
“Luke beat their golden boy, Mads Larsen, last time out there and they’ve been desperate to avenge that defeat, hence why they set us up with Markussen and now Erik Skoglund.
“He had a spectacular career as an amateur, he’s unbeaten as a professional winning all 15 fights including nine knockouts, and he’s never conceded a round. He’s an excellent prospect.
“At first I was apprehensive but I sat down with Luke and he begged me to let him fight. He wants to fight the best and you can’t argue with that ambition. He’s desperate for it.
“His character and determination is absolutely tremendous for me as a coach. We trained for four hours the other day and every single minute was a pleasure. He really wants to do it.
“He could hang around, fight journeymen and compile a fantastic record but that doesn’t interest him. He wants to fight the best and he wants to become the best.”
Blackledge is being asked to step up in weight for the contest, significantly, as he moves from super-middleweight to light-heavyweight for his latest assignment. The location could also prove detrimental to Blackledge, fighting in Skoglund’s own back yard, though Maree is adamant his student won’t be intimidated.
Blackledge has been sparring with big hitters Tony Bellew and Matty Askin in preparation as he bids to give Skoglund the same treatment as former IBO world champion Mads Larsen.
“He’s fought many of his opponents in their own back yard and beaten them, now he wants to do it again,” said Maree. “He’s a top prospect and his attitude is the best I’ve encountered in boxing. He could achieve anything with that will to win and I wish him all the success in the world.
“It’s a world title for anybody under the age of 24. It’s a massive step up in class and it posed a real dilemma for us. All the boxing reasons would suggest it’s crazy but Luke wants this and he believes he is physically ready for the challenge.
“He’s been sparring with Tony Bellew in preparation and he’s done very well against a similar type of fighter. Our preparation couldn’t have gone any better to date and we’ve got Luke sparring with Matty Askin next as well. Our training schedule has been fantastic.”
Maree added: “It’s without question the biggest fight of his career, and it’s great for somebody who hasn’t got an amateur background. Erik’s resume is spectacular, I’ve lost count of his achievements, and he’s signed a new contract with Sauerlands. They expect massive things of him.
“I really think he can cause an upset. We’ve worked meticulously on a game plan which we feel will give us a bit of an edge. Hopefully Erik will be unsuspecting. We’ve had to adapt and change tactics for this bout.
“We wouldn’t go if we didn’t feel we could win. We’re going to pull off this scalp, we’re not going all the way to Denmark to be somebody else’s cannon fodder. His career and life will change if he pulls this off.”