Growing physically and fostering an ability to hit hard isn’t the be all and end all when it comes to developing as a fighter, says Commonwealth king Luke Blackledge.
In the embryonic stages of his professional career, the 25-year-old relied heavily on his super-middleweight frame and a frightening punching power to help him through the rounds.
I’ve grown as a fighter since losing to RockyLuke Blackledge
Under coach Kevin Maree his suffocating style, with a claustrophobic application of pressure, saw him triumphant in his 11 opening bouts, which included four stoppages.
But a kamikaze scrap with Sauerland’s Swedish light heavyweight Erik Skoglund, which culminated in the first loss of his tenure, and an undisciplined defeat to Rocky Fielding forced Blackledge to have a re-think.
That’s where former pro Alex Matvienko comes in to the equation. The one-time super welterweight, with a record of 15-1-3, realised that Elite Boxing’s new acquisition had to mature both in and out of the ring if he was to evolve as an athlete and compete at the top.
Such progression was clear to see in wins over joker Jody Meikle, Darren McKenna, Philip Kotey, Konstantin Alexandrov and, most notably, in his capture of the Commonwealth strap against Liam Cameron in April.
Blackledge, who had implemented significant changes in his lifestyle to aid the transformation, was becoming a more rounded fighter.
He had learned to appreciate the tactical side of the sport, his performances grew more methodical, and he displayed an ability to control his aggression to good effect.
“I’ve grown as a fighter since losing to Rocky,” Blackledge said. “I’ve altered my lifestyle, I’m a better boxer, I’m disciplined when it comes to dieting and nutrition,
“I’ve grown in strength and I’m a more educated fighter. I’m a more rounded fighter and I’m more methodical.
“The dieting just comes natural to me now. I’ve got a good routine and everything has fallen in to place.
“Don’t get me wrong, it’s still tough and it’s still difficult making super-middleweight. I’m just doing the best I can, I’m getting a lot of help and I’m getting a lot out of it.
“I’m probably in the best shape that I’ve been in during my career. I feel really good, I’m living clean and it’s paying off. Those are the sacrifices that you have to make if you want to become a champion.”
Ahead of his title defence against Lee Markham at the Manchester Arena on Saturday, live on BoxNation, he added: “I’ve been there and experienced it all now. I’ve had a lot of big fights on big shows. I’m ready for the big stage again now. “I feel a bit of pressure but I’m looking forward to showing people what I’m capable of.
“If I stick to what I’ve done in training then I’ll beat him - no doubt about it. Everything has been great. People haven’t seen the best of me yet but I’m determined to show them.
“When I beat Markham I will sit down with my team. There’s no rush for me though because I’ve got another 10 years in me yet.
“I don’t want to do what Frank Buglioni did and just jump in to a world title fight. I’ll only take that opportunity when I know I’m 100 per cent ready.”