Alex Matvienko says that British title contender Luke Blackledge is going through hell in training in a bid to swipe Callum Smith’s belt from his clutches.
The Elite Boxing coach, who registered 15 wins from 19 contests as a professional, praised the former Commonwealth champion’s attitude and application during a punishing and increasingly demanding camp tailored to suit the magnitude of the challenge they face at Manchester Arena on December 10th.
It’s not quite been the exaggerated regime taken on by Sylvester Stallone - when his eponymous character saws logs, pulls sleighs in the Russian snow, hacks down trees, lifts rocks and runs in impossible conditions - but it has certainly been intense for a perpetuated period of time.
This, though, is the super-middleweight fighter’s Rocky IV moment and Smith, the owner of the Lonsdale Belt, is undoubtedly the Ivan Drago of the 168lb division.
“We’ve been trying to tailor training around the fight,” said Matvienko, who went by the alias ‘One Man Riot’. “We’ve been trying to push him harder, he’s been doing some altitude training which is tough and he’s been doing lots of body conditioning.
“He’s been doing plenty of sparring too and some hard circuits so we’ve been pushing his body to the limit. He’s going through hell at the moment.
“We see it in the gym, we see it in training, we see it in sparring. We see a completely different Luke when he knows he’s got a bit of a tough night ahead.
“It was like when he fought Liam Cameron and Lee Markham - he probably felt a bit scared and that’s why he put a bit of extra effort in to training. We’re getting a better Luke Blackledge at the moment.”
As well as sticking to a regimented programme, and adhering to a nurtitional plan almost religiously, Blackledge has been getting plenty of rounds under his belt inside the ring during sparring sessions.
The 26-year-old, who recently flew to Berlin to trade punches with newly-crowned WBA World super-middleweight supremo Tyron Zeuge, has been up against Jack Massey, Charlie Schofield, Jack Cullen, Liam Cameron and Steven Ward.
“This is definitely the best that I’ve seen him in the gym,” said Matvienko. “He’s definitely looking pretty fierce. He’s on fire. The conditioning is going well. After the sparring he’s doing a lot of body conditioning and it seems like it’s working.
“We’ve been sparring cruiserweights down to middleweights. We’ve sparred Jack Massey, Charlie Schofield, Jack Cullen and Liam Cameron, who is 6ft 3in and an ABA champion. He’s actually fought Callum Smith and sparred him so we’ve had some really good sparring.
“He looks in good shape physically and he’s in good shape mentally. He’s really up for it so I’m hoping that we see the best Luke Blackledge we’ve seen yet.”
Smith, ranked number one with the WBC and mandatory for the winner of January’s battle between Badou Jack and James DeGale, is one of the most exciting prospects in British boxing at present having recorded 21 victories with 16 of those inside the distance.
One of those included the first round demolition of Rocky Fielding at Liverpool’s Echo Arena just over 12 months ago.
“He’s got to be wary of Callum’s distance and he’s very good at setting you up for particular shots,” said Matvienko. “There are certain distances that he works better at.
“He’s a very good all-round fighter and it’s hard to pull holes in him. Everything he does, he does well. He’s a big guy but he can fight on the inside, he can box long range, he’s got a good amateur pedigree.
“He’s gone in to the professionals and he’s beaten some good fighters. It’s hard to pull him apart because he’s a very good fighter and it’s going to be tough for Luke.”