Commonwealth super-middleweight champion Luke Blackledge (20-2-2) has signed a three-year deal with Frank Warren at BoxNation after climbing to sixth in the British rankings and 49th on the planet when retaining his title with a unanimous decision triumph over challenger Lee Markham (14-3-1).
The second youngest 168lb pugilist in the top 10 now only has IBF World champion James DeGale, WBO World title challenger Martin Murray, the “Saint” George Groves, Callum Smith and Rocky Fielding ahead of him in the division’s hierarchy.
I knew that I’d won it when it went to a decisionLuke Blackledge
After a gruelling 12 rounds at the Manchester Arena, live on BoxNation TV on the undercard of Terry Flanagan’s successful WBO World lightweight title defence against Diego Magdaleno and Liam Smith’s capture of the WBO World super welterweight strap against John Thompson, referee Howard John Foster held Blackledge’s arm aloft with judges scoring the contest 116-113 (Terry O’Connor), 116-114 (Steve Gray) and 115-114 (Phil Edwards).
“I knew that I’d won it when it went to a decision,” said Blackledge. “I’ve been under a lot of pressure for this fight. I hadn’t fought in six months and the contract was on the plate as well. It was quite a relief to come through it and get the win.”
The fight panned out exactly as anticipated between the two durable, aggressive, forward-coming fighters.
The warring pair were locked together in the middle of the ring for 12 rounds exchanging countless blows to body and head with Blackledge producing the busier work to capture the judges’ attention.
Both fighters suffered damage early on, the champion with a small nick above the right eye in the opening round from a clash of heads and the challenger receiving a nasty swelling above the left eye in round two.
Blackledge started the fight brighter and livelier from the first bell, visibly hurting Markham in round two with a left hook to the midriff.
The penultimate round saw ‘Banjo’ land the best shot of the night with a cracking right hand to the head of Blackledge which caused the champion to backpedal and cover up for the remaining 30 seconds of the round.
The final three minutes witnessed the same energy, pace, and work rate that both athletes began the fight with.
The Steve Wood-managed boxer said: “That’s his style. He’s aggressive, fights in the pocket and comes forward with a European guard defence so it was difficult to get around him. I ended up getting through with quite a lot of shots though.
“It was a good learning fight for me. It was a bit of a war and I’m quite sore. It’s definitely the biggest win of my career so far. I’ve been offered a big fight now on the undercard of Andy Lee’s and Billy Joe Saunders’s world title fight. I’m buzzing.
“I’m looking forward to seeing who they pair me up with. The fight with Markham showed that I’ve grown again as a fighter.”
The 25-year-old, trained by Elite Boxing’s Alex Matvienko, added: “I’m over the moon with it. I’m chuffed to bits. It gives me the platform to build bigger and better things now.
“I get better pay days and I’ll be on TV so thousands of people can watch me. My fights are always entertaining and they deserve to be aired on TV. I’m going to make the most of it.”