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Interview with Irish middleweight boxing champion Luke Keeler

Luke ‘Cool Hand’ Keeler is the current Irish middleweight boxing champion. He has a professional record of 15 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw. Keeler who is a Dublin native will be fighting Conrad Cummings at the Ulster Hall of Belfast on 29 March.

Keeler began his boxing career in Ballyfermot’s St. Matthews boxing club, at the age of 8. He competed as an amateur boxer which propelled his professional career. The safety concerns around amateur boxing are numerous, especially for children. Some detractors claim that amateur boxing can damage a fighter before they have a chance to make their career. Keeler, who has amateur experience, feels that amateur boxing is very health conscious. Keeler added “head guards, big padded gloves and referees that step in and stop the fight soon as any sign that the fighter is hurt ensures very little punishment is received”. Many fighters make their name in the amateur arena before chasing a professional career and a legacy.

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Boxing is a sport engulfed in legacy. There are traditions of sporting greats within Ireland that goes back generations. Many boxers believe that part of their training is to be a student of boxing history, they speak about ‘watching the tape’ for hours a night. This involves watching the greats until something rubs off. Keeler is no different he loved offensive ‘all action’ boxers, such as Ricky Hatton and Mike Tyson, however, he explains how recently gained a lot of appreciation for “the defensive art by Mayweather and the likes of Andre Ward it’s about: hit and not get hit”. His favourite moment in boxing is a little closer to home, Bernard Dunne, the fellow Dubliner winning the world title, he added that “that was special night, fight and atmosphere would be hard to match.”

Fighting can seem like a physical and brutish sport, but mental strength also plays a huge and important part in understanding the sport. One way in which fighters try to gain this mental edge is by ‘trash-talking’. This is the process of saying pejorative and insulting things to your opponent. Many legendary fighters have made use of this, such as Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson. Luke Keeler feels that trash talking can create interest in the fight, if it comes naturally to the person, however, he said that if “it’s forced it’s nearly embarrassing, a lot of guys jumping on McGregor style and doesn’t suit them; has to come natural.”

Many fighters have a different mentality to the average person, something inside which allows them to achieve what they do. Keeler shows this when asked about the time he won the Irish middleweight championship with a broken hand, as Keeler said it was an“anti-climax I wasn’t happy with my performance regardless of broken hand”. The elite mentality of the champion was evident when speaking of the aftermath of the fight he said, “feeling of job done onto improving and onto next fight”. Fighters can never truly take stock, always chasing another fight and another way in which to add to their legacy.

Weight cutting has become a big talking point when discussing Boxing and other combat sports. Weight cutting usually involves sweating out ‘water weight’, sometimes that can cause complications. The loss of this hydration can leave the brain vulnerable and is often cited as the main reason for fatalities within combat sports. Keeler knows of the problems with dehydration and said “I think some fighters can take it to extreme levels more so in MMA and it’s a very fine line in trying to gain advantage in size to being unhealthy and weight drained”.

Athletes have to start with the basics to gain an edge. It can be the basics that are the easiest to deviate from. The everyday process of nutrition can separate the good from the great and limit a fighters potential. Luke Keeler has a strict routine leading up to the fight which is as follows:

  • “I slowly cut down on carbs during camp eat just organic veg and meat week of fight one carb a day for three weeks previous cut out any sugars completely or snacks and stick to 4 meals a day. 
  • A start of camp breakfast be porridge but I just change it to 4 eggs then final couple weeks cut to couple eggs. 
  • The other three meals are a lean meat and green veg then one meal would have a carb like sweet potato brown rice  or couscous.”
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There are many ways for a boxer to gain an edge in the ring, some resort to long camps in inclement weather and others try cross athletic training. Keeler is trained by Pete Taylor, who is one of the best Irish boxing coaches. He explains how Pete Taylor has influenced this side of his training, as he said “there are certain drills footwork, wrestling etc. that wouldn’t be typical to most gyms”. According to Keeler there are certain tips and tricks that Pete Taylor picked up while in Eastern European camps, the likes of which Lomachenko came from. Lomachenko is a prime example of this cross athletic training, his father forced him to quit boxing for four years, he trained in dancing to develop the footwork of a champion. Keeler talks about his admiration for both Lomachenko and Usyk, “their movement, footwork, timing is beautiful to watch and level of concentration.”

“He’s below world level and I have to be beating likes of Conrad Cummings well, to make the next step to world title fights”

Keeler fought Conrad Cummings before, it was a hard-fought win but Keeler ultimately came out with a decision victory.  He won the WBO European Tile in the fight, Keeler, describes this as his favourite personal moment in his career. He came into the fight as an underdog, even suffering cuts around his eyes, which obstructed his view. This next fight is different, both men have been changing their training routines and will come into this with renewed vigour. This is evident as Keeler said “I’ve improved since the last performance and intend to make it an easier nights work please god.” This fight may be a rematch, however, for Luke Keeler it is a chance to prove himself the best middleweight in Europe.

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