Big interview: Matt’s return to the ring

Matty Clarkson is back in training
Matty Clarkson is back in training

Craig Salmon talks to Preston light-heavyweight boxer Matty Clarkson, who has decided to make a return to the sport after three years out

Matty Clarkson has always proven that he can come back strong after taking the biggest of knocks.

The Preston light-heavyweight boxing star built up a reputation within the industry as a warrior in the ring.

Recording 12 wins and only three defeats from his 17-bout professional career, arguably Clarkson’s greatest moment – although he might not quite agree himself – came in defeat.

Facing Travis Dickinson for the English title at Leeds Town Hall, Clarkson recovered from two knockdowns in the opening two rounds and a huge swelling to his cheek, to put his opponent on the canvas four times.

In the fifth round alone, he had Dickinson down on his haunches three times after a barrage of body shots.

However, the contest was brought to a halt a round later as referee Michael Alexander decided to end the contest due to the gruesome nature of Clarkson’s injury.

The brutal, breathless epic had ringside spectators looking on in amazement and the bout was later announced as the fight of the year for 2014. Clarkson unfortunately would only go on to fight once more after that –losing to Bob Ajisafe – as medics advised him to retire on health grounds due to a serious injury to his neck.

However, virtually three years to the day since he last stepped inside a ring – he has decided to make a comeback.

Working with revered sports physiotherapist David Rhodes, the 30-year-old – who was the Central Area Title holder – believes he has got to the bottom of his old injury and is ready to 
restart his career.

And he believes that he can come back better than ever.

“The Travis fight – people might think that I look on that fight as a bit of a highlight of my career,” said Clarkson, who is trained by former world kickboxing champion Johnney Roye.

“But to be honest with you, it always grates on me a little bit because on the night I felt like I did not perform the way that I wanted to.

“It was only heart and desire that got me through it in a way.

“To be honest, to me that is just standard procedure. Every time you get in the ring you should always have heart and desire.

“If you are going to be a boxer, I don’t see any plaudits in showing heart and desire – that’s the minimum requirement.

“You should be getting up off the floor when it gets messy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a good fight. To get up off the floor twice like I did and floor him four times, before the fight got stopped because of the injury, shows what I was about.

“I am not saying it was a bad moment in my career because it did give me that bit of exposure,

“I suppose it showed that if you are going to put me down, you’re going to have to keep me down.”

Clarkson, who is married to Jessica and has a six-year-old son Charlie, will need the same sort of guts and determination if he is to make a success of his return to the ring.

“I feel like I have got another good four or five years left in me of good, top-level domestic boxing,” Clarkson said.

“I was advised to finish in 2014 and I started doing some coaching, but I am not ready to be a coach full-time yet. I still have unfinished business, if you will.

“The last 18 months have been difficult – I have been thinking, ‘This is it. Am I never going to lace a pair of boxing gloves up again?

“I could not really stand the thought of it to be honest.

“I still love the sport and still want to fight.”

Clarkson was originally forced into early retirement because of a ruptured nerve in his neck.

A lot of scar tissue had built up around the nerve and it had just been left to build up.

”The injury was being treated as though I was some kind of Average Joe in the street – not an elite level athlete,” said Clarkson, who trains alongside current English light-heavyweight champion Liam Conroy and has also sparred with world cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew in the past.

“No disrespect to the people who treated me, because I worked with some fantastic people, but I think Dave Rhodes is getting to the root of the problem.

“He is confident that I am over it and it feels a lot stronger. I have been back sparring a few weeks now and I’ve took some big knocks on it, but it feels okay.

“At the end of the day, if after a year I get injured again or the old injury comes back, I will walk away from it for good and say that I did everything I could to be the best I could be.”

Having fought for an English title – albeit unsuccessfully – in the first part of his career, Clarkson has set himself a target of reaching that standard once more.

But he also has eyes on winning a coveted British Lonsdale belt and maybe competing at European level.

“I have set myself a year to get to a stage where I am fighting for an English title,” he said. “I want to get some good rounds in against some tough opponents over the next year.

“Ultimately I want to be going for that Lonsdale belt. That’s the dream for me long-term. I do feel like I could become a good European level fighter, but I think getting that Lonsdale belt would be the highlight.”