By: Oliver McManus
Caught up in the bizarrely busy Thursday afternoon traffic, a relaxed voice emerged. Luther Clay, talking via handsfree I hasten to add, came across as a content and serene individual throughout the 40-odd minutes we spoke. He started by telling me the simple stuff, as every boxer does, of when he first laced up the gloves. The word ‘simple’ is to be used loosely in this instance, Clay doesn’t do anything by half measures.
“I was born in South Africa, a sort of farming area of the country, but I moved to England when I was six, seven years old. All my family is in Africa, in England it’s just my dad, my mum, my sister and I. You’ve probably heard it a lot but I used to get into a fights a fair bit at school but I didn’t really start boxing until I was 15. Had eleven amatuer fights in three years before I stopped and went to university. I was studying computer, web and app development, but I never really wanted to end up in that industry.
To be honest I only really went to university because of my parents. They didn’t force it on me, don’t get me wrong, but they really wanted me to go, no-one in my family had been yet, and I didn’t fancy a full time job. I’ve always loved boxing and when I got there I ended up getting roped back in.”
A key figure that “roped” Luther back in to the sport was Al Siesta who, alongside Gennadi Gordienko (a Russian trainer) were influential to Clay turning professional. A machiavellian figure, almost, Siesta always strikes me as someone with the demeanour of a Bond villain but I was reassured he’s not part-timing as a criminal mastermind,
“I get that but he’s a nice guy, really, very talkative and raw, I’d say, what he says is what you get. He’s a genuine character who’s always very hands on, I see him a couple of times a week and he’s always coming in the gym to see us training. He likes to see what’s happening but it’s not just boxing, he’s interested in you as a person.”
Since the fateful linkup with Siesta there have been a number of opportunities provided by his promotional company. The welterweight, aged 20 at the time, debuted in Latvia on a show headlined by Mairis Briedis. Subsequently he’s fought away in Lithuania, Georgia and twice more in Latvia and it’s something that Clay told me he was loving,
“I’m really laid back about it all, to be honest, a fight is a fight as far as I see and the boxing ring will be the same wherever I am. From there it’s just my job to go in and win the fight. I prefer fighting in those countries, if I’m honest, my personal goal is to fight in South Africa one day but I will fight anywhere that Al wants me to. I’ve received a lot offers, especially from Fox, to fight in South Africa so the opportunity has been there but it has to align with Al’s plan. Realistically we’re looking at next year but it will happen.”
With a fight in South Africa being the only definitive long term goal, titles aside, the Bracknell fighter is fully focussed on his next contest. On March 17th he’ll face O’Shane Clarke, a fighter he knows well.
“I know O’Shane, I know him. He’s from Reading and he was always more advanced than me – he’s a couple years older – and he was a good amatuer. I’ve seen him sparring people at my gym and over the last year and a half we’ve done a couple rounds so I think I know what to expect from him. He’ll probably use the whole of the ring, try to survive, and take me to a decision but I’m confident I’ll beat him. Apparently this fight is an eliminator for the Commonwealth title so that’s a title I’ll be eyeing up for the near future.”
Whilst speaking to Luther he seemed to be really reflective about his time in the sport, speaking with honesty even if it went against the general norm of opinion for a professional boxer. It was interesting to just sit back and listen to him discussing, with himself, what he would like to get from the sport,
“I think, and I know it’s just hypothetical, I’d be in the sport until I’m 35. It seems a long time but it’s really not, it all depends on how good I get though. If I saw, in myself, that I couldn’t achieve a certain level in the sport – let’s say British or European – then I wouldn’t continue. I’m not in this to just be here, be a gatekeeper. I love a fight but I want to be at a certain level so I can be satisfied with myself and my career. If I can’t reach that level then I’d rather just go and get a job.
“Boxing is crazy, you see people who have won world titles and aren’t in the best position in life. The ultimate dream is to win world titles but just to have a successful life, outside of boxing, would be the goal. To be able to leave the sport and be in a good position. This is out of nowhere but look at Dave Allen, he might never be a world championship boxer, but he’s got houses and he’s in a reasonable financial position. You want world titles but you want to be successful. Fuck, though, I want belts. Life has a way of giving you some stuff and taking some away – James Toney has done in a lot in his career, an all time great right, but now he’s basically bankrupt.”
The 23 year old was confident in his ability to mix at a domestic level, welcoming potential fights with fellow prospects, but was pragmatic when discussing his progression.
“I’d happily take any fight as long as the risk-reward ratio was worth it. Right now I’m still in my learning period of the sport but in the next 12 months you never know what can happen, there are fights out there that I know I could win but it’s about taking it at a time that benefits me the most. It’s all about the opportunities that are provided to me, it doesn’t matter what route I take to the titles because the end destination is the same. People ask me if I wish I had a ‘big promoter’ as in Eddie or Frank but that’s irrelevant, the doors are there but you’ve got to be ready and I’m not going to take a fight I’m not ready for. You can’t chuck yourself in a position that you’re not ready for and I’m realistic about that, this year I will be ready, trust me, I will be ready, towards the end of the year I want to be knocking on the door of that British title.”
Looking to move 11-1 on the 17th – a sole loss that came in Georgia but one, Clay confesses, has made little impact on his mentality – the truly fascinating character ended our conversation by discussing exposure and building a profile.
“When I had just started it really annoyed me that people would overrate guys like Conor Benn so much just because of the name and the platform. As I’ve been progressing through and I look at the names I’m next to in the rankings I just think “man, I shouldn’t be worried about him, let me worry about getting these guys out of the way”. I think so many boxers like to focus on what other people do so I’m just trying to concentrate on myself and seeing where that path leads. I know and my team know my ability but let’s not get hung up on fights that might never happen, let’s focus on the ones in front of us. Keep on winning and these fights will have to happen, it’s as simple as that, and then the talking can stop.”