Boxing: Belter Skelton the heavy hope

In Japan he got kicks out of the game. Now he's home and ready to hit the big time

With Lennox Lewis set to go beachcombing and Audley Harrison flouncing off to do his ring thing in faraway places against opponents with strange-sounding names, British heavyweight boxing is in desperate need of a personality who can punch. For once, breath is being held in genuine anticipation. The buzz is that the game may have unearthed a big man who can do the business.

Matt Skelton is 6ft 3in, a tightly muscled 18 stones, has won all seven of his pro fights with devastatingly quick finishes, is engagingly articulate and, according to Ronnie Davies, the man who trained Chris Eubank, "has the power to send fear right through the division". The perfect pedigree for a champion in the making. That's the good news. The downside is that he's 33, seven months older than Harrison.

No spring chicken, then, but certainly no old boiler, either, as those who have been on the receiving end of his short, explosive punches will testify.

So where has he been all these years? Few may have heard of him here, but he's a huge name in Japan, where, for much of the last decade, he has been fighting with success on the fiercely competitive K-1 kick-boxing circuit.

His decision to go orthodox brings a deliciously unorthodox dimension to the boxing scene here, beginning on Thursday at the Goresbrook Leisure Centre, Dagenham, when he fights the former British champion Michael Holden for a title that has not been contested since the bare-knuckle days of the late 19th century - the English national championship.

This has been revived by the British Boxing Board of Control, and will be the highlight of Frank Warren's "Fight Skool" promotion, the first of a new Sky TV prime-time venture regularly featuring some of his 32-strong stable of young prospects, including the newly signed amateur featherweight sensation Kevin Mitchell. Skelton, says Warren, qualifies as "a mature student". Skelton's co-manager, Eugene Maloney, younger brother of Warren's partner Frank, says: "People keep going on about his age. But in boxing terms he's only a baby." Opponent Holden is himself 35, and has fought only 18 times in a nine-year career.

"Age is only an issue if you party hard and abuse your body," says Skelton. "I've never been a drinker. My idea of socialising is a little coffee and a game of bar football at a café close to me." He abandoned his kick-boxing career, which saw him win 52 of his 57 bouts, including one before a crowd of 68,000 in the Tokyo Dome where Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson, after being called in to spar with a Ghanaian prospect in the Maloneys' Fight Factory gym in London's Old Kent Road. "Matt knocked the crap out of him," says Maloney.

Davies, who was training the African, thought Skelton was "awesome". Maloney persuaded Skelton to switch to conventional boxing, and his debut saw seasoned opponent Gifford Shillingford knocked cold and hospitalised.

After Skelton had won his first four fights, Maloney took an advertisement in a London evening paper offering Harrison £100,000 to fight him. There was no response. "I honestly believe Matt would knock Harrison spark out - and that's not hype." Well, actually it is, but Skelton is having none of it - yet.

"Audley's got a lot of knockers, but I'm not one," he says. "He's won an Olympic gold, which can't be bad. He has done a good job on his PR, good luck to him. He knows what he wants to do. A lot of people out there want to climb on his bandwagon, but I don't. I'm not shouting that I want to fight him. I just sit down with my team and decide who is the best opponent, one fight at a time."

Born of Jamaican parents, the youngest of a family of seven and father of a 15-year-old daughter, former scaffolder Skelton has lived in Bedford all his life. As a youngster, rugby was his sport - he played as a flanker for Bedford Athletic. He began living for kicks at 21, taking up Thai boxing and winning gold in the world amateur championships before joining the K-1 circuit, averaging £40,000 a year in a brutal martial art where he was allowed to use his feet, knees and elbows as well as his fists.

"I initially went to Japan as cannon-fodder, because that's the view they have of most Europeans, but after I won a few fights they seemed to take to me. Kick-boxing is a different discipline, but it's still fighting. You need the same sort of mental approach."

Another oddity for a boxer is that Skelton does not restrict himself to the tradition of sparring, skipping and the punch bag. He swims, goes hill running, and several mornings a week he visits a special gymnasium to train alongside the disabled and the elderly - including one man of 90. "You can draw inspiration from these people," he says.

In a voice as basso profundo as Frank Bruno's, but without the contrived sound-bites, he insists he actually doesn't relish hurting opponents. "I'd never wish to harm anyone. Having been brought up around a Christian background I pray before every fight that no one gets damaged. I don't revel in watching a guy laid out, although I must admit I do train for knockouts. They give me a buzz." The sort of buzz Skelton is now giving boxing.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform