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Nick Campbell quit pro rugby at 28 to try and become Scotland's heavyweight king


The 10-year-old Nick Campbell barely saw a punch amid the Mike Tyson fanfare which gripped Hampden Park at the dawn of the new Millennium.

The youngster was amongst 20,000 fans packed into Scotland’s national stadium alongside his dad and grandad to watch the ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ in June 2000.

Most fans were left underwhelmed after Tyson disposed of Lou Savarese just 38 seconds into his latest comeback fight, but the events left in indelible mark on a young Campbell.

“I don’t think I even got to see a punch thrown because everyone was stood up for the first 20 seconds,” he recalls.

“I was only little and I was standing on my chair and before I knew it, it was over.

“But it was just amazing to be there, to experience that atmosphere and the hype around a fight like that. It was unbelievable.”

Whilst boxing tradition from his family meant he spent time in boxing gyms in the city, a trip to Hampden Park was always a special occasion for Campbell.

“Football was actually my first sporting passion, believe it or not,” he says.

“It was always my dream to play for Celtic when I was a lad, but I wasn’t any good so I got into rugby!

“From about nine years old I did box, I did go to a couple of amateur clubs around the city but when rugby started to get a bit more serious when I was 14 I binned everything to focus on rugby.”

After throwing his energy behind a blossoming rugby career, Campbell soon found himself on the right track to the top, representing Scotland Under-20s in the 2009 IRB Junior World Championship in Japan.

“Richie Gray is still a very good mate of mine, and I played alongside him in the second row,” he recalls.

“We’d grown up together playing in all the age groups and at 19 we were playing in Tokyo against Japan in front of 30,000 people. That was pretty amazing, the whole experience.”



Campbell had offers to continue playing rugby but had lost his passion for the sport
Campbell had offers to continue playing rugby but had lost his passion for the sport

Although he did not keep pace with close friend Gray, who has gone on to become a 60-cap star in the Scotland side, Campbell went on to have an admirable professional career.

After two seasons with the Glasgow Warriors, he played nearly 100 games for the Jersey Reds in the English Championship.

But, with memories of Tyson at Hampden Park trips to watch fellow Glaswegian Scott Harrison in world title fights, his desire to get into the ring began to burn with increasing intensity.

“Just coming to the end of my last season I kind of felt I wanted to scratch the itch,” he recalls.

“I’d always had a passion for boxing, my grandfather was a professional boxer, my dad boxed when he was younger and it was always a real interest of mine.

“So I decided to give up rugby, take the plunge and see what happened.”

In the latter years of his rugby career, Campbell started attending a boxing class once a week on his day off.

In his final season, he ramped things up and now admits he had “fallen out of love” with rugby.




He had offers to remain in the sport from France and England and briefly held talks over extending his stay at Jersey.

Yet at the age of just 28, his prime years as a rugby player, he made the bold decision to hang up his boots and lace up the gloves.

“I just decided that if I was going to keep playing I wanted to do it for the right reasons, and I’d lost my spark for the game,” he explains.

“I had this real passion to have a go at boxing, and when I started my goal was just to win a Scottish championship, that was it.”

After winning a Scottish Championship as a novice, he progressed through intermediate and elite levels to become a member of Scotland’s elite boxing squad.

Although still based in Jersey, he has travelled to Russia, Thailand and Lithuania gaining experience as well as training with the Team GB side at their Sheffield base.



Solomon Dacres, who has also just turned pro, is amongst the Team GB stars Campbell sparred in Sheffield

“I got a lot of really good exposure, really good sparring, in with some of the top boys at GB, some of the top boys in Russia out in St Petersburg and just learning,” he states.

“I’ve only ever had 15 amateur fights so it’s been good to get fast-tracked to a certain extent, get that exposure.

“When I got into this, that was never the plan, I just wanted to give it a go and just rolled with it and here we are.”

As well as the obvious risk of starting a new sport almost from scratch at the age of 28, giving up a stable rugby career also represented a level of financial risk.

“I never got into this for money,” Campbell insists, who works as a personal trainer alongside his boxing and has been supported by loyal sponsors on his quest.

“I got into it because I had a passion for it and I really wanted to challenge and test myself.

“I wasn’t surprised I was able to pick it up quickly but I was definitely surprised how I was able to get in the ring with some lads with way more experience than me and compete.

“It was a good experience to get in the ring, know I could do it, know I could throw the punches and adapt to a different sport.



Campbell is signed to promoter Mark Dunlop boxing out of the Belfast Kronk gym
Campbell is signed to promoter Mark Dunlop boxing out of the Belfast Kronk gym

“I’ve been a professional rugby player, an amateur boxer and now a professional boxer. It’s another challenge, who knows where it’ll take us, and hopefully in 20 or 30 years time I’ll be able to talk to the grandkids about it.

“I’m just happy I can live out my dream to a certain extent and see where it goes.”

Whilst relaxed about where his unorthodox journey might take him, Campbell has one specific dream in mind – becoming the first Scotsman to become British heavyweight champion.

He says: “I know not that many people probably expect anything of me, so it’s just my job to give them a shock.

“There’s never actually been a Scottish British or Commonwealth heavyweight champion as a professional.

“Any boxer when they get into it has got to have aspirations of one day being able to compete at that level.



Campbell dreams of becoming the first Scot to win the British heavyweight title

“I know the type of boys competing at that level now, they’re not far off world level, so I don’t expect it to be easy or something that happens in the next year or two years.

“But it’s something that I feel if I dedicate myself to the sport as I have been, keep progressing and keep the upward curve, who knows?

“If you ever manage to achieve something like that or get that opportunity, nobody can take that away from you so it would be amazing to try and achieve that.

“Obviously I’ve only had 15 fights and four years experience in the sport, so my technical ability is still developing.

“I’m not punch perfect yet and I’m still learning but I’m 6ft 7, 18 stone with a long reach and like to use my jab, like to impose myself.

“I like to box but take it to whoever I’m fighting. I’m not a back foot boxer, I’m not technically flashy, it’s about get in, try and get the jab going and grind people down.”

Regardless of where the road leads in professional boxing, Campbell knows his grandfather would be proud to see him in the ring.

“Unfortunately my grandfather is no longer with us, but I’m sure he’s proud,” he says.

“He left home when he was 14, joined the booths in the circus which was like the arranged fights and a big show, I’ll challenge a guy and fight him type thing. So he had a tough upbringing.

“He did his national service when he was 19 for two years, was out in Berlin just after the war ended in the early 50s then came out of the army and turned professional.

“I think he had a couple of fights at Paisley Ice Rink, and apparently Muhammed Ali had an exhibition fight there in the 60s.

“I’m sure he’d be proud of me, and probably telling me everything I’m doing wrong!

“The support I have from my family, especially my mum and dad, is amazing.

“I’m sure the worry about me as I wouldn’t want my son to be getting punched in the head, but I can’t help them enough for all the help and support they’ve given me with everything I do.”

Watch or listen to the full episode of Mirror Fighting: One To Watch to hear Campbell talk about his fascinating journey.





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