IT’S not surprising Nick Campbell’s switch from professional rugby to boxing was met with some scepticism.
Campbell’s decision to retire from rugby at the age of just 28 was certainly surprising, to say the least. As a youngster, the Glaswegian trained in both disciplines but at the age of 14, was forced to choose a path.
As part of the Scottish age-group system, rugby seemed the sensible choice and in the following years, his decision was vindicated, with the lock making a real mark in the sport; he represented Scotland at the 2009 under-20 Rugby World Cup and as a player for Glasgow Warriors, scored the winning try in their first ever away win against one of the giants of club rugby, Leinster, in 2011.
After leaving Warriors, Campbell had a successful four-year stint with Jersey Reds but despite hitting these heights, a passion for the sweet science continued to burn within him. Almost four years ago, at the age of 28, he took the plunge.
“I was always interested in boxing and always had a wee thought that I wanted to try it at some stage – it runs in my family because my granddad was a professional boxer and my dad boxed too,” he says.
“I got to the point with rugby that I wasn’t in love with the sport anymore. I was offered another contract with Jersey and I was also offered another couple of contracts but I just felt that life’s too short.
“I was proud of what I’d achieved in rugby but I just wanted to box and see what I could do.”
Campbell’s initial goal was to become Scottish champion. After becoming Scottish novice champion, he then won the intermediate title. Soon after, he fulfilled his target, becoming Scottish Elite super-heavyweight champion, as well as being invited to join the Scottish elite squad, with whom he boxed across the world and trained alongside the GB squad in Sheffield.
The decision to turn professional after just 15 amateur fights may seem risky and certainly there has, admits Campbell, been no shortage of pessimism online following his announcement last month.
But the doubters only serve to strengthen the 31-year-old’s resolve, and he is quick to point out he is not joining the pro ranks on a whim; this is a serious decision and Campbell has serious ambitions.
“I’ve had loads of people doubting what I’m doing – there’s plenty of comments on social media along the way but really, that’s brilliant because I’m just looking forward to proving these people wrong,” he says.
“The further I get, the more people see how seriously I’m taking boxing and that I’m not just a big daft rugby player.
“I don’t want to be a gimmick – I want to actually do something in the sport. It’s not a case of trying to get attention, I’m serious about this.”
There is a difference between being on a rugby pitch alongside 14 team-mates and stepping into a boxing ring with no one and nothing to protect you.
There are aspects of his previous career he admits he misses, but he is in no doubt he has made the right choice. “I do miss rugby but at the same time, I’m really glad I made this choice,” he says. “I miss the camaraderie and I made a lot of lifelong friends. I’ve got a lot to thank rugby for – my rugby journey might be finished but I still love it.”
While Campbell may be inexperienced in the ring compared to some of his peers, he is certain his background has him stood in good stead. And in his expert opinion, he even suggests rugby is the tougher sport on your body.
“It takes a certain individual to be a boxer but I thrive on that, I love that challenge,” he says. “There’s loads of transferrable skills, especially on the mental side of things, that your average Joe who’s not played sport at a high level might not understand.
“I’d say that rugby is more brutal in terms of the injuries and I had my fair share.
“You might not be getting punched in the head in rugby like you are in boxing but you’re prepared for that in the boxing ring. But they’re both brutal.”
Campbell, who remains based in Jersey, is hopeful he will make his pro debut as early as this month. And while he is somewhat cagey about his long-term goals in the sport, he certainly has one eye on becoming Scotland’s first-ever British heavyweight champion.
“I think anybody who gets into professional boxing wants to win titles so of course that’s a goal,” he says. “I’ll leave no stone unturned to make sure I go as far as I can – people thought it was crazy to think I could get to this point but here I am so who knows what can happen.”