By Ian Aldous: On Thursday January 30th, Luke Keeler (17-2-1) has a gigantic opportunity in front of him when he challenges WBO middleweight world champion, Demetrius Andrade (28-0) for his title in Miami, live on DAZN in the U.S. and Sky Sports in the UK.
The thirty-two year-old Dubliner has seemingly hit his stride as a professional after taking up the sport full-time in 2018. “I’ve got a lottery ticket in my hand,” he declared. “This is my life-changing opportunity and he’s just thinking of me as another fight.”
Andrade has been inextricably linked with mega fights for so long that it’s feasible he might overlook any opponent not nicknamed GGG or Canelo. Despite that, Keeler doesn’t believe that the two-weight world champion is as good as some might think. “He’s had three or four easy fights at middleweight,” he explained. “He’s looking at me as an annoyance. He wants the big pay days. He’s not an attractive fighter to come up against; he doesn’t draw big numbers. So, he’s talked himself up as this avoided person and he’s the best middleweight. But at the same time, he hasn’t beaten anyone. He is getting a lot of credit and people are saying he’s avoided, but if you actually look at his record and his fights, he hasn’t beaten anybody. He’s had a couple of split-decision wins against guys who aren’t at a high world level. I’m a 10/1 underdog and I’m glad people are speaking him up so highly. It’ll open doors for me.”
The WBO No.3 ranked middleweight linked up with MTK Global and Peter Taylor in 2018 after leaving Paschal Collins. “It’s been two years now with Pete, full-time,” he said. “I worked full-time before then. I was in college for four years; I never really committed fully, you know? I had a full-time job and it was either: commit fully or retire, was my thinking. Even since the Arias fight I’ve got better and fitter. I’m relishing this chance. I know he’ll be looking back on previous fights and thinking ‘he’s an easy touch’, but I’m gonna shock him.”
The two-time WBO European titleholder earned his world title shot with a career-defining win over Luis Arias last August. Arias had only ever lost to Daniel Jacobs, so Keeler’s relatively comfortable decision win was greeted warmly by the almost 10,000 fans in attendance outdoors in Belfast’s Falls Park. “I was happy with a few things, but I went straight back to the gym with Pete and I noticed lots of mistakes. I wasn’t happy with my hand position and I’ve improved so much even since then. I went back and I knew I needed to knuckle down. I took some clean shots against him. I knew in order to step up again; I had to tidy up my defence.”
Following the win, ‘Cool Hand’ expected a big fight to materialise. A few opportunities were spoken about before the Andrade bout came to fruition. “To be honest, I had a feeling something big was going to come,” Keeler said. “There was actually talk of the (Jaime) Munguia fight that Spike O’Sullivan got. There was talk of the fight with (Ryota) Murata in Japan in December and Steven Butler took that fight. I felt that I wanted that step up after the Arias fight. I was looking for that step up.”
Keeler has a degree in structural engineering and was utilising that qualification prior to 2018 when he was working full-time away from boxing. Juggling work and prizefighting isn’t the easiest of tasks. “A lot of fighters have to do it. I’m not the only one that went through it,” he empathised. “When it got to ten-round fight level – you just can’t do it. When I signed to MTK, they had a set plan in place and regular fights. MTK came in and promised me regular fights and that was the turning point. They are producing for me as a fighter and more so as I’m moving forward. It’s very positive and I really believe in my heart and bones that Andrade is gonna overlook me, so I’m just looking forward to it now. I’ve (got) a couple of good weeks sparring organised; a couple of top lads from the UK are coming in and I’m more or less done then.”
Keeler almost found himself in a fight of a very different magnitude when late last year, a war of words erupted between he and fellow Dubliner, Conor McGregor. The former two-weight UFC world champion had been seen in videos on social media striking an older gentleman in a bar. Keeler and the general public took exception to the reckless actions of the out-of-control MMA star. ‘Cool Hand’ takes up the story of what happened. “He took offence (when) I called him out when he hit that old man. We’re from the same area. He took offence and had a bit of a rant on the phone. It wasn’t much to it, but he kind of half agreed on the phone to fight. I don’ t think he was in the right frame of mind. He was just roaring and shouting. He wasn’t that serious, I don’t think. I think he was more sore over being called out. He’s a huge ego, hasn’t he? He’s kind of not liked in Dublin anymore, in a way. The Irish crowd are starting to turn against him with these incidents. Me publicly calling him out, the fact that we know kind of similar people and being from the same area was a blow to his ego. You never know, if I win a world title, I might get him in and get a payday (laughs)!”