Craig Richards makes the leap from domestic level to challenge Dmitry Bivol for the WBA light-heavyweight title knowing his life might have turned out differently had it not been for a “lightbulb moment” watching London 2012.
Back then Richards was in his early twenties preparing for higher education but watching the boxing unfold on his television during the Olympics in his home city led to a decision to dedicate himself to the sport.
Richards had only had a passing fancy for the sport beforehand – and his parents took some convincing he had made the right decision – but his commitment has carried him to the cusp of realising his world title dream.
“I was in and out of boxing growing up,” he said. “But I remember seeing the Olympics on TV, and I thought, ‘I could be better than all these guys’. The difference between them and me was they dedicated themselves and I didn’t.
“It was a lightbulb moment. That’s the moment I thought I don’t want to look back in 10 years and be telling all my kids, ‘I could have been a boxer, if I’d dedicated myself’. I’ve heard so many of those stories.
“I’m quite an ambitious person and I always wanted to do something positive with myself, but I realised the education route probably wasn’t myself, I was maybe forcing the situation a little bit.
“At first my mum did say to me, ‘What are you talking about? You’re going to university’. My first fight was coming up and she said, ‘Listen, you lose the fight, you pack in boxing. If you win you can push on’. I said, ‘Deal’.
“I had my first amateur fight, got fighter of the night, was in the papers and she came to me afterwards saying, ‘You’re actually talented’. Ever since then all my family and friends supported me throughout my whole career.”
Richards (16-1-1, 9KOs) is all too familiar with the pitfalls that can accompany growing up in a rough neighbourhood, as he says he did in Lewisham, but he insists boxing has proven something of a salvation.
“You see a lot of friends who you grew up with who are either doing a long stretch or they’ve died,” he said. “You know you don’t want to be one of those people.
“Where we grew up it would be a lie for me to to say, ‘I was on the straight and narrow and just in education’.
“At the time growing up I was dibbling, dabbling, I was in a bad area, I was doing education, I was also in my religion. I had three different hats on, depending on who you ask they’ll have a different story about me.
“But I feel like I didn’t have a specific identity and boxing’s brought all that together. Now I know who I am.”
Richards, who turned 31 on Friday, captured the British title at 175lbs with a surprise win over Shakan Pitters in December but he faces a major step-up in quality against the unbeaten Bivol at the Manchester Arena this weekend.
He added: “I like the underdog, I like it when people don’t believe, it gives me a point to prove.”