'I'm used to being outside my comfort zone': Luther Clay interview
South African-born welterweight Luther Clay takes James Lupton on a trip down memory lane - from South Africa to Bracknell...
Durban is sometimes called South Africa’s best-kept secret, a city revitalised by the 2010 football World Cup. However it is boxing which has reinvented one of the city’s native sons - namely, Luthando Nqobile Mtimkulu, aka Luther Clay.
“I was born in Durban, South Africa," the 'Black Panther' tells Boxing Monthly. "My parents then moved to the UK in 2003, settling in Bracknell, where we all still live to this day.
“I never really liked school, but I was OK at it. I wasn't the bad kid at school, but I wasn't the best student either. I was a bit of a cruiser. You know that guy at school who just cruises through everything? That was me.
“I was in trouble with the police only once. I got caught stealing something when I was very young, but my dad beat it out of me [he chuckles]. It was just petty stuff, like sweets from the shop, like a lot of kids at that age.”
Clay found himself constantly fighting other kids throughout school. Aged 14, he found himself being the recipient of a beating. The South African started boxing driven by determination to beat his conqueror.
“I was around 14 or 15. I used to fight a lot at school. My friend Spencer used to box, I went round his house one time and we had one pair of boxing gloves. He said to me: 'let's have a boxing match', but obviously we only had one pair of gloves. So he put the left one on and I put the right one on and he then just beat me up in his living room basically.
"After that, I really wanted to beat him up the next time, so I started going to boxing lessons. My dad was a boxer too, funny thing is I didn't actually know he boxed until I started boxing. He loves it and is very supportive."
The well-traveled welterweight has earned pay for punch in five countries inside his first ten pro fights. Clay has taken positives from this, despite rarely experiencing a home crowd advantage.
"I believe it's been of great benefit," he explains. "Now I feel comfortable to fight anywhere. I don't really think too much about where I am fighting. I have fought in Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, I fought in Manchester on the World Boxing Super Series undercard and I've fought at home in Bracknell.
“It's all the same to me, it makes no real difference to me where I fight thanks to the experience I have gained. If I have to be the away fighter at some point in the future, it won't really matter as I'm used to being outside my comfort zone. My mental and emotional development has benefited greatly from the places I have fought.”
Coming off a victory against Frenchman Renald Garrido, Luther currently has his eyes fixed on his next opponent - Yahya Tlaouziti - with titles in his sights in the near future.
“Obviously I need to win this fight against Yahya first, but after I would like a title shot in December or early 2019. The reason I say early 2019 is because it's been a busy year, so I'll see how I'm feeling after this fight in Bracknell on 29 September. I would like to say in my fight after or in the next couple of fights I'll be fighting for a title.”
There are two names that have circulated alongside the Clay name, one is WBC international silver champion Michael McKinson, the other, the son of a British boxing icon, is Conor Benn.
“It came up over social media out of nowhere really," Clay says of the speculation linking him with McKinson. "Like I've said before I am open to that fight! It would be another step up in competition for me. I want that fight and by the looks of things [Michael] McKinson wants that fight and I'm sure the fight can materialise. I would like the fight to be on an undercard on TV, I think that sort of fight for a title deserves to be on TV, other than that I am 100 per cent open to making that fight.
As for Benn, he adds: “Personally, I don't see it happening. They [Conor Benn] are with the biggest promoter in the UK and the last thing they need is to fight a guy like me. They will slowly step up the opposition as they make money fighting on big cards. They will fight whoever they want and keep making money, my profile is very small compared to [Conor] Benn, so it's unlikely.
“The only way the fight happens is if he comes to watch me fight and he thinks he can beat me. But it would be a great fight, both our styles will gel nicely and it will make for great entertainment, we are both not negative fighters and both come to fight.”
But first Clay needs to put on a performance at the carnival - the Bracknell Boxing Carnival that is, promoted by Siesta Promotions on 29 September, when Clay fights 13-3-3 Tlaouziti.
“I don't really know too much about him!" Clay admits. "In fact I don't know anything about him apart from the two minutes I saw from one of his fights. I'm pretty much going into the fight clueless, but I know it will be a tough fight, he's never been stopped and has a decent record. In camp we haven't got a so-called 'game plan', we have been working on the things I do wrong and improving the things I do right.”
Limited standard tickets for the show are still available from the ticket hotline 07421 028927 or online at www.siestaboxing.com.