Wham Bam Cam: Chantelle Cameron interview
Luke G. Williams
Exciting lightweight Chantelle Cameron talks to Luke G. Williams about Buffy, Van Damme, Katie Taylor and why she just loves fighting - even when she’s the one getting hit...
Replace Muhammad Ali with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Sugar Ray Leonard with Jean-Claude Van Damme or Bruce Lee. Chantelle Cameron’s battling heroes don’t exactly adhere to the boxing textbook. As for Cameron herself, there’s no doubt that the hard-hitting Northampton lightweight is 100 per cent fighter.
“When I’m not training or fighting I get itchy hands — like I need to punch something,” the engaging and bubbly 27-year-old tells Boxing Monthly. “I naturally just like punching. I also like the enjoyment of being hit. That might sound a bit weird, but fighting is my passion. It makes me happy.”
It was through the prism of pop culture that Cameron’s love of physical combat was formed. “Growing up, I was obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jackie Chan and later Jean-Claude Van Damme,” she says. “I loved all those fighting films. Kickboxer would have to be my favourite Van Damme film. The fighting in it is unreal. I loved Buffy because of the fight scenes and the fact she was a female role model.
“I would literally watch them non-stop, then go out and play. Instead of rounders or whatever, I would make the other kids play-fight with me. My mum and dad would then get knocks on the door saying I’d made the boys cry.”
Pointed in the direction of a local kickboxing gym by a summer camp worker, the 10-year-old Cameron was desperate to give the sport a go, but her father was reluctant. “I asked my dad if I could go, but he was having none of it,” she recalls with a laugh. “He was totally against it. But I went on and on and on about it every night for about a month, and in the end my mum told my dad he had to take me.
“From the off, I knew it was right for me. I came in and started swinging my arms and legs about straight away and didn’t show any fear. The coach was amazed and put a pair of gloves on me and I sparred in my very first session. They could see right away I was a natural fighter.
“I didn’t have to make the boys cry in the streets anymore, because I had a gym to go to and kick people.”
Cameron proved to be an accomplished kickboxer. She won a host of youth honours and tournaments, sometimes beating male opponents along the way. By 18, she was undefeated in 10 Thai boxing and 11 kickboxing bouts, and a world champion in both disciplines.
However, Cameron wanted to be involved in a combat sport that had the potential to launch a career. With this in mind, she decided to take up amateur boxing with the aim of competing for Great Britain in the Olympics.
“My kickboxing coach at the time told me I had to go to a sport like [traditional] boxing where I could build a career,” she says. “In kickboxing, it had got to the point where nobody would fight me in the UK.
“Kickboxing has always been my biggest love, but as a major sport it’s never taken off. When I had to quit, I was heartbroken. I took it really badly. It was like leaving a family behind.”
The transition to Queensberry Rules - under the guidance of trainer John Daly at Far Cotton Amateur Boxing Club in Northampton - proved a challenging and initially frustrating process.
“People think that as a kickboxer you can go into a boxing gym and straight away you can box — but you can’t,” she explains.
“Literally, I was nagged because my feet were wrong, my hands were wrong. It was non-stop nagging!
“Your feet are completely different in kickboxing, as obviously you have to be ready to throw kicks. Sometimes you’re more square-on, because you’re doing front kicks, roundhouse kicks, and your hands are completely different. They’re quite dangly as you have to block kicks as well. It took about a year for me to change my habits.”
Cameron’s raw talent and considerable work ethic saw her become part of the Team GB set-up in 2011. Numerous amateur honours followed, including ABA titles in two weight classes, EU championship silver and bronze medals and a gold medal in the Rio Olympics test event.
However, Cameron’s amateur boxing career ended in disappointment when a split decision defeat against Finn Mira Potkonen in the world championships thwarted her bid to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
Cameron’s disappointment was exacerbated by the fact the woman who went on win gold in Rio, France’s Estelle Mossely, was a rival she had beaten eight times. Initially, Cameron flirted with the idea of abandoning boxing altogether in favour of Mixed
Martial Arts (MMA).
“I had a few people approach me to sign an MMA deal and it got me thinking,” she says. “I was so sick of the amateurs and the decisions I was getting. Plus, pro boxing for women in Britain wasn’t that big at the time. I thought maybe MMA would be a good thing for me as I had a boxing background and a kickboxing background.
“At one point, I thought I’d like to give it a go, but then I thought about the grappling and didn’t think I’d be any good at that side of things.”
With the benefit of hindsight, Cameron is now able to view her days as an amateur in a philosophical light. “I don’t regret any of it,” she says. “I gained a lot of experience from being with Team GB. Yes, the whole corruption and politics of amateur boxing made me walk away from the sport. But it’s all worked out for the best as I’m now doing well in the pros.”
Cameron signed with Cyclone Promotions in 2017 and is relishing being managed by former featherweight champion Barry McGuigan and trained by his son, Shane. In a little over a year, she has already fought and won seven times, with five stoppages, and is in action again this Saturday on Cyclone's latest show at York Hall.
“Cyclone are a great team and Shane is the best coach I’ve ever worked with,” she enthuses. “He’s really good. He makes training fun. He knows when to mix it up or take his foot off the gas pedal a little bit. He realises he can’t burn you out.
“I want to get as much experience as possible and [in] every fight I’ve been learning. Cyclone are matching me perfectly. My sixth fight [in March 2018] against Myriam Dellal [won by unanimous decision] was a massive learning fight for me.
“I went in and my approach was to stop her, but I didn’t get the stoppage. I went the full 10 rounds for the first time. I took a lot away from that fight, particularly as I got a bad eye injury. The last two rounds I really had to adapt my style.
“In camp for my seventh fight, I really pushed myself because I realised I can’t stop everybody, and I’ve got to get stronger. I did
more weights, I did more sprints. The girl I boxed [Natalia Vanesa del Valle Aguirre] had never been stopped, so I knew I couldn’t go in there just looking for the stoppage.
“In the end, I did stop her, but I didn’t go in expecting to. That’s the approach I need to take now — being a little bit more patient and not so gung-ho. Again, it was perfect matchmaking by Cyclone. She was very awkward, and I’ve learnt that with awkward opponents like that, I’ve got to land shots and wait for shots instead of just throwing shots like a madwoman and getting nowhere.”
As she negotiates her way through the pro ranks, Cameron is grateful for the support she still receives from her hometown and her old friends at Far Cotton ABC.
“I train with Shane in London on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but I’m at home Monday and Friday and the weekend,” she says. “The whole of Northampton gets behind me. It’s a small town and Far Cotton has always been great, especially John Daly. He makes sure whenever I’m home and I need to train the gym is open and he gets me sparring. He’s been a massive help.”
Cameron’s world championship aspirations turn the conversation to Ireland’s Katie Taylor, the current holder of the WBA and IBF lightweight titles. As an inexperienced amateur, Cameron fought Taylor in the 2011 EU Championships semi- finals and lost.
Although she chooses her words carefully and is respectful, Cameron is convinced she would beat Taylor in a pro fight.
“Katie is doing amazingly,” Cameron said. “She’s obviously got two world title belts now, she’s unbeaten and she’s opened a lot of doors for all us female professional boxers. If she hadn’t turned pro when she did, women’s boxing in Britain wouldn’t be on TV or stuff. She’s inspirational, she’s doing great and she’s a great boxer.
“As for me fighting her, I’m hoping it will happen next summer. Obviously, her goal is to be the unified world champion and that’s what I want to be, too. So that’s a fight I want. She’s got two world title belts and I want to be the unified champion. If it happens it happens — I’ll leave it to Cyclone and Barry. I know they will get the fight for me at the right time.
“My style compared to her style is what gives me the confidence that I will get the win. I come forward, I’m fit, I’m always going to be on her chest. She’s very fast, but over 10 rounds she’s not going to be able to keep up. I’m relentless. I’m going to be there for the whole 10 rounds for the whole two minutes of each round.
“When [Taylor] fought Jessica [McCaskill] I saw some chinks in her armour. It was a bit of a confidence booster for me. I really want the Taylor fight to happen — I think it could possibly be the biggest fight I’ll ever be involved in.”
In an ideal world, Cameron would like to face Belgium’s longtime WBC champion Delfine Persoon (41-1, 16 KOs) prior to a Taylor clash.
“Cyclone tried to get Delfine to face me for her world title and she rejected [the offer],” Cameron said. “She’s a massive talent. She’s been world champion and number one for years, but I’m confident I can take her belt. That’s the fight I want. Everyone says Katie is the best, but on paper it’s Delfine.
“She’s fit, she’s got a good engine and she’s technical, but she’s not a massive puncher. I feel like my style will wear her down.”
The opening narration to Cameron’s beloved Buffy states that: “Into every generation a slayer is born: one girl in all the world, a chosen one.”
Can “Wham Bam Chan” emulate her vampire-slaying hero (in terms of boxing) by cleaning out the lightweight division?
Cameron thinks so. “I’ll be too much for all these girls,” she says, a hint of menace now evident in her usually sunny disposition. “The punches I throw, I throw with venom. I think I’ll overpower them all."
A version of this article was originally published in the September issue of Boxing Monthly magazine