Lee Markham

Looks are deceiving. Lee 'Banjo' Markham is a frightening looking fella. Bald head, tattoos covering his peak physique and the look of a man who wouldn't think twice before throwing you out of a nightclub for misbehaving. So on the Saturday night when I call him up, it's to my surprise that the person I speak to a family man. A man polite and eloquent as I interrupt his Saturday night indoors.

"My lad is up being a madman" he laughs. It's not a huge shock of course that he's in living the quiet life on a Saturday night. Markham has business coming up. On May 21st he steps into the ring at the O2 arena, a place fast becoming the home of big fight nights in the UK as he fights Joe Mullender for the English middleweight title. For Markham it will be his fourth title fight in his last five bouts. To date he hasn't returned with the belt from any, but he aims for the 21st of May to be an entirely different occasion.

For starters, his other opportunities have come at a higher weight division as he campaigned almost by accident at super middleweight. "I never really meant to stay at super middleweight, I always intended for the championship fights to get down to middleweight" says Markham. "But then the Smyle offer came along and so did the Buglioni and Blackledge fights so it made sense to stay at the weight. But I was chatting to the lads at the gym and some of them would be half a stone heavier than me after weighing in and so I think that middleweight is where I naturally belong at."

The fights he references were all top drawer opponents. Markham had a run of fights between March and October 2015 that showed the pedigree and testicular fortitude of the man. It started with a split decision points loss to Jahmaine Smyle as he fought for the vacant English super middleweight title at York Hall. It was a contentious loss and only the second on his record, the first coming way back in 2012. Not put off, Markham moved up a level as he challenged Frank Buglioni in May for the WBO European super middleweight title. An all out war occurred, a proper domestic classic between two London fighters that ended with both having their hands raised in a draw. In October it was a hat trick of title challenges as Markham fought Luke Blackledge, travelling to the Northerners territory of Manchester to lose an incredibly tight points decision for the Commonwealth title.

Many may have looked back on the results and taken a view of their career, but there was no need to feel bad in defeat. 32 rounds boxed at championship level and although no win on his record, his name had been elevated and his reputation enhanced. There were a few months out before returning in February this year, by his own admission taking on a journeyman over four rounds. Few could doubt that Markham had earned the privilege. Now, all focus is on that May 21st date and the showdown with 'Smokin' Joe Mullender. "It will be good. I've boxed on big shows and events before so it's nothing new to me, I'm used to it. But it will be a good night, it's on TV and a big arena so I'm looking forward to it." The big event he is referring to is the second comeback fight of a certain David Haye, former world heavyweight champion on the comeback trail. Haye has yet to announce an opponent, but for Markham the man stood over the ring from him is someone he is already familiar with.

"We used to be at the same amateur club together and were mates. We have been there to cheer each other on. There's no ill feeling from my side and I'm sure once the fight is over we will be friends again." Mullender is renowned for his come forward style, an exciting fighter who likes to spend his time working on the inside, laying on the chest of his opponent as he does his work. So is the style something Markham is already familiar with? "We have a gameplan we're working on. To be honest I hope he does stand and trade with me, it would suit my style." If the two mesh as they have the potential to do it could be an all action affair. I put it to Markham that the fight could be an all out war for as long as it lasts. "Yeah, it could be!" He laughs. It reminds me that the polite person on the phone is the same animal who steps into the ring.
Reece Macmillan
The fight is part of the undercard being organised by the promoters that Markham used to be affiliated to, Goodwin Promotions. Is it any concern to Markham, given the close points decisions he has not won in the past, that being the away fighter here could prove costly? "It doesn't bother me. I'm sure it won't need the judges." The cold and clinical Markham is back. "I'm glad it's on TV. I've had some close fights that weren't shown and I don't feel I ever got the recognition for those. This time if it were to go to the judges and it wasn't right, at least people can see that. But to be honest I don't see it as going that far."

There's every chance that Markham will be involved with the head of Goodwin Promotions, Steve Goodwin, in the buildup. Is that any concern to him? "There's no hard feelings at all from me. Steve's a good bloke and I don't think I've ever said anything bad about him although I'm not sure if that's true from him ha ha."

He's relaxed Markham, talkative. Not that he has any reason to be fretting overly yet with the fight still over two months away. It will be interesting to see how he adapts to being back at middleweight, a division he hasn't fought in since 2013. For some fighters they benefit from fighting at their leanest and being sharper with less weight to carry. For others it is a drain on the body, a challenge to cut the additional pounds they were able to leave on before. Of course with Mullender's style it is clear that Markham will want to be at his strongest possible to either be able to hold his rugged opponent at length or stand and trade blows. Either way, this is the chance for Markham to set the record straight and finally lay claim to a title. Other decisions in the past haven't always gone his way, this time he is determined the decision won't be needed.

Lee Markham wanted to thank his sponsors who have been integral in supporting his development as a boxer and the journey through his career. These are The Healthy Chef, Elite Commando Fitness, Pro Nutrition Clinic and Acorn Insurance.  ​