Belfast-born Nathan Watson will be gunning for Australasian championship gold on July 8 - Image: Combat Analytics/Instagram

“Jab, move, hook and run,” though it is a combination that he had seen countless times before, Nathan Watson (9-2, 3 KOs) still found himself puzzled in the middle of the ring on April 1.

‘Just how are these shots getting through? Why aren’t they landing in return? How is he still going?’ – the questions intensified with every forward motion made by Manyang Dut (5-2, 3 KOs), a fighter with a decorated record in amateur competition.

Maybe the answers can be found in the internal pressure fueled by a drive to succeed and the subsequent wear and tear caused by fighting two bouts in as many weeks. After all, there is only one way to bounce back from a first defeat, a TKO loss to Dan Hill in late 2022, and that is to get back to winning ways.

Perhaps they lie in the sheer physical scrutiny caused by slimming down to the Super Welterweight limit for the better part of a month.

In any case, the 26 year old concedes that he lost more than a split decision that night against Dut. By fixing his sights on the end goal and not the hurdles on the track, a trip up was had.

Watson did not just lose a fight, he lost focus.

“The two fights over the two weeks came up. I was like, ‘right, this’ll get me back into the mix again, just make a statement,’” Watson told The Inner Sanctum.

“I was back up to about 76 kilo after the two weeks, then I had to drop down to 70 again.

“He (Dut) was just sort of throwing a lot in the first and second. I thought by the third he might’ve just give up. I seen him in the eyes, he actually looked up at the clock.

“Then he just started running, he had legs. I could tell that was from his amateur boxing pedigree. 

“I was just looking to get the two fights in, so it was my fault for overlooking him.”

A solution to the aforementioned quandary appears to have come in a change in previous methods.

Not only has Watson enlisted the services of a strength and conditioning coach, he has also made a move up a division to Middleweight, resulting in a unique opportunity.

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The Belfast-born Queenslander will be the first Irishman to fight for the ANBF Australasian title when he squares off against Declan Kelly (7-4, 2 KOs) on ACE Boxing’s July 8 show on the Gold Coast.

Victory then, would ensure Watson’s name is etched into history, alongside a growing list pugilists from the Emerald Isle making a name for themselves ‘Down Under.’

With this new task, a wildfire has been lit within.

“It’s what I need,” Watson said.

“Guys like Conor Wallace and Dennis Hogan, they’ve fought for the Australian, but nobody’s ever fought for an Australasian. I’m the first one.

“It’s prize fighting, you’re in it for the prizes. So, that’s what you’re after, that’s the hunger and the drive that it gives you to keep going. 

“Every training camp gets better and harder because of the prizes and the rewards at the end of it.

“I’m looking forward to it. My dad’s flying out, so I’m looking to get the belt and hopefully maybe get a trip back home and show everyone.”

To walk away with the prize however, Watson is well aware that his opponent is not one to take lightly.

After all, the pair have shared the ring as sparing partners in the past. They’ve each caught a glimpse of what the other brings to the table.

The internal motivation of Kelly, an unsuccessful two time challenger for the title, is also something that the Saints Boxing product has accounted for.

In Watson’s mind, the man standing across from him on the night will be looking to ensure that ‘a third time’s a charm.’

“We’ve spared each other a lot,” he recalled.

“Whenever the title became vacant, Declan was ranked one above me and all the rest of the opponents were taken up for other fights booked in.

“Declan was the name thrown at me and I said ‘if he’s good to go, I’m good to go.’

“We’ve agreed to it, it is what it is and I’m sure he wants it as bad as I do because he lost it.”

Nathan Watson vs Declan Kelly takes place on ACE Boxing’s July 8 card. To watch all the action, click here.

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