Popular light welterweight prospect Danny O'Connor (17-1, 5 KOs) goes back to the future Sunday night, headlining the first professional boxing show at famed Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
The 27-year-old O'Connor, a former two-time national amateur champion, as well as an alternate for the 2008 U.S. Olympic Boxing Team, faces Eddie "The Puerto Rican Sensation" Soto (12-4, 4 KOs) in the eight-round main event.
Gillette Stadium is home to the three-time Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and Major League Soccer (MLS) power New England Revolution, which is presenting this special boxing event, in association with DiBella Entertainment.
An MLS game between the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact, starting at 7:00 p.m. ET, will be followed by a three-fight pro boxing card, immediately after the conclusion of the soccer game at approximately 9 p.m. ET. The ring will be set-up in the South end zone.
O'Connor, fighting out of Framingham (MA), has returned to his roots in order to help re-establish boxing interest in his home state en route to achieving his ultimate goal of capturing a world title. His journey has taken a circuitous route kept alive by O'Connor's burning desire to follow his lifelong dream.
O'Connor started boxing at his hometown PAL gym, which he quickly outgrew because the volunteer system had no set schedule. Danny hit the road to train and find sparring, driving all over New England, including 401 Gym in Rhode Island, where, ironically, Soto fights out of. "I never trained with Soto but every New England fighter kind of knows each other," O'Connor noted.
Everything went well working the aforementioned way for his first 14 fights, until his first major fight (ShoBox) on April 8, 2011, in which O'Connor lost an eight-round decision to the 14-0 Gabriel Bracero. O'Connor should have been pulled out of the fight due to health reasons and the personable Irish-American realized he had to make drastic life changes, most importantly, building a new team.
A year ago, O'Connor bought a one-way ticket to Houston to train with former "Trainer of the Year" and world title challenger Ronnie Shields, considered one of the best teachers in boxing. O'Connor's co-promoter Leon Margules (Warriors Boxing and DiBella Entertainment co-promote O'Connor) made the initial introductions with his old friend Shields. "I knew the only way to be an elite boxer was to be trained by the elite," O'Connor explained. "It certainly wasn't the easiest decision to make. I was coming off my first loss and surgery. I left my wife, Diane, at home with our three-month old baby (Liam). I gave her all the money I had left. I went to Houston without a dollar, a place to stay, car, nothing but a bag of boxing gear and a dream. I knew that's where I needed to be. Everybody struggles in life. I never stopped believing in myself and neither did Diane. Everything has fallen into place for me since then."
Falling into place includes O'Connor's good fortune to hook-up with Ken Casey, founder and lead singer of the Dropkick Murphys band. Casey's creative marketing ideas and invaluable contacts in entertainment and sports have opened many new doors for O'Connor, including his headlining Sunday's historical show at Gillette Stadium.
O'Connor first landed in Houston with a reputation as being a good boxer with no punching power. "Danny was already a good fighter when he came here," Shields countered. "But he wasn't confident and lacked defense. We've worked on his defense and sitting down on the majority of his punches. He's become a more complete fighter."
Two of O'Connor's three wins with Shields in his corner ended in stoppages. "Coach Ronnie had a lot of confidence in my skills," Danny continued. "He has taught me how to be a pro. I get to train and spar with elite athletes in his gym. Coach Ronnie is a Hall of Fame caliber trainer who's trained Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, Pernell Whitaker and so many others. And through it all-the ins and outs of boxing-he understands how to teach and how it is for us because he was a world-class fighter, too."
Fighting at home has a special meaning for a kid who couldn't stay at home. "Not a lot of people could be in my position," O'Connor added. "I'm honored. I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm having fun for once and enjoying life. Someday I want to help PAL kids like me with the same dream."
Tickets, reasonably priced at $100.00 (on field ringside), $60.00 (reserved) and $40.00 (end zone), include attendance for this unique doubleheader (NE Revolution vs. Montreal Impact soccer game and boxing), are on sale via Ticketmaster or by calling 1-877-GO-REVS.
O'Connor's last fight, thanks to Casey, was at the House of Blues in Boston and Sunday he headlines at Gillette Stadium. Life doesn't get much better than that for a native New Englander and New England Revolutions fan like O'Connor.
"There is no better feeling that fighting at home in front of family and friends," O'Connor concluded. "And for this fight I also have the support of The New Revolution and its great fans. My goal is to bring the passion of soccer fans to boxing. A year ago nobody knew who I was and on Sunday night I'm fighting at Gillette Stadium."