White knuckle Belfast warlord Jamie Conlan has been swapping leather and lumps against some of the world’s hottest talent in the brutal fight school’s of the US West Coast, ahead of his charge towards a 115lb world title shot this year, writes Glynn Evans.
The 30 year old, who is known for professional purposes as ‘The Mexican’ because of his swarthy looks and lethal liver shots, is already ranked second to Japan’s WBO champ Naoya Inoue and ninth to IBF boss Jerwin ‘Pretty Boy’ Ancajas of the Phillipines.
And this Friday, live on BoxNation, Conlan the creaser looks to storm the WBC listings by dispatching Nicaragua’s former world title challenger Yader Cardoza for the International Silver strap at The Waterfront Hall in his home city.
‘I spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles, at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, then at Manny Robles’ Rock Gym where (WBO featherweight champion) Oscar Valdez, (World amateur silver medallist) Jason Quigley and my brother Michael (a Commonwealth, European and World amateur champion) train,’ says the habitually pleasant Conlan who is unbeaten in 18 with 11 victims falling early.
‘There’s always a real buzz at ‘The Rock’, always a crowd to watch the sparring and, being around such quality fighters, you have to up your own standards.
‘I sparred (unbeaten WBO Super-Bantam boss) Jesse Magdaleno, a Columbian called Oscar Negrete (15-0) and Joselito Velasquez, a highly rated Mexican Olympian, and everyone is there to prove themselves. You had to be right on point. But it really helped with the step up from British-European to world level. You need to push yourself to the maximum every session.
‘It was great to spend time with Michael and catch up. Before he relocated, we lived in a house together and he was always a part of my camps if he wasn’t away with the Ireland High Performance set up. I’m four years older but don’t spar him anymore because he’s world champion, too big, too good! Honestly, pro world champions come out of their way to watch him spar.’
Conlan returned to the UK sharp as a blade ahead of his scheduled headline turn at the Waterfront in February but, frustratingly, the gig was temporarily scuppered after he contracted a chest infection.
‘It completely knocked me out for a couple of days but, on the plus side, the postponement certainly made dropping the weight easier,’ acknowledged the reigning Commonwealth and WBO Inter-Continental champion.
Back to full fitness, Belfast’s finest has subsequently been fine tuning in Glasgow – adopted hometown of his Scouse coach Danny Vaughan – ahead of his ‘must-win’ assignment on Friday.
‘My offence always flows pretty naturally but we’ve been working on defence, controlling distance with the jab and avoiding crazy wars. That’s what’ll win me the fight on Friday,’ insists the Ulster action man who was a recipient of the 2016 Fight of the Year Award for his savage eighth round stoppage of South Shields Anthony Nelson.
‘You know, I never go ‘hell for leather’ in sparring. I’m always nice and technical, box and move, very comfortable. But a red mist descends on fight night. If there’s a lull in the action, I feel obliged to give the fans something for their hard earned money!’
In Undercard Action
Fight communities on both sides of the Irish border are expected to come to a standstill this Friday evening when Lisburn banger James Tennyson and Dublin dandy Declan Geraghty face-off for the Irish super-featherweight crown.
Between them, the multi-decorated amateur stars, have lost just three of 34 paid gigs and, in addition to securing Celtic bragging rights, they know that whoever prevails shall be propelled into the major title shake-up.
‘There’s been a big build up in the local media and among the fans. A lot of people are expecting it’ll be fight of the night. It certainly has the potential,’ says mallet-fisted Tennyson, whose 13 stoppage wins on a 17-2 slate have earned him the nickname ‘Assassin’.
‘It’ll be brilliant to fight at the Waterfront in my home city. I’ve been there before as a spectator and the seats sort of rise up in height over the ring so no one has a bad view. Deco will bring a good crowd himself up from Dublin so I expect it’ll be about 50-50, a cracking atmosphere.’
Formerly a three time All-Ireland junior champion during a 100 plus bout amateur career, Tennyson stormed to Irish and Celtic 130lb titles within 30 months of his September 2012 debut. Thus far, as a result of his nucleur hitting, the ‘Assassin’s’ 19 pro fights have averaged less than three rounds apiece.
But last April, the Tony Dunlop trained, Mark Dunlop managed prospect copped a painful reality check from the seasoned and high skilled Cromer southpaw Ryan Walsh, after boiling beneath nine stone to challenge for British featherweight title.
‘I want to take nothing away from Ryan. He was a real smart and compact operator who didn’t waste anything,’ says Tennyson, still only 23, who was dropped three times by body shots and stopped in round five.
‘But from my end I needed to take off quite a bit of weight and it left me drained of energy. My body was simply too weak at 9st to take his body shots.
‘Initially I was pretty down but I have a good family and a lot of good friends who picked me up and re-assured me that, at just 23, I had plenty of time to still reach my goals. I just had to dig deep, put 100% into every session and go again.
‘I weighed 9st 7lbs for my return in November (a shut-out four round points win over Nicaragua’s Rafael Castillo) and I felt a lot more comfortable, full of energy and far stronger.’
This weekend, Tennyson sensibly drops down a level and up a division to resume his reign as national 9st 4lb champion which began aged 19, in just his sixth paid outing, when he clattered London-Irishman Mickey Coveney inside five minutes at Belfast’s St Kevin’s Hall.
Opposing him, Dublin southpaw ‘Pretty Boy’ Geraghty can boast a pro apprenticeship under Freddie Roach in the US and shall waltz to ringside with a resume showing just one loss (by DQ) in 15 paid starts.
Thus far, neither principal has ventured past round eight but, though Geraghty is senior by three years, he is still to debut at championship level, whereas the Ulsterman has prepared for two 10 rounders and one 12 round title match.
Tennyson says: ‘I’ve done plenty of long spars at the Kronk Belfast gym – and quality sparring with awkward southpaws who replicate Geraghty’s style – and I’m ready for 10 tough rounds. But I’m sure Geraghty will arrive in top shape too. I doubt it’ll be decisive either way.
‘There’s plenty of respect from our end. Dec’s good overall; slick, fast, quick on the move. But we’ve prepared for that. And we’ve seen some weaknesses that we hope to exploit on the night. We’ve a solid game plan that we’ve been working on through sparring and we expect it to work the trick on Friday.
‘And now that Liam Walsh has got his world title fight confirmed, we can expect the British and Commonwealth belts to become vacant. An impressive win could put me right in the mix to compete for those.’
Back in his natural habitat, the ‘Assassin’ claims he’s primed to deliver another execution.
‘Early on we expect Dec will get on his toes and try to hit and move but 10 rounds is a long time,’ warns James.
‘Eventually we’ll have to trade. Though I’ll be looking to box smart, I’m the heavier puncher and believe that’ll be the decisive factor. I’ll not leave that ring without the title.’