Belfast super-flyweight Jamie Conlon gets a gilt-edged opportunity to showcase his considerable wares to the nation’s fight fans this weekend.
Unbeaten in nine pro gigs, with five stoppage wins, the spiteful little Ulsterman receives his stiffest test thus far when he fronts up to former French flyweight champion Hassan Azaouagh before an 8,000 sell out at the Odyssey Arena in his home city.
See how Conlon fares and watch the whole promotion – headlined by Carl Frampton’s European title defence and IBF World Title Eliminator against France’s Jeremy Parodi – live and exclusive in the UK on BoxNation, the Channel of Champions, from 7pm on Saturday evening (Sky Ch.437/Virgin Ch.546). Join at www.boxnation.com
Last night, boxing writer Glynn Evans called up the touted talent to investigate his background and career inside the ring.
Name: Jamie Conlan
Family background: I’m the eldest of four boys. My Dad John, who’s originally from Dublin, did a bit of boxing as an amateur and two of my three younger brothers boxed. One year, all three of us won All-Ireland juvenile titles the same season but Brendan gave it up once he found girls!
My brother Michael, who’s just 22, is away at the World (amateur) Championships in Kazakhstan as we speak. He won a silver at the 2013 European Seniors in Minsk and a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. Michael and I have just brought a house together in Belfast.
Trade: I’m a qualified aircraft fitter.
Nickname: ‘The Mexican’. One of the papers gave it to me a wee while back because they thought I looked ‘swarthy’. Now all my fans wear sombreros.
What age did you become interested in boxing and why? My dad really wanted me to get into it but I was far more into football. He told me that (ex England footballer) Michael Owen, who was also small as a kid, had trained as an amateur boxer to build up his strength.
When I was 12 or 13, dad said if I went to the local amateur gym three nights a week for a year he’d give me £50. Once I started going, I got hooked. I forgot about the £50 and he never did give it to me.
What do you recall of your amateur career? I always boxed for the St John Bosco club in west Belfast. For the first year I never told a soul that I’d started up. I was a small, quiet, shy kid but boxing really developed my confidence and gradually earned me respect.
After training for about a year, I finally had my first bout, aged about 13. I was coached by my father and a guy called Sean McCafferty who went to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. All told I had 118 amateur fights with 11 losses. I boxed for Northern Ireland or All Ireland about 30 times and most of my defeats came at international level.
I won four or five All-Ireland junior titles, then the National Under 21 title and one All-Ireland senior title. I won three Four Nations gold medals and one silver. I loved that tournament.
I also got a European Union bronze, and won golds at two or three multi-nations events. I boxed at the 2005 European Juniors in Estonia plus the European Seniors at another old Soviet country, can’t remember which. I never made the Olympic qualifiers or Commonwealth Games squad.
I travelled all over; Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Hungary, Austria….I went to the US three or four times and once got beaten on points by (triple Olympian) Rau’shee Warren in his home town, when I was just 17. He was very fast but had no power.
Another time we went on a month long trip to Canada. I won all four of my fights over there and was awarded Best Boxer of the Tour.
I enjoyed the camaraderie of my squad mates but, being a home bird, I didn’t enjoy the travelling, particularly weekend squad training in Dublin.
Why did you decide to turn pro when you did? I’d briefly fallen out of love with the game. I’d had a few bad decisions and wasn’t giving it 100%.
One year, both myself and my brother Michael got to the Ulster final at flyweight. We were supposed to box each other. After chatting to (pro trainer) John Breen, I withdrew and turned pro. Michael had a walkover and I handed him the trophy inside the ring. It was a kind of passing of the guard. John breathed fresh life into me. Winning the British professional title became my new goal.
Tell us about your back up team: I’ve no promotional deal at present but I’m managed by John Breen and I’d not trust anyone else as much as I trust him. John also trains me alongside (ex WBU welter champion) Eamonn Magee.
Eamonn’s been in every situation, understands if you’ve had a bad day in training. Despite his hard man reputation, Eamonn’s just a big softie. When I was a wee boy, he gave me his programme of when he boxed Shane Mosley in an Ireland v USA amateur meet.
A guy called John Mulhearn, who’s the head guy at the university here, helps out with my strength and conditioning and has developed a nutrition program for me. He used to box for my dad as an amateur. Since working with him I’ve felt far stronger.
What’s your training schedule? Which parts do you most and least enjoy? I train six days a week. I start with my run at 6am. I gradually build up the distance as I progress through my camp and work up to a six and a half mile mountain run.
Around one o’clock I’ll go to Breen’s Gym above the Monico Bar in Belfast City Centre. If it’s a sparring day, I’ll warm myself up then it’ll be straight in to four rounds, usually with my brother (Michael) and Paddy Barnes, two Olympic medallists. I also do a lot with (local featherweight prospect) Marco McCullough.
Next week, I’ll be sparring six rounds at a time, the week after that it’ll be eight rounds, then ten. I’ll finish off with some light pad work, shadow boxing and a stretch.
If we’re not sparring, I’ll just do bags and pads. Eamonn’s a brilliant pad man. Eight rounds with him at John’s little gym with the heaters full on is worse than any 12 round fight. He’s still very fast and not averse to giving me a ‘full on’ smack if I make a mistake. I’ve had a few black eyes off him!
Sparring is my favourite part of training because I get to hit someone. I least like running, even though I’m pretty good at it. I get bored so easily and always get huge ‘snotters’ dripping from my nose!
Describe your style? What are your best qualities? I can box from the outside but I most enjoy the later rounds when it starts to get uncomfortable. That’s when I come into my own; when the opponent starts to tire and I can mix it up. I like to break them down with body shots.
What specifically do you need to work on to fully optimise your potential as a fighter? I need sterner tests over longer distances to gain experience. I need to pass a few more ‘gut checks’.
What have you found to be the biggest difference between the pro and amateur codes? In the amateurs you were trained to explode for nine minutes. In the pros, you’re able to take your time and sit down on your shots. Also, you train more for stamina, for longer fights. I’m definitely better suited to the pros. After three rounds in the amateurs, I was just getting started.
Who is the best opponent that you’ve shared a ring with? That’d be my brother Michael. He does things that no one else can do. He has a really high work rate and great determination. If you clip him, he’ll try to repay you with three or four. He’s got great speed and reactions which make him a great counter puncher. If you miss, he makes you pay.
All time favourite fighter: Either Alexis Arguello or Erik Morales. I like the Latins. I watch both a lot on You Tube.
All time favourite fight: Morales-Barrera I. All the rest of the family were Barrera fans but Michael and I were rooting for Morales.
Which current match would you most like to see made? Leo Santa Cruz against Carl Frampton. It’d be Santa Cruz’s work rate against Carl’s skills. It’s a tough call but I’d have to go with my fellow Irishman.
What is your routine on fight day? I sleep on late, then try to take it easy all day. I’ll have some pasta and chicken around lunchtime and that’ll do me. I used to play snooker all day and I like to have a nice long walk to stretch my legs.
I don’t like to discuss boxing at all, even when I’m in the changing rooms. I’ll just shoot the breeze about anything else.
I don’t suffer from nerves and I always focus on myself, what I need to be doing, rather than the opponent. I know I’ve left nothing unturned in preparation, that I’m physically as fit as can be, so I’m always confident of victory.
Entrance music: On Saturday, it’ll be the same Mexican music that Michael Gomez used to walk in to.
What are your ambitions as a boxer? To finish up happy that I was the best I could possibly have been, that I did all I could with my talent.
How do you relax? I like to play six-a-side football with the lads. I like watching and playing most sports like darts, golf, snooker and pool. I like to keep myself busy.
Football team: I’m ashamed to admit it but Aston Villa! An uncle on my dad’s side was a Villa fanatic and he bought me a few (replica) shirts. When I was growing up they won a few League Cups so I stuck with them. You can’t change your team. Besides, Paul Lambert is doing a very good job. I went over to Villa Park once.
I’ve been to Celtic a few times and the atmosphere there is always brilliant. At home, I root for Cliftonville.
Read: Right now, I’m reading an 800 page biography on Che Guevara. I like revolutionaries. It’s a good old read. In camp, I like something that helps me go to sleep!
Music: Soul music. My favourite band is Earth, Wind and Fire.
Films/TV: My favourite film is probably ‘Gangs of New York’. I once met Daniel Day Lewis before one of my fights and he seemed a really nice guy. On TV, I like Boardwalk Empire and The Office, particularly the US version.
Aspiration in life: For people to say that I did everything the best I could and with a smile on my face.
Motto: Don’t do anything half-hearted.