The Belfast Mexican Jamie Conlan
Jamie ‘The Mexican’ Conlan may have been born and bred in Belfast but the Northern Irishman’s swarthy looks and willingness to fight fire with fire ensure that his unusual moniker is an apt one. The 28-year-old Erik Morales fanatic has traded Pottinger for Puerto Banus and joined the team at MGM Marbella and the super-flyweight division – already choc full of exciting yet criminally underexposed fighters – has yet another tough hombre eager to join their ranks.
“It was purely by chance,” Conlan, 13-0 (8 KOs), told BM when asked about the move. “I got invited over and I said I’d go but was kind of hesitant about it. Sometimes I get stuck in my own ways and can be in a rut and I was pretty unhappy with how things were going. I wasn’t 100% committed to it until Peter McDonagh rung me and said that he was going over and that I had to go over with him. I got another phonecall on a Friday saying that I was booked in on the Monday so I had no choice really. We never really spoke about me joining while I was there but a week or two later Daniel Kinahan [who manages the fighters from the gym] rang and asked if I fancied joining. Any fighter who got the offer would be silly to refuse it.
“I actually met Danny Vaughan [his new trainer] in Belfast when Shinny Bayaar lost the British title to Paul Edwards in Belfast back in 2010. We only shook hands though. In fact, I was always chasing a fight with ‘Eddy’ before Kevin Satchell beat him and Danny’s dad (Georgie) used to train Paul so we knew of each other but when we did pads for the first time we just clicked and I’m really enjoying working with him. He’s very tactical and he does everything with you. A lot of trainers are purely in the gym and leave you to do your track work and strength and conditioning but Danny oversees everything you do. He knows exactly what you’re doing all day, every day.
“It reminds me of being on the Irish team as an amateur,” continued Conlan. “The first couple of weeks were kind of weird because I’ve always trained on my own as a pro and then you find yourself in the gym with Derry Mathews and Tom Stalker and people like that and they’re all shouting you advice and trying to gee you up. I’m used to going in to training and just knuckling down and I’ve never had that before. You train together, live together and eat together and you form a natural bond. It’s good to be a part of.
“I love competition and hate losing so whenever we’re doing anything in the gym it gets competitive and I hate losing to Scousers!”
MGM Marbella is home to some of the biggest characters in British boxing. In fact, there is no need to be polite. MGM Marbella is home to some of the biggest wind-up merchants in British boxing and Conlan spends his days being bombarded by Derry Mathews and Peter McDonagh’s own unique brand of ‘encouragement’. McDonagh seems to be becoming an increasingly visible figure in British boxing and Conlan confirms that behind the ridiculous shirts he wears on BoxNation there is a real boxing man.
“At first, I was in a room with Derry and that wasn’t too bad. Then I ended up with Peter. Oh my God. Peter got sick of rooming with Steve Simmons because he was on the phone and talking all the time and he thought he was getting the raw end of the deal. Then Peter moved in to my room. He never shuts up! You’ll be trying to sleep and he’ll be wanting to talk about everything,” said Conlan. “He’s a great craic in the gym though and so knowledgeable. People don’t realise how long he’s been around the game. You can’t count on your hands the number of people and world champions he’s sparred. He’d even sparred Tony Luis who Derry fought for the title. He was telling us he was better than his record suggests and that he was strong. It was good to have a heads up on him. He’d be a good coach in his own right.”
Every fight counts in the lower weight categories. Boiling down the weight scale becomes increasingly difficult once you begin ticking the age range box marked 29+. Marbella is quickly forging a reputation as the land of opportunity for British and Irish fighters. Conlan’s move may have been the result of a spur of the moment trip but he reveals that there are plans in motion that could see him joining WBA interim lightweight champion, Mathews, in hunting down some big titles sooner rather than later.
“They’re aiming to get me a world championship as quickly as they can and build me up onto TV as a headline act taking on highly ranked international fighters,” explained Conlan. “Having fighters like Derry and Liam Smith in the team means we’re not just restricted to Belfast, we can branch off to other venues like Liverpool rather than just being a big name at home. The belief that they’ve shown in me in such a short space of time is amazing really. They must have seen something in me for them to promote me the way they are planning to.
“The WBO route is the main one we’re going to have a look at going down. We’re going to have a look at a couple of others but the WBO is the quickest because I’m already so highly ranked [Conlan holds the organisations European title]. Obviously the champion – Naoya Inoue – is a phenom and the fighter that everybody wants to avoid, but we’ll have to see what happens with that situation because he’s got a bad hand injury and will apparently be out for around a year. There’s also the chance he may move down to flyweight to create a superfight with Roman Gonzalez.”
The sport of boxing isn’t fair and it is a sad fact that fighters campaigning below super-bantamweight receive a fraction of the attention their talent and ability deserves. Maybe things could be about to change. The tame nature of Floyd Mayweather’s decision victory over Manny Pacquiao in their ‘Fight for Eternity’ triggered plenty of criticism from boxing’s casual fans and, on 16th May, the aforementioned Gonzalez will receive a long-awaited opportunity to display his talent when he takes on Edgar Sosa on HBO’s well-lit stage. Maybe the sport’s smallest men could be about to reap some big rewards from new fans’ short attention spans and obsession with action.
“This is the opportunity we’ve wanted. He [Gonzalez] deserves it because he’s one of the best in the world pound-for-pound and, when you’re at the pinnacle, you should be treated like a middleweight or a heavyweight,” said Conlan.
“People should be watching the lighter weights because you’re guaranteed action. The fights are likely to go a few rounds, too, because although we hit hard, there aren’t many one-punch knockout punchers. With Roman Gonzalez you’re guaranteed action both ways because although he dishes it out, he takes it as well. It’s about time he got his chance on American TV instead of having to watch him at 3pm in the afternoon on a computer from Japan. He’s the beacon of light that the rest of us guys have to follow.”