Jamie Conlan: Off the floor and into Irish hearts
Jamie Conlan managed to survive being driven from the gym to his living quarters by Peter McDonagh during our recent telephone conversation, but it was the way that the 28-year-old super-flyweight got off the floor twice to survive his fight of the year candidate with Mexico’s Junior Granados that has cemented his place in the hearts of Irish boxing fans.
As his star rises, Carl Frampton’s appearances in Belfast will become rarer and rarer and the city needs new blood to capitalise on the IBF super-bantamweight champion’s success. Who knows, maybe the right fighter could take things on even further.
Talented boxers like Ryan Burnett, Ciaran McVarnock and Marco McCullough are all popular in the fight mad town, but the 10-round ordeal Conlan endured to earn a decision victory over Granados catapulted him to a different level. With a high world ranking, television coverage of his fights and a reputation as an all-action fighter, Conlan 14-0 (8 KOs) finds himself as the man most likely to follow in Frampton’s footsteps.
“After the fight, I’d have people stopping cars in the street when I was just walking into town,” Conlan told Boxing Monthly. “It was a bit of a shock. Every boxer in Belfast gets recognised and held in high esteem but after the fight it was a different type of recognition. It’s good. It came after an exciting fight and it’s almost like you need something like that to put yourself on the map, but I don’t really want to be in any more of those fights unless there’s a big title involved.
“Working class people like that kind of effort. When they see somebody down and get up, they appreciate it and get behind them. It’s an Irish thing to get up and go again. During those last three rounds, there was no way I was going to get beaten because the crowd behind me was unreal.”
A couple of days after the fight having watched the bout back through swollen eyes, rather than talking excitedly about how he had produced the comeback of the year, Conlan told me that, although he was proud to have won, he clearly had lots to work on.
The fight with Granados came only a few weeks after he decided to leave John Breen’s gym in Belfast and join Danny Vaughan’s burgeoning stable at MGM Marbella and, whilst there hadn’t been much time to absorb many technical alterations into his style, the fact that he was able to make it through that harrowing seventh round and somehow jump off his stool to win the eighth bolstered his belief that he had made the correct decision in switching his training base.
Although Conlan left Dublin’s National Stadium that night with plenty of lessons to learn, he did graduate in the toughest class of all. Every fighter likes to believe they have what it takes to come through the darkest of moments in the ring but it is impossible to know exactly how you will react until you’re plunged directly into a crisis. Conlan passed his first gut check with flying colours.
“I can’t wait to get back [to fight]. It’s been a long camp and we’ve been working on the mistakes from the last fight. I’m itching to get back there. I had to learn how to move my head more. I learned that at that kind of level you have to get more power so I’ve been working on strength and power. I’ve also been working on shot selection so that I don’t waste as many silly shots. We’ve been pushing opponents back instead of being pushed backwards. For the last fight, we worked on boxing on the back foot - which we needed - but I also needed to push him back more. We’ve been working on everything.
“There were times there in that fight where I wondered whether I really wanted to do it. Coming over here to Marbella and sacrificing everything for eight weeks worked out in the end. I needed it. If I hadn’t done it, I would have been found out there.
“Everybody has wee doubts in their head [about coming through a gut check]. In some ways, it was a blessing in disguise because it’s come and I’ve ticked that box. At the time, I was very down and disappointed. I still don’t think it was a great performance, but in hindsight you see a lot of positives coming from it. Especially your reputation and the experience I took from it.”
MGM Marbella seems to announce another well known addition every week at the moment but Conlan must have had a quiet smile to himself when the most recent group of recruits walked through the gym door.
Fighters from Liverpool’s Everton Red Triangle gym have signed agreements with MGM which means European bantamweight challenger Ryan Farrag and British, Commonwealth and European flyweight champion Kevin Satchell will be spending an increasing amount of time in Spain. With Charlie Edwards also making regular appearances in the gym, it’s getting to the point where Conlan will have to be careful when skipping in case his rope hits another quality small man.
“The Liverpool lads are training back home, but they’ll be coming out here whenever they need to,” Conlan told BM. “It’s great that people around my weight are being signed. It means I’ll have sparring at the drop of a hat. As the lads in the gym were saying, the bags in the gym will all have to get lowered a little to suit all the little guys!”
Conlan’s aggressive style means that fans will always be treated to a few violent exchanges but those who have bought tickets for his next fight on 7 November in Dublin based on July’s heroics shouldn’t expect a repeat. A fighter only has so many gruelling battles in their career and Conlan is determined to save himself for the big fights. His latest outing will be about showing exactly what he has learnt.
“I think this is just going to be a ranking fight. It won’t be a number one contender type of fight, but it’ll be a test to keep me focused and switched on,” he said. “I never really look at who I’m fighting anyway so, for me, it’s all the same. He’s got two arms and two legs. Unless somebody tells me he’s got three arms I won’t get too worried.
“I’d had seen Granados though and I kept telling people that it’d be an exciting fight. They were telling me I’d do this and that but I didn’t expect him to be how he was,” continued Conlan. “He wasn’t strong but he was heavy-handed. I knew it could be an exciting fight so I was on the ball in camp and I needed to be. That fight proves that you can’t leave anything to chance at this level.
“The demand for tickets to see ‘the wee man’ as they say in Dublin is very high. I think everybody is expecting me to be in a slugfest so I think they might be a bit disappointed when I start boxing and moving, using my head and winning easily!”