Jamie Conlan: From West Belfast to Marbella
From the 1956 Olympic gold medallist Freddie Gilroy to WBC bantamweight world champion Wayne McCullough and more recently Carl Frampton, the fighting mad city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, has produced its fair share of fistic marvels.
Jamie Conlan, an unbeaten super-flyweight and the current WBO Inter-Continental champion, hails from the streets of West Belfast where almost every young lad in the area is a wannabe footballer or fighter and the man known as the ‘Mexican’ hopes to one day emulate his boxing heroes.
“Belfast loves boxing,” explained Conlan, 28, to Boxing Monthly. “If you ask 10 lads from West Belfast ‘have you ever boxed?’ at least eight or nine will say ‘Yes’, it’s something we grew up doing. You either played football or boxed or, if you were like me, you did both.
“They (the people of Belfast) understand and appreciate a good fighter. With Carl (Frampton) doing 16,000 at the Titanic Quarter and selling out the Odyssey, it’s a testament to the fans that they come out to support their fighters and I hope to have that support one day.”
Jamie is the older brother to Micheal, the London 2012 Olympic Bronze medallist and recent bantamweight gold medallist at the European championships in Bulgaria, and both brothers learned their trade at the St. John Bosco Boxing Club in Conway Mill, Belfast. But despite a gloried career in the vest and head guard that saw him win multiple national titles and Four Nations championships, Jamie was a reluctant fighter to begin with.
“I played football but my youngest brother wanted to go boxing and he couldn’t go alone so my dad asked me to take him to the gym,” said Conlan. “I didn’t want to go but dad told me that Michael Owen trained as a boxer to build his strength because he was small like me. He said he would give me £50 if I stuck it out for a year!”
Tucked away above the Monico Bar in Belfast city centre lies veteran Irish trainer John Breen’s notoriously tough gym that Conlan called home for the first six years of his professional career but now Conlan has moved on to pastures new, namely the MGM gym in Marbella, Spain owned by three-time world title challenger Matthew Macklin.
“I was with John (Breen) when I turned pro but even before that as an amateur I was around him a lot and we became close friends,” explained Conlan. “The gym was right above the kitchens of the bar below and, when you were climbing the stairs, all you could smell was Guinness and pies! Marbella is totally different. It reminds me of being on the Irish high performance team, you want for nothing.
“All you need to focus on is boxing. They take care of your nutrition, your strength and conditioning, everything is perfect. We get to run on a track which I haven’t done since I was on the high performance team and the whole set-up is very professional.
“You’re away in camp for eight weeks, away from family and friends. It’s something that I needed to do because, at times, I felt as though I was slacking off in training at home. Some days the training in Marbella is so tough it makes you question how much you want to succeed in this game.”
Conlan (14-0, 8 KOs) is now under the tutelage of Liverpool trainer and Marbella resident Danny Vaughan and the pair teamed up for the first time when Jamie defended his WBO Inter-Continental strap against Junior Granados in July in what turned out to be a roller-coaster affair.
The Irishman survived a torrid seventh round having been dumped on the canvas twice by body shots from the tougher than expected Mexican in front of an all Irish crowd at the National Stadium in Dublin before he prevailed on the cards after 10 rounds.
“To be honest the body shots weren’t really that hard, I’d suffered from stomach cramps all day leading up to the fight and he just hit me in the right spot! I’d watched him on YouTube so he didn’t surprise me with anything that he did, I just wasn’t at my best on the night,” revealed Conlan.
“I’ve been with Danny [Vaughan] since January. I went over for the Derry Mathews camp when he was preparing to fight Tony Luis in Liverpool. I made sure that before I started my own camp with Danny that I shadowed Derry, what Derry did I did.
“I spent time with Danny and worked closely with him so when we went into camp for the Granados fight it wasn’t a new experience although it was our first time working together in a fight.”
Historically, the super-flyweight division hasn’t been one of British boxing’s deepest pools of talent, but today the 115lbs weight class boasts former IBF bantamweight world champion Paul Butler, Birmingham’s unbeaten talent Kal Yafai as well as Conlan with the potential for some excellent domestic dust-ups on the horizon.
“It’s really brilliant to have domestic rivals because you need a rivalry to build a profile,” said Conlan. “Fighting these Mexican guys like Granados doesn’t get the crowd going, they don’t buy into the fight like they would do if it was a domestic rivalry. The division [domestically] doesn’t have great quantity but it does have great quality.”
Conlan believes a fight between himself and Butler is inevitable. “I think it’s a great fight and it’s bound to happen because we are on the same path,” he told BM. “He got a good win recently so the fight needs to happen soon.”