Spike in fortune: Spike O'Sullivan interview
Irish middleweight Spike O'Sullivan tells Mark Butcher why he turned down an initial offer from Golden Boy to prove he was worth more...
With his handlebar moustache and sartorial flair, Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan has added a welcome splash of colour to the boxing scene in recent times. A playful personality has perhaps overshadowed that the Cork puncher can seriously fight. But following a high profile win over Antoine Douglas on U.S. network HBO, the gateway to the big time has dramatically swung open. The fighter known as ‘Spike’ (and never Gary) is experiencing a sharp rise in fortune.
After signing a four-fight deal with Golden Boy Promotions in late 2017 and disposing of the highly ranked Douglas in seven rounds, the charismatic Irishman is now on the cusp of major bouts against the division’s elite.
“It put me into the big time fights, world title contention. It’s a dream for me to be in a position to fight for the world title. The Douglas fight went the way I thought it would,” O’Sullivan told BM over the phone from his Cork home. “I’d seen him lose to the Georgian fella [Avtandil Khurtsidze] and I’m a similar fighter, but better and more powerful. That’s what I predicted before the fight, that I’d stop him in similar fashion, and I did.
“[Golden Boy] offered me a deal before the [Nick] Quigley fight in September. I said, ‘I’m not going to take that deal because I’m a far better commodity. I’m going to roll the dice, batter Quigley, and you can come back to me with a better offer’. After I beat Quigley in the main event on ESPN, they came back with [another] offer. I rolled two sixes and they turned up aces.
“They gave me Antoine Douglas. Then the problem was HBO wasn’t sure whether I should be allowed on a big card. But I convinced them to give me the opportunity. I told them I would smash Douglas up and that’s exactly what I went and done and it’s opened the door to some absolutely major stuff.”
As this issue went to press, O’Sullivan was in discussions over a 28 April date against former WBA champion Daniel Jacobs with the victor in line to face the winner of the Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez rematch later in 2018.
On same card as O’Sullivan’s career turning point against Douglas, WBO 160lbs king Billy Joe Saunders schooled David Lemieux in the main event. The mercurial Saunders handed the Irishman his first loss in July 2013 [L12] and the two have since become firm friends. In January, Saunders suggested he would grant O’Sullivan a rematch while insisting the result would be the same.
“I remember a lot of Canadians were asking me, ‘Who is going to win the fight between Lemieux and Saunders?’ and I said, ‘Billy Joe is going to school him’. He’s an exceptional talent Billy Joe Saunders, a nightmare for anybody,” Spike told BM. “He’s possibly the best middleweight in the world. His skill levels, his speed, his footwork. I have the power to knock anyone out, but Billy Joe would be the favourite against anybody in my opinion.”
Saunders also mentioned that, in their sparring sessions at a higher poundage, O’Sullivan punched like a heavyweight. “I do hit very hard,” concurred Spike. “I boxed Melvin Betancourt [WKO2] on the undercard of James DeGale-Andre Dirrell and [Al Haymon’s] PBC put modern technology on my gloves. I remember these guys coming in afterwards, making sure the ties were cut off carefully on my gloves because I’d broken the record for the hardest punch ever recorded in a live fight. I think Adonis Stevenson had the record prior to me.
“I registered over 1,100 pounds of pressure, which meant nothing to me on the night. I Googled it and there was a martial artist kicking some guy with a pad on his bollocks with 1,100 pounds of pressure. I hit over 1,100 pounds with a punch not a kick. That’s pretty powerful! Someone told me recently that’s over half a ton of pressure. It was a right uppercut to the body, just before the knockout.”
A puncher with a rock solid chin, Sullivan is unusually blessed. The old phrase ‘chinny banger’ – describing fighters who can punch but can’t take one – does not apply here. “Paschal Collins has always told me that. It’s a very rare thing that I’ve got,” said O’Sullivan. “His brother Steve had a great chin, but he wasn’t such a good puncher. Most guys who punch like me have bad chins and guys who have great chins don’t punch that hard, like Wayne McCullough for example. I have a very rare mixture.”
And, for the Irishman who has never been floored, the dream is to test those whiskers against the division’s most vaunted hitter Golovkin. That fight is now a genuine possibility in 2018, according to promoters Golden Boy, with O’Sullivan in line to face the winner of Golovkin’s rematch with Canelo.
“That’s what I’m being told. It’s something I couldn’t turn down. The money that’s being talked about….I have got to do it,” Spike told BM. “I’ve said it for years, and people can laugh at me, the one I would love to fight is Golovkin. I firmly and fully believe I can beat him. So I would prefer him to win [the rematch]. Canelo is tough and he has good movement as well; a good boxer, too. That fight would be very big money. I could retire then. But I’d love Golovkin.”
A fight in Japan against WBA Regular champion Ryota Murata would be another intriguing possibility, but begs the question what would the ‘Land of the rising sun’ make of Cork’s sporting fashion icon? “Oh geez, I don’t know. I wouldn’t get out alive! Japan might not ever be the same again,” laughed Spike. “I have no problem fighting anyone. I’ve always said, ‘I have gloves, I will travel’. When I said I would go to Kazahkstan to fight Golovkin, I’m not joking. If they rang me tomorrow, I’d get on a plane - that’s no problem.”
It’s a far cry from the days when O’Sullivan trained in a shed he rented from nuns in the Cork woodlands. “We ran an amateur club out of that shed and I trained all the kids,” recalled Spike. “It was a big shed with a steel roof and it was fucking freezing. I used train there myself [as well as] the kids. We did that for nearly 11 years. It was a great place. You had to see it to believe it. Sometimes my daughter would be there watching in the walker while I’d be punching the bag.”
In the last few years, O’Sullivan has largely fought in America, basing himself in Boston where he shares a house with fellow Murphy’s Boxing fighters Ray Moylette, T.J. Doheny and Niall Kennedy. Given its high concentration of Irish-Americans, it is no surprise that O’Sullivan has captured the imagination in his adopted city – receiving complimentary meals and even a lottery ticket from admiring locals - though his penchant for speeding on the streets of Boston has an unusual origin.
“I wanted to get arrested by one of these state troopers! I watched all these American movies when I was growing up and it seemed like fun when these state troopers pull the cars in,” he said. “It seemed funny, like. But the way the films portray it is a bit different than it really is! The funny thing is I never got pulled in by any of them I just got the [speeding] tickets in the post though I never owned any of the cars myself!”
Every Monday, O’Sullivan travels from Cork to spend the traditional working week at the Celtic Warriors Gym in Dublin (an eight-hour round trip) where he shares a close bond with trainer and manager Collins, something akin to brotherhood that Spike insists will not change if results go against them.
“I love Paschal, sometimes he annoys me, but we get on like a house on fire 99% of the time,” he said. “That’s what happens when people love each other, they annoy each other, too. He wants what’s best for me and I want the best for him. We are like real life brothers. I got beaten twice and it would be easy to blame him. Like lots of fighters leave and go to different coaches, different gyms, and all that shit. But that’s not me. He’s a very good man; an honest, decent man, which sits right for me.”
O’Sullivan’s only other reverse came against Chris Eubank Jr. when a burst eardrum (an injury sustained in both his losses) prompted Collins to withdraw his man after the seventh of a breath-taking, bombs away encounter. While withstanding some brutal right uppercuts, O’Sullivan did stun Eubank in the third round and, at times, the Brighton hotshot appeared to feel the effects of a torrid pace. The pre-fight mind-games involved O’Sullivan giving Eubank a cheeky kiss at the weigh-in.
“I think he probably did [enjoy it]. Who wouldn’t like a kiss off me?” laughed Spike. “I think his dad was jealous! I would love that rematch. Not that he was lucky, he won the fight fair and square, but I would fight him differently if we met again. I think he was very happy that he got the win and would be reluctant to give me the chance again. He knows I hurt him. I think I am the only person who has hurt him, shaken his legs and rocked him.
“Eubank was very animated for that fight. I think I really got under his skin more than anyone else. It was a shame [how it ended] but on the night I was absolutely fucked. My eardrum was bolloxed. My major problem as the fight progressed into the fifth, sixth, seventh round – the ear affected my vision. It was a nightmare. Paschal knew once I left the [stool] there was something wrong. He made the right decision, especially in hindsight [given what happened to] Nick Blackwell.”
In what would be a romantic career finale, Spike would love that rematch at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in his native Cork where, as an 11-year-old, he watched Steve Collins’ rousing win over Chris Eubank Sr. – an event which inspired his life in boxing.
“That would be a dream fulfilled,” Spike told BM. “It was the first boxing match I attended in my life. The stadium is actually not too far from the gym where I ended up training in the woods and where I grew up.
“When I was only 11, I imagined if that was me; how I’d walk home with the world championship belt over my shoulder. The route to stadium is just a ten-minute walk from my mother’s house on an old railway line. My dream would be to walk down from Pairc Ui Chaoimh with the belt over my shoulder and a can of beer and go to my mother’s house.”
Employing yoga techniques in his early thirties has given O’ Sullivan’s career a new lease of life as he heads into the most important year of his boxing career. “I’m much more mobile, but I also have more dedication and commitment. I’ve been more consistent coming to the gym and with my diet. I’m a much better fighter,” he said. “Outside of the ring, I feel much looser and fitter. I’m definitely getting better with age.
“I have the carrot of [providing for] my children and I can see that I’m really close to getting the major money and giving them a better life. I’ve got dreams for them, give them the education I never had. I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been. You have to live a really crazy life [as a boxer]. Sometimes I ask myself what the hell am I doing, but it seems to have worked out!”