Belfast thrillmeister Jamie Conlan kicks off his 2016 campaign this weekend intent on advancing his name from the boxing bibles to the mainstream sports pages.
Already 29, the man they call the ‘Mexican’ seeks a high profile fight commensurate to his talent, and hopes promoter Frank Warren can deliver this year.
On Saturday’s mega Copper Box promotion, the unbeaten and world rated Ulsterman makes his first challenge for a traditional title when he challenges South Shields ‘Baby Face Anthony’ Nelson for the Commonwealth super-flyweight belt.
Last Friday boxing writer Glynn Evans caught up with a man on a mission.
You were due to headline in Dublin last February but withdrew with a shoulder injury and hence avoided the weigh-in where there were fatal shootings. Ever get the feeling a Greater Being is looking over you?!
Absolutely. Thank God I wasn’t there. I was due to come down from Belfast later in the day but I was very worried for friends.
The shoulder’s grand now, no real scare of serious damage. I got a good bit of rehab before Christmas and it’s not affected my preparation for this fight at all. I spent the first week in Liverpool alongside Derry Mathews and the last seven weeks over in Marbella.
Everything is bang on. In fact, I can honestly say this is the most niggle free camp that I’ve had…..except the usual routine black eyes. Those high cheekbones!
Younger brother Michael, a former European and reigning World amateur and Commonwealth Games champion will be one of the favourites for bantamweight gold at the Rio Olympics this August. So exciting times for the Brothers Conlan!
Yes, indeed. Michael has set a standard that I doubt I’ll ever reach. Even as a young kid when no one had heard of him, people would just marvel at what he could do in the gym.
He beat five of the very best in the world to win his world title. I still spar him and (double Olympic medallist) Paddy Barnes – who my dad also trains – when I’m back home. They’re a tag –team who come at me 100miles per hour, alternate rounds.
It’s not as intense now as it was at John Breen’s gym when crowds would gather to watch us spar. Back then, we would try to kill each other but thankfully it’s more technical now.
Having apprenticing under Breen in Belfast, it’s now 12 months since you linked up with Scouse coach Danny Vaughan in Marbella. In what areas do you believe you’ve advanced as a fighter?
Before they’d just rev me up and send me into a tear up but Danny’s transformed me into a far more thoughtful fighter. I judge a fight much better, analyse what I’m doing and why, thinking about where I need to be in the ring to deliver various shots. My speed’s improved greatly through fast twitch exercises. That’s really brought my game on.
On Saturday, fans can expect the best Jamie Conlan there’s ever been. Normally when you start camp you’ve just got a date with opponent ‘TBA’. This time we’ve had nine weeks to focus on building a game plan solely catered to Anthony Nelson, focussing on exploiting his positives and negatives. Now it’s up to me to execute on Saturday night.
It’s a huge star-littered card on Saturday, with Hughie Fury, Vijender Singh and the Walsh brothers also vying for the headlines. How important is it for you to not only win but really shine?
There’s real pressure on me because I’ve been out for a while and interest in the Paul Butler fight has died off a wee bit. This needs to be my last fight at domestic level – I view both Paul and (British champion) Kal Yafai as world class – and if I don’t make a noise on Saturday, they’ll say they don’t need me.
I’ll accept any fight at my weight that makes sense and that includes Zolani Tete and Paul Butler. When I turned pro there were no other marketable names around my weight so these fights really excite me. We all need to be fighting each other and earning the big money.
Regarding Paul, people have been discussing it for well over a year now. My friends all want it just as much as I do so let’s just get on with it. The promoters and TV all want big long build-ups but no more talking, just do it.
I’ve never been one to pick or duck opponents. I was brought up by the Falls Road, west Belfast!
Given that you’re world ranked by the WBO (fifth) and the IBF (thirteenth), what significance do you place on the Commonwealth title?
This is the most significant fight of my career so far. Historically, the Commonwealth belt has a certain prestige and has been held by some fabulous champions. Locally, guys like Marty Rogan and Eamonn Magee had it. My brother won the Commonwealth Games two years ago, so the pressures on!
Defending champion Anthony ‘Baby Face’ Nelson is unbeaten in 11 himself. What problems do you envisage he’ll pose?
Firstly, I’ve 110% respect for Anthony. It’s the first time I’ve met a defending champion with something to lose. That makes it far harder than challenging for a vacant title. I’ll not be able to scrape a points win, I’ll have to wretch the belt from him, probably stop him.
He’s a very aggressive fighter with a high workrate, good engine. His record suggests he’s not a ‘blow out’ puncher but sources tell me he’s ‘body strong’ and bullies opponents. I believe he’s a brickie by trade, so a natural tough guy. This is his big TV fight. I’m expecting the best Anthony Nelson of his career.
So what gives you confidence that you can swan over to the mainland and lift his title?
Nelson seems a bit one dimensional and I’ve definitely fought at a far higher level than he has. I’m ten times better technically, superior in speed, power, every area if I’m brutally honest. I’ve trained significantly harder than I normally do just so I can match him for fitness. I’m loathe to concede any advantage to him.
If he makes it into the later rounds, expect to see us standing and trading mid ring, wild exchanges. It’s a great bill with fantastic fighters but I really think we’ll be Fight of the Night.