White knuckle Belfast warlord Jamie Conlan has been swapping leather and lumps against some of the world’s hottest talent in the brutal fight school's of the US West Coast, ahead of his charge towards a 115lb world title shot this year, writes Glynn Evans.
The 30 year old, who is known for professional purposes as ‘The Mexican’ because of his swarthy looks and lethal liver shots, is already ranked second to Japan’s WBO champ Naoya Inoue and ninth to IBF boss Jerwin ‘Pretty Boy’ Ancajas of the Phillipines.
And this Friday, live on BoxNation, Conlan the creaser looks to storm the WBC listings by dispatching Nicaragua’s former world title challenger Yader Cardoza for the International Silver strap at The Waterfront Hall in his home city.
‘I spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles, at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood, then at Manny Robles’ Rock Gym where (WBO featherweight champion) Oscar Valdez, (World amateur silver medallist) Jason Quigley and my brother Michael (a Commonwealth, European and World amateur champion) train,’ says the habitually pleasant Conlan who is unbeaten in 18 with 11 victims falling early.
‘There’s always a real buzz at ‘The Rock’, always a crowd to watch the sparring and, being around such quality fighters, you have to up your own standards.
‘I sparred (unbeaten WBO Super-Bantam boss) Jesse Magdaleno, a Columbian called Oscar Negrete (15-0) and Joselito Velasquez, a highly rated Mexican Olympian, and everyone is there to prove themselves. You had to be right on point. But it really helped with the step up from British-European to world level. You need to push yourself to the maximum every session.
‘It was great to spend time with Michael and catch up. Before he relocated, we lived in a house together and he was always a part of my camps if he wasn’t away with the Ireland High Performance set up. I’m four years older but don’t spar him anymore because he’s world champion, too big, too good! Honestly, pro world champions come out of their way to watch him spar.’
Conlan returned to the UK sharp as a blade ahead of his scheduled headline turn at the Waterfront in February but, frustratingly, the gig was temporarily scuppered after he contracted a chest infection.
‘It completely knocked me out for a couple of days but, on the plus side, the postponement certainly made dropping the weight easier,’ acknowledged the reigning Commonwealth and WBO Inter-Continental champion.
Back to full fitness, Belfast’s finest has subsequently been fine tuning in Glasgow - adopted hometown of his Scouse coach Danny Vaughan - ahead of his ‘must-win’ assignment on Friday.
‘My offence always flows pretty naturally but we’ve been working on defence, controlling distance with the jab and avoiding crazy wars. That’s what’ll win me the fight on Friday,’ insists the Ulster action man who was a recipient of the 2016 Fight of the Year Award for his savage eighth round stoppage of South Shields Anthony Nelson.
‘You know, I never go ‘hell for leather’ in sparring. I’m always nice and technical, box and move, very comfortable. But a red mist descends on fight night. If there’s a lull in the action, I feel obliged to give the fans something for their hard earned money!’