Make Way for the Fighting Irish - The Resurrection of Jason Quigley
When Irish Middleweight Jason Quigley steps into the ring on March 31st to face Puerto Rican Daniel Rosario Cruz it will be 1 year and 1 week since his last bout.
On Easter weekend, the boy from Ballyboffey sets about resurrecting his career in Quincy, Massachusetts, marking new beginnings both professionally and personally. The difference with this resurrection and the traditional that will be celebrated by many around the globe is that no crucifixion preceded this one.
The 26-year-old former amateur standout had cruised to a 12-0 record to begin his professional career before being dealt an enforced layoff, suffering a broken hand and torn tendons in the second round of a fight with Glen Tapia in March 2017. In what then turned out to be a show of immense intestinal fortitude, Quigley managed to adapt and scrap through the next 8 rounds to take home a unanimous decision victory, collecting a Regional Title belt in the process.
What followed was originally suggested to be a short-term spell on the sidelines but instead turned out to be a life changing 12 months: “I’m counting down the days (to get back), it can’t come quick enough. It’s probably been mentally more challenging than anything because you know it’s different to a man who has a 9-5 job and is told that he can’t work for a year, I just thought “what are you meant to do?”. I’ve been lucky because I haven’t made a lot of money in boxing up to now but the money that I have made I’ve looked after it and with the help of good people, good family and good sponsors around me, it’s got me through it.”
“I’ve stayed active but stayed away from the boxing gym because it was too frustrating not being able to do what I wanted to do, instead I’ve been swimming, running, aerobic and spinning classes and dipped into different type of fitness and education as well.”
This response doesn’t surprise me; I find Jason to be exactly as his reputation suggests, polite, funny and affable, his endearing accent only lending more to suggest this is a man with a weight lifted from his shoulders, ready to spring back into action at month end. The fact Quigley goes by the name of “El Animal” in the ring only serves to show the contrast in personality once he steps between the ropes, a name christened to him by the Hispanic community with which he trained in Los Angeles due to the ferocity with which he fights.
Appearances can be deceiving; what may seem like an idyllic lifestyle to an outsider doesn’t truly reflect the internal struggle with which Quigley battled to find a happy medium between living out his dream but not being able to share the experience with those closest to him. Appreciative of the opportunities afforded off the back of a stellar amateur career, living in Los Angeles and fighting across the United States for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions has been an opportunity that has led to many wonderful experiences but it felt like something was missing.
Asked if the layoff forced him to reflect on his life and whether it inadvertently acted as the catalyst for his move to England to be closer to his partner, family and friends back home in Ireland, Quigley agrees: “There was going to come a time when I was going to come back, definitely, but I had a feeling that the jigsaw wasn’t coming together, for me that layoff gave me the opportunity to make the move but it had been in my head for 2 or 3 fights before that“.
“There will only be a handful of people who could truly understand, look I come from a small town and a lot of people don’t really get the opportunity to make moves and to travel and make a different life for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, some people can enjoy it but for me I was walking down Venice Beach and Santa Monica and was living in a beautiful apartment in Marina Del Ray and it all felt like it was a dream, it just didn’t feel real and I didn’t appreciate it because I didn’t have the people that I loved and cared for with me that would have made it special. If they’d have been with me we’d have been saying “Jeez, this is unbelievable!” but if you don’t have those people with you I’d rather be sitting looking out a window at the rain with the people I love.”
Laughing at the irony of his predicament Quigley tells me: “If I had taken Tapia out of there in 2 or 3 rounds, the way it looked like going until I broke my hand, I’m sure I would have been lined up for another fight soon after and I wouldn’t have had the time to relocate and make the adjustments and even if I had those adjustments would have been rushed. People tell you to look at the positive side of things and I can’t not look at this without seeing he positives, people might think “he broke his hand, that’s terrible” but it’s been perfect!”.
Quigley believes that putting his happiness at the forefront of his priorities has been the making of him: “Boxing is a lonely sport. It’s tough in the gym, it’s tough in the ring but if you’re living your personal life tough as well away from family… you have to have a happy medium and that’s exactly what I’m doing now. I’m 4 hours door to door from my house in Sheffield to my home in Ireland.”
The joy in which he expresses “This has made me a lot happier in myself and to me once you’re happy you’re a very dangerous man no matter what you’re doing!” should make his opponents in waiting fearful indeed.
The relocation to Sheffield, training now at the world-renowned Ingle’s Gym seems only to add to the comfort that Quigley now feels. Whilst common for fighters to build their profiles locally and domestically as they progress their careers with aspirations to travel, those experiences have already been consumed. Fighting under the bright lights of Las Vegas is but a pipe dream for many based in the UK and Ireland yet being based in L.A., Quigley managed to do just that on his professional debut on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez v Erislandy Lara at the MGM Grand in 2014.
Recalling the achievement with pride whilst at the same time playing it down in his typical Irish demeanour, he modestly quips: “My experiences have moulded me into the man I am today, my pro debut was in the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, I’ve boxed in L.A., I’ve boxed on the big cards, now there might have not been 18,000 people in there, there may have only been 8, but I seen what it was like.”
The tone turns serious when I suggest those experiences will benefit him down the line as opposed to fighters who often struggle when it comes time to travel: “When my time comes to fight for a world title, to headline Vegas, to headline L.A., it won’t phase me, I’ll be ready.”
Formerly training with the likes of fellow Middleweight - Canadian, David Lemieux, and Mexican star Oscar Valdez Jr who triumphantly emerged from an epic battle with Britain’s Scott Quigg last weekend, there have been no concerns regarding the quality of preparation Quigley now receives as his career resumes, participating in camp with the likes of Kell Brook and former Lemieux opponent, WBO Middleweight Champion, Billy Joe Saunders among others at Ingle Gym: “The more great fighters I can surround myself and learn from, that’s how I will grow. We can relate to each other a lot better over here then I could with the Mexicans and Americans, I got on great with them but they’re a different culture to us. I just feel a lot more at home and enjoying it a lot more. It’s convinced me I’ve done the right thing.”
Ringside for Brook’s own comeback fight last week in Sheffield after back to back defeats to elite level fighters in Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr, I asked Quigley if seeing someone with Kell’s experience overcome the nerves that were on display was confidence building: “Definitely. Kell is a class act, there’s no shame in those losses, especially the Golovkin one. Moving up to that division shows the balls he has and the heart he has. Kell is a top-class operator and it’s been a privilege being able to help get him ready for that last fight and I’m looking forward to helping Kell through the rest of his career and helping him to end it on a high.”
With the “Fighting Irish” very much on the forefront of the combat sports scene the last 3-4 years thank to a certain Notorious one, I asked Quigley as to whether his own aspirations of taking big fights back home to his nation’s capital is something he one day desires as the Irish boxing scene remains in turmoil in the midst of a stand-off between the Irish media and promotion MTK Global: “Boxing is violent enough without everything else going on around it! I just plan on bringing the violence inside the ring. I just plan on getting in through those ropes and bringing love to the sport.”
The big man shows he has an even bigger heart, admirably pondering: “Coming from Ireland, boxing is something that’s taught me that Catholics, Protestants, people of all colours and races, win, lose or draw, I will shake my opponent’s hand and tell him “great fight” and bring the love and I think that’s what boxing is all about. As you see with Ingle’s Gym, we have such a diversity of fighters and that’s the way boxing should be and that’s the way the world should be – everyone is equal. We should all respect each other, we all have feelings, we all have love, passion and goals in life. I think if everybody starts helping each other and putting out a hand to help when someone is in need, that’s the way forward.”
Easter Weekend, on the outskirts of Boston, a contingent of Irish followers will gather as one, waiting to hear the pipes and strings of Rory Gallagher’s “Make way for the Fighting Irish”, knowing that it signals the path of a son of Donegal making his way to the ring, a man reborn, ready to rise once again.