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Dublin: 1 °C Saturday 16 December, 2017
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'Honest to God, and I really mean this when I say it, God help the next fella I'm in the ring with'

Jason Quigley is back.

JASON QUIGLEY IS back.

In March, the 26-year-old Donegal middleweight won the NABF (North American) middleweight title in a compelling back-and-forth with gatekeeper Glen Tapia, but in doing so shattered his right hand in what his doctor would later describe as a ‘one-in-ten-million injury’.

The 26-year-old has spent almost half a year sporting a cast, but last week received the news that he had been waiting for: he can lower the boom again.

“To be honest, it was a hard five-and-a-half months there, so it was,” Quigley says from his California base. “When you don’t have your right hand as a boxer, you’re running at 50%.

“I’m a hard worker; I like to train, I like to stay in shape, and always be ready for a fight, but for the last while I haven’t been able to do that. It really tested me mentally and in every other aspect of my life to be just lying back, not doing anything.

“And then just having to train for the sake of training. It’s just so difficult to get up and train – it’s like going and doing a day’s work and not getting paid for it! You know what I mean? It’s like… ‘Why am I doing this?’

“I thought of it like I was investing in myself. ‘Okay, you can’t get back fighting, but there will be a time when you can fight again, so be ready.’”

Having accrued a growing fanbase on either side of the Atlantic, a first professional title and a world ranking with two of boxing’s four predominant governing bodies, the last 20 or so weeks of relative stagnation have understandably been a torturous experience for the man christened ‘El Animal’ by his Latino gym-mates, such is his veracious appetite for training.

But now, just days removed from receiving the all-clear on his fist, the Finn Valley fighter is chomping at the bit once more having been starved of action in what’s been a watershed year for his sport.

“When I got the news there on Tuesday, I just felt like a brand new man,” Quigley says. “I felt like a different person. I just felt like I was back to being who I am again, and I was absolutely buzzing. I hit the gym straight away as soon as I got the good news.

But even the little things, like being able to have a shower without my hand hanging out the door. You’d take these things for granted. But now I don’t have to be worried about a sweaty, smelly cast anymore – you’d be afraid to go out in public, standing next to people who were wondering what the fuck the smell was!

“Once I got the good news – you know when you’re a kid and you get a new pair of football boots, and you can’t wait to get onto the pitch to try them? I couldn’t wait to go and pack my bags for the gym in the morning. Getting my gloves out again, it was crazy. I’m just so excited to be back doing what I love to do.”

He pauses for a couple of seconds.

“You know what? Honest to God, and I really mean this when I say it, God help the next fella I’m in the ring with. I’m like a lion who’s been trapped in a cage for months, and finally I’m out in the wild again, hunting wildebeest or whatever a lion would be up to,” he laughs. “I can’t wait to pounce.”

But his injury, debilitating as it was, did serve to ‘open doors’ for Quigley, as he puts it.

On Saturday night he made his co-commentary debut for Sky Sports, sitting alongside Matthew Macklin and Adam Smith to call Jorge Linares’ defence of his lightweight world title versus former Olympic gold medalist Luke Campbell of Hull. His unhurried Donegal brogue went down well for the most part.

JQ

Quigley’s relationship with Sky began in 2013, when the bolt-from-the-blue European amateur champion and World Championships silver medalist was selected as one of 12 athletes from either side of the Irish Sea to join the British broadcaster’s Scholarship Programme.

Back in June, the Ballybofey banger’s appearance on Sky Sports News, in which he insisted that his friend, Conor McGregor, would knock Floyd Mayweather ‘out cold’, made quite the impression in boxing circles. Almost a month removed from ‘The Money Fight’, Quigley lets out a hearty laugh as he puts the record straight.

“I’ve always had a good relationship with Sky because I was on the Sky academy before. I’ve been over and back to Sky when I’m home, they like me over there.

“They see that I say whatever I think. I’m not afraid to be out in the open or controversial. Maybe I have a bit of character, I have a bit of personality, but I enjoy talking – especially about boxing. What other 26-year-old is commentating on fights for Sky Television? It’s a great chance early on in my career to get my foot in the door, and I want to keep my foot in there for a future job down the line.

But look, we all knew Conor McGregor didn’t have a chance against Floyd Mayweather. Well, there’s always a chance in boxing, even if it’s a drunk man on the street fighting Floyd Mayweather. The fact is if you land one clean, you can leave him sleeping. But it was a joke of a fight, so I just thought I’d have a joke along with it.

“It raised a lot of eyebrows, a lot of people were like, ‘What is Quigley on?’ and all this, but I’m sitting back laughing at them – I couldn’t believe it, like! I’m like, ‘They actually think I’m serious,’ and that made it way more interesting for me.”

He’s telling the truth, too. On the Friday of the Mayweather-McGegor weigh-in, Quigley joined Eric Donovan and this writer on Close Calls to preview the scrap, telling us off-air that he had been ‘taking the piss’ since the fight’s confirmation, before making a cogent case for his compatriot once the cameras were rolling, stone-faced and unwavering.

‘El Animal’ knows how to play the media game, and explained to us after the show that he had no qualms with backing his compatriot in what he readily acknowledged was a quixotic task. His career to date has been forged on the road less traveled, and so he staunchly committed to his McGregor KO prediction in the knowledge that it would garner significantly more exposure than were he to side with the boxer like countless peers.

Quigley hopes that the magnitude of his personality, and subsequent marketability, when combined with his prodigious pugilistic ability, will lead to his own major Sky Sports events down the line.

“Without a doubt, that’s the route I want to go down. I came out here [to America] to serve my apprenticeship, but I’m getting to the stage of my career now where the big fights are starting to come, interest is starting to come. No matter if I was fighting back at home or I was fighting over here in America, the interest is only going to start rising now anyway because of the stage that I’m at.

“I have a fanbase in Ireland, and I had even as an amateur – people have been unbelievable – so I came out here to dip my feet in the water. And a lot of people over here now know me, so I think it’s time to start mixing it together – fighting at home and fighting over here. I badly want to put on massive fights back in Ireland for the Irish fans, because not only of how they’ve supported me, but because of how great a support they are, how loyal they are.

“Without a doubt, it’s business. Boxing isn’t just a sport, it’s a business. And if you can’t sell tickets… I mean, you look at one of the best boxers in the world right now, [Guillermo] Rigondeaux – nobody wants to see his fights, but he’s probably one of the best, most technical fighters of the boxing art. He doesn’t sell tickets, he doesn’t headline big shows in Vegas, but I know I have the capability of doing that. I will do that.

Like, I walk through Vegas now during a big fight week, and I’m getting pulled left, right and centre for photos, you know? People recognising me, people calling me and everything like that. That’s only going to start getting bigger, and that’s the way I want it to start moving.

“I’m an exciting fighter, I can box, I can knock people out, I can move on the back foot and I’ve at least got a bit of a personality about me. I can talk in front of people. But I can be serious, and when shit hits the fan I’ll dig deep and do what I have to do.”

But while the Golden Boy-promoted Irishman’s stock continues to rise on the safe side of the ropes, Quigley recognises the need to improve upon his one-handed victory over Glen Tapia back in March in order to continue his ascent in the ring.

“You’re only as good as your last fight, and I’ll always remember that,” he says. “And I wasn’t great in my last fight. All right, if you look at it from the perspective of me having one hand for eight rounds, I put in a great performance, but on an overall scale, the way I envisaged it, the way I planned it out – it didn’t happen. It did for two rounds, then I broke my hand.

“So it’s time for me to come back now on a big stage again. I’m hoping to get out at the end of December, start of January, and it’ll be a fight to test the hand out and get the confidence back. 2018 is going to be a big year, and I can’t wait for it.

“Irish boxing has never been at the height it is now. All right, you had the likes of Barry McGuigan, Wayne McCullough, Steve Collins, but look at the eras that they were in. Whereas you’ve got the likes of Carl Frampton right now, you’ve got Ryan Burnett, you’ve got Andy Lee: all have been – or are – world champions. You’ve got Katie Taylor fighting for a world title, you’ve the likes of Michael Conlan, Paddy Barnes, myself.

When has Ireland ever been able to name off that many great fighters from the country, all at the one time? I’m looking forward to flying that flag and making Ireland prouder than it is already.

“Right now I’m number 14 and number nine [recently moved to 11] in the world with the WBC and the WBA. I need to get back in there and shake off the cobwebs, make sure the hand is all right. I want to fight the top-ranked fighters, and get in with the best out there.”

Jason Quigley Source: Eoin Mundow/INPHO

His time off, however, has afforded him the opportunity to recalibrate, and so when he does return to the ring – either in December or January – he’ll do so with a fresh perspective.

With age on his side, the boxer-puncher from Ballybofey now sees benefit in climbing the ladder as opposed to skipping the queue.

“I was thinking recently”, he muses, “first and foremost I want to get three or four fights, 10 or 12 rounds, with solid, experienced lads who’ve been there and done it – lads that I can learn from but that I’m capable of getting out of there. Now, if I get them out early, I get them out early, but by the end of next year, early 2019, I want to be right up there in the world rankings.

“I’m a big believer that everything happens for a reason, and being out for so long, I got time to assess things. Breaking my hand in that second round with Glen Tapia showed me that I need that little bit more experience over those longer rounds.

“I want to get more settled in my game over six, seven, eight, nine rounds. Now, okay, I think everything would have went smoother [v Tapia] if I’d had my two hands. I mean, I would have been able to handle the situation a lot better, but with one hand I did what I had to do to get through it.

I think it’s important that I get a few fights against rugged, tough, hard fighters that can take me the distance, that can teach me things. I need that before I get into the ring with the likes of Canelo [Alvarez], the likes of Triple G [Golovkin], the likes of Billy Joe Saunders. They’re the three men on my radar right now.

“They are where I want to get to, so for me it’s about getting myself in a position where I can get into the ring with them and perform to the best of my capability.

“This can’t be a case of getting a fight for a world title and coming away thinking, ‘Ah, maybe it was too early.’ I’m making sure that when my time comes, against any of those men or someone else, I’ll come out victorious.”

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‘Everyone sees Instagram and thinks, ‘Quigley’s in LA, living the life.’ But life is never that simple’

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