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The Ballybofey middleweight faces Tureano Johnson in a career-biggest headline fight in California tonight.
The Ballybofey middleweight faces Tureano Johnson in a career-biggest headline fight in California tonight.
Image: Jason Quigley (Instagram/@jayquigley1)

Jason Quigley just wants you to be happy, and a world title

Jason Quigley faces Tureano Johnson in a do-or-die middleweight clash tonight (live on eir Sport).
Jul 18th 2019, 8:01 AM 4,555 1

YOU’D NEVER GUESS Jason Quigley is about to participate in a fight that could transpire to make or break his career.

Thursday night’s opponent, Tureano Johnson of the Bahamas, is a serious entity and has already sounded a warning to his middleweight opponent from Donegal: overlook me at your peril.

Quigley [16-0, 12KOs] and Johnson [21-2-1, 14KOs] have their eyes on the same prize: a world title shot a couple of fights down the line.

But from the 27-year-old Irishman, there are laughs, jokes, and jibes that evince a sense of pure comfort within that make-or-break environment.

Quigley is happy out.

This career juncture is one which he aimed to reach when he converted to the punch-for-pay ranks in 2014, a European gold medal and World Championships silver in his back pocket at the time.

It’s a new frontier, and yet it’s a familiar feeling: win or bust. That’s just life for a top boxing prospect, not least one signed to Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions since he was 22.

Jason Quigley Jason Quigley in training. Source: Eoin Mundow/INPHO

“I saw some quotes from Johnson, all right,” Quigley laughs ahead of his middleweight clash at Fantasy Springs Casino on Thursday night (Friday morning Irish time, live on eir Sport).

I actually saw them on The42 — was that you who spoke with him? I was going to ask you what the craic is, how he’s getting on!

“Ah, look, if there’s ever a man that gets into the ring and says, ‘I’m not looking to win this fight’, there’s something badly up with him,” chuckles the super-cool Ballybofey native, before dialling the heat up a notch or two.

“Obviously, he’s been to world level and he’s fallen short at world level. He’s had his setbacks as well with injuries and things like that.

Johnson has two losses on his record, I have a clean sheet. I’m looking to keep mine that way, whereas he obviously can’t afford to get another glitch on his record at the age of 35.

“Things are pressing on him bigtime — age-wise, injury-wise and having been out for so long because of those injuries, and just having been beaten already at that top level,” Quigley continues.

“He says he’s coming in to win the fight — obviously! I would have been disappointed if he wasn’t — so it should be a great fight for everybody, really, at the end of the day.

People aren’t looking at this going, ‘Ah, Quigley will win that’, or ‘Ah, Johnson will take that one’ — they’re looking at it as a 50:50 fight. And people know that whoever comes through this fight and wins it will push on towards a world-title fight.

“So these are the kind of fights that excite me, because I know getting over these hurdles, fighting these lads now, there’s going to be some significance to the win; it’s going to progress my career a lot more than beating some of the previous opponents. I want to be in there with names that are going to catapult my name up and beyond.

“Johnson is going to be my biggest test to date, the biggest name that I have come up against, and he has every right to be a big name: he’s a good operator, he’s competed at world-class level.

This is my chance, now, to get in there and do what I do best against a good, good fighter — and enjoy the moment, you know what I mean? That’s what keeps floating through my head — ‘enjoy it’.

“These are the exciting, happy parts of your career that you’ve always wanted to get to”, adds the Finn Valley boxer-puncher, “so it’s all about enjoying it now; the build-up, the journey towards the fight and the fight itself.”

It’s been a “topsy-turvy” year or two, as Quigley puts it. There was the egregious break of his hand which cost him not only a statement win over another high-level opponent in Glenn Tapia — Quigley had his opponent on the brink before his right hand went and he was drawn into a 10-round slugfest in March of 2017 — but a year of his career, which at the time appeared to be on an unstoppable upward trajectory.

Then there was the nearly-fight with Ryōta Murata, who holds a secondary WBA belt and operates under rival promotional banner Top Rank; it came close enough that Quigley had been fitted for a suit for the Tokyo press conference, but ultimately his seat on the plane to the Far East went unfilled due to some boxing-political nonsense.

Wedge into all of that his permanent relocation from Los Angeles — where he turned pro with Golden Boy — to Sheffield, where he has since teamed up with trainer Dominic Ingle, son of the late, great Brendan.

Just over a year on from that move closer to family back home in Donegal, Quigley feels as though he has finally settled within his ‘new’ environs.

Under Ingle, but of his own volition, he has taken to studying in great detail not only the fistic side of boxing but the psychological aspects of what is a fairly mental pursuit.

“It’s all coming together lovely, to be honest,” he says. “I’m excited and I’m enjoying what I’m doing.

“It’s all about making the best moves and decisions that I can possibly make, for myself, so that when the opportunity for a world title arises, I’ll be 110% ready.

And of course, you’re going to make decisions, you’re going to make choices, that aren’t 100% correct. But you have to make those calls to the best of your knowledge; you have to take chances; you have to take risks. How else are you going to find out what’s right and what’s wrong for you? That’s not just boxing. That’s what life is all about as well.

“Some of them are going to work, some of them aren’t going to work,” Quigley adds. “But there’s only one way to find out. That’s just part of the journey.

Before, I used to win a fight, walk away from the ring and say, ‘Right, what’s next?’ I might not have been happy with something but I would have been like, ‘You got the win — just move on and don’t worry about it’. Whereas now, I’ll look back on the fight, but not just the fight — I’ll look back on the build-up to the fight, I’ll look back on directly after the fight; I’ll try to keep tabs on how my mindset was, how I was feeling — emotionally, physically, every way.

“I find that it works a treat. I’m starting to become very much more relaxed, in my zone, and doing what I need to do.

“I think with making a big change, moving country, it can make the mind a bit fuzzy. You have so many different things to be thinking about; you’re maybe not 100% focused on the actual boxing because you’re uprooting your whole life, in my case from LA to Sheffield.

“Now, everything has become more like, ‘This is my home, now. This is my training camp. This is what I’m doing.’ I know the way everything is run, now, so I can concentrate fully on just trying to improve my game, and improve myself.

My last fight in London against the Finnish lad (Mathias Eklund): I went in there and I actually expected a tougher fight than I got — his only defeat was to the WBO European super-middleweight champion (Patrick Rokohl) in a split decision. But I can look at it that way — that I expected a lot more from him than I actually got — or I can look at it just as a good performance by me, and a sign that things are just starting to come together. And things did come together on the night — I got in there, did the job I had to do, and got the opponent out of there.

“But even though it was short and sweet, we still looked at things — ‘what did I do that felt good in that fight?’ — and you try to take it on into the next one.

A lot of people just look at the training, look at the sparring. But people forget that you can do all of the training you want, all the sparring that you want, but if you get into that ring and you’re not confident, or you’re not happy, or you’re not in the right mindset, everything else goes out the window.

Jason Quigley in action against James De La Rosa Quigley lands a right hand on James De La Rosa. Source: Eoin Mundow/INPHO

Over the last two years, Quigley has become especially close with sports psychologist Gerry Hussey, with whom he worked as part of Irish amateur boxing’s High Performance Unit moons ago. He describes Hussey as a “massive reason why” he has begun to monitor the key role played in a fight by one’s mind.

Quigley and Hussey are friends and boxing fans first and foremost; the latter will drop nuggets of professional wisdom into casual conversation, sure — and they’re taken on board — but the undefeated middleweight has been exploring Hussey’s area of expertise for some time of his own accord in a bid to bolster his arsenal.

“At the end of the day, your brain is the one that puts everything into place. And I don’t want to get into this too much,” Quigley says — famous last words — “but the brain controls everything. It’s such a powerful tool. I think people overlook it too much because we don’t understand our brains, and people don’t want to sound too airy-fairy about it, either. But the mind is everything.

You see athletes — and I mean world-renowned, absolute athletes; the likes of Conor McGregor, there — people say he gases after three or four rounds. Now, there are people in his training camps who see him put in the work, they see the sheer effort he puts in… How does that man get tired after three or four rounds?

“Anthony Joshua looked out on his feet against Andy Ruiz. I mean, just look at Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz.

“Andy Ruiz: out of shape, no pressure on him — ‘if I win, I win; if I don’t, who cares? Happy days!’ Not a care in his head — and when I say, ‘not a care in his head’, that’s exactly what I mean. Not a worry in his mind.

“Look at Conor McGregor and…[Nate] Diaz, wasn’t it? Three weeks before their first fight, Nate Diaz was on a fecking boat party in the middle or wherever, smoking weed and doing whatever. He gets into the octagon against McGregor: ‘If I win, brilliant. If I don’t, brilliant — I’m still getting a massive payday. I’ll go in and give it my all and batter away.’

Now, you look at the two champions, or the two favourites, then: McGregor and Joshua. Both were tired in the middle of the fight, both got destroyed. We’re talking about two of the top sportspeople in the world, certainly in their respective sports: they both gassed after a few rounds despite being in tremendous shape and actually training much harder — and preparing much better, physically — than their opponents. The questions have to be asked: where are they gassing, why are they getting tired? How is it possible for them to be in that condition, in that shape, do all that training and gas against a guy that they should be taking out of there — a guy who probably hasn’t done half of the training that they have done?

“It has to be in their mind, you know what I mean? They have to be getting tired mentally. The brain is getting tired, and the brain then sends all the signals throughout the body: the hands drop, they start to slow down, they start getting caught; shit’s hitting the fan, they start panicking, and next thing we know, they’ve gotten beaten.

“These are the kinds of things that I don’t think people are looking at enough. People, I think, obviously don’t understand it enough to be able to look at it, in fairness. People look at all these ways of training; all these treadmills, all these massive runs up mountains; 15, 20 rounds of sparring and things like that; and of course you have to do the hard physical work, but you very rarely hear people talking about, or working on, the mindset of the game.

“The one that does talk about it”, Quigley continues, “and who, in the ring, is one of the calmest people you’ll ever see, is [Vasyl] Lomachenko.

“And that’s another reason why I can’t understand how people aren’t looking at this and just thinking, ‘Look at this man.’ He’s doing all the mind training, and you see how relaxed he is when he gets in there. Sometimes you think he’s in third or fourth gear and it seems like he can up it whenever he wants.

“Mayweather’s another one: you never see him losing the rag in the ring — cool face, shoulders relaxed, he might get caught one or two shots but it never fazes him. He just regroups and he’s back at it again.

“The mind is our main weapon, I think. We don’t look into it enough. So it’s something I’m trying to implement in my own game.

“Like, it just sprung into my head there, but something I’ve noticed recently watching Muhammad Ali interviews is that he was never really angry or upset. He always had a little smirk or smile on his face — he was like a child causing trouble but in a joking sort of way.

“At the end of the day, he had fun. And that’s what it’s all about.

And of course people will be like, ‘Well how can you have fun boxing? You’re getting punched in the face.’ But if you’re going to get punched in the face for a living, you might as well have fun while you’re doing it!

Jason Quigley is introduced to the crowd before kick off Quigley parades his NABF (North American) middleweight title at a Finn Harps match. Source: Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

He has cracked it, really. Not quite the psychological aspect of his craft — the studies of which continues apace — but the struggle: finding a job he loves and lives for.

Quigley has also lined up work beyond what will be a relatively short career in the ring: he has already done co-commentary and punditry on Sky Sports, in whose academy he was once a scholar, and when home in Ireland he talks in schools and more public forums about his experiences not only as an athlete, but as a normal human being.

Wellbeing is something he cares deeply about, but not only his own. The 27-year-old believes himself fortunate to have found happiness, more or less — at least for the next few years — but he’s acutely cognisant that not everyone has the opportunity to go about their days with similar verve.

“There are so many people out there who aren’t happy in their jobs, in their lives,” Quigley says.

I think you have to look at things, like, ‘Where is this unhappiness coming from?’ People have to strip it way, way back. But here’s where the problem is: people are afraid to strip it back because they’re scared of what they’re going to find. They’re stripping it back to things that they don’t want to strip it back to; they’re going to come face to face with emotions and things that happened in their lives that they don’t want to confront. They want to live in chaos because it’s better than confronting, maybe, some mistakes that they made that they don’t want to admit to themselves, or they just don’t want to bring up.

“It’s one of the most important but also most difficult things to do: to sit back, look at your life, and say:

“‘Where could I be doing better?

“‘Why am I stuck where I am?

“‘What am I doing this for?’

“And everyone will have a similar-enough answer: ‘I’m doing this because I want to keep this big house, I want to keep this nice car.’

“But why do you want this big house? Why do you want this big car?

‘Because my father will think I’m a great man if I’ve a big house, and my mother will be content that I’m doing well if I’ve a nice car… And my friend, as well — he lives in a big house and has a nice car so I have to keep on-par with him.’

People look at it in this way, and that’s just become a way of life for Irish people — that we have to convince our parents that we’re doing great in life. Whereas if you really stripped it all back down, and you had a heart to heart over a drop of tea, with a big fire on, and you says, ‘Look, Mum’, or ‘Look, Dad… I’m not happy. I’m not happy in that big house. I’d rather live in a house that I can afford and work in a job that I love; I’d rather not have to be running out the door every weekend to get into the pub, to get a drink, to get away from my life’, I don’t think Mum or Dad would be too cross. I think we’d be all the better for it.

“People don’t see that”, he adds, “and often it’s not their fault — they don’t have a chance to see it! People are in offices up and down the country and they’re busy, like. They’re working hard — it might not even cross their minds.

“But people need to pause, they need to take a step back and look at their lives sometimes.

“We can only try to help the people around us, those close to us, the people that we love, and hope that everybody else will have somebody similar who can help them, and guide them towards having a better life.

We probably can’t change the world, but if we can help one or two people along the way, maybe the chain will keep on going and life will keep getting better.

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Gavan Casey

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