Quigley can make statement tonight as top of middleweight division opens up for business

Quigley returns to action in California tonight, with live coverage on eir Sport beginning at 3am (Friday morning Irish time).

Jason Quigley (file pic).
Jason Quigley (file pic).

IT’S ONTO THE next stage — and soon the big stage — for Donegal’s Jason Quigley, who headlines on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes (live on eir Sport from 3am) on Thursday night in a bid to rebuild the head of steam which 18 months ago seemed to point in the direction of boxing’s pinnacle.

The Finn Valley fighter, a former European amateur champion and World Championships silver medalist, has soldiered his way through 18 months’ worth of upheaval: he lost a year of his career to an egregious hand injury, relocated from California to Sheffield where he now trains under Dominic Ingle, and watched on as a career-biggest fight with Ryoto Murata fell foul of boxing politics (it came so close that he’d even gotten a suit fitted for the scheduled Tokyo press conference at the time).

The latter cost him more time, but still just 27, he has plenty of it on his side.

Following a March comeback in which he took the soul from the previously unstopped Puerto Rican Daniel Rosario Cruz, he returns for his second fight of the year at Fantasy Springs Casino, California, where he aims to remind veteran Freddy Hernandez — a former world title challenger with a decent CV — why he doesn’t want it anymore at 39.

He steps back into a middleweight division in the midst of a tectonic shift, however: one in which Gennady Golovkin is no longer the all-conquering badman; one in which his Golden Boy Promotions stablemate, Canelo Alvarez, is the king but has abdicated — at least for now; one in which his gym-mate, Billy Joe Saunders, will not be involved for the foreseeable future; one in which two of the four major belts are currently vacant and will be found strapped around the waists of two new champions within the next 10 days.

Incidentally, Demetrius Andrade and Walter Kautondokwa who fight for the WBO strap in Boston this Saturday, and Danny Jacobs and Sergiy Derevyanchenko who vie for IBF gold in New York a week later, are all aged 30 or more.

Add to the equation the fact that in streaming newcomers DAZN, who yesterday inked a $365m deal with Canelo Alvarez, Golden Boy Promotions now shares a broadcast partner with Matchroom Boxing and Eddie Hearn.

The latter promotes both ‘Boo Boo’ Andrade and ‘Miracle Man’ Jacobs, both of whom are favoured to emerge as middleweight titlists from their respective scraps over the next two weekends.

And while Golden Boy aren’t mad about the idea of allowing Quigley to fight on competitors’ cards, they were willing to make an exception when the botched Ryoto Murata bout landed on their doorstep during the summer: before the WBA put a kibosh on it, Murata-Quigley had been pencilled in as a 20 October headliner for rivals Top Rank.

The DAZN intersection in this newly-formed Venn diagram might yet see some cross-pollination between Golden Boy and Matchroom. But even if not, when you factor in Quigley’s close relationship with DAZN’s UK boxing partner, Sky Sports — he’s a Sky Academy Sports Scholar and has appeared on the network on numerous occasions, including in a co-commentary role — it seems inevitable that the media-friendly and highly marketable Irishman’s name will be banded about Hearn’s offices plenty should he seek a voluntary defence for one of Andrade and Jacobs over the next 12 to 18 months.

At the very least, if indeed DAZN, Hearn and Oscar De La Hoya hold most or all of the cards at middleweight in 2019, it will be no bad thing for the Ballybofey banger.

Having been propelled into the conversation out of the blue during the summer, the fighting-fit Quigley has a chance to legitimise his world-title credentials over the course of his next two or three fights, all of which will come against solid opposition. It starts tonight with veteran Hernandez.

All of which makes the whole Murata saga slightly curious: why take such a risk after just one fight in an injury-ravaged 18 months? Why look for a shortcut when he’s only headed in one direction in any case? Why take to the ring as the B-side fighter on a card run by your promoter’s biggest rivals when you have all the attributes to become the A-side down the line?

I remember a friendly phonecall from an Irish boxing figure who pondered, simply: ‘What the fuck is he doing?’

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Having spoken to Golden Boy, his management team at Sheer Sports, and Quigley himself, I found the answer near equally straightforward: all three parties felt he would win, even taking into account those perceived disadvantages.

It was a serious vote of confidence by promoters Golden Boy in particular, whom one would assume will take another big punt on the 27-year-old before long.

Back from the wilderness and once more headlining on ESPN tonight, Quigley has a chance to remind everyone else why they’d be right to.

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