Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 4°C
The Mullingar man fights for a 12th time in his adopted Philadelphia this evening.
# Forgotten Man
'Everything went against me all at once' - Nevin finally on track to make a real go of his pro career
John Joe Nevin is finally fighting fit after a rollercoaster few years.

Gavan Casey reports from Philadelphia

THERE IS A poignancy to be found in how wildly the professional boxing careers of 2012 Olympic bantamweight finalists John Joe Nevin and Luke Campbell have diverged.

It was Hull’s Campbell who took gold that day in London, edging Mullingar’s Nevin on a score of 14-11. Of their two previous contests, Nevin had won the first at the 2009 EU Championships, while Campbell was awarded a controversial countback victory after their 2011 World Championships semi-final finished in a 10-10 tie.

They were inseparable in the ring and close out of it too. It was the best of Irish-Anglo rivalries: two legitimately world-class sportsmen from either side of the Irish Sea, neither of whom had a bad word to say about the other.

Luke Campbell celebrates as John Joe Nevin is dejected Morgan Treacy / INPHO Luke Campbell celebrates Olympic gold in 2012 as John Joe Nevin laments a close defeat. Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

But in the pro ranks, it was Campbell who pulled ahead while Nevin’s own journey was ravaged by a series of out-of-ring difficulties, most notably a double leg-break inflicted upon him by a golf club-wielding cousin during a family dispute in 2014.

Nevin fought twice with metal rods in his legs later that year, but further injuries, as well as the surgery to remove those rods, and court appearances related to drunken incidents would see his pro career stutter to the point that it became an afterthought.

He has fought just 11 times in five years, winning all 11. Campbell, meanwhile, with a record of 19-2 (15KOs), has established himself as a major player and fought for a world title, falling just short against then-pound-for-pound operator Jorge Linares in 2017. He remains very much in the world-title picture, while Nevin remains a peripheral figure, ranked somewhere in the high 200s on BoxRec.

Boxing: Linares vs Campbell SIPA USA / PA Images Luke Campbell lost a split decision to Jorge Linares in a fight for the WBA, WBC and Ring Magazine lightweight titles in 2017. SIPA USA / PA Images / PA Images

But in his adopted hometown of Philadelphia tonight, the injury- and issue-free Irishman intends to get the ball rolling towards future parity, and indeed a future clash with his old foe.

Nevin and Campbell will feature in separate fights on Matchroom USA’s Tevin Farmer-Jono Carroll/Katie Taylor-Rose Volante world title doubleheader. They’re still on opposite ends of pro boxing’s spectrum, but that won’t be the case for long, vows Nevin.

“Aw, definitely, definitely — I’d love to fight Luke again down the line,” he tells The42. “We can’t leave it level, you know? We have to have it in the pro game and find out who is the best.

“I was talking to him here. Ah, Luke’s a good guy,” smiles the Mullingar man. “He’s a good friend of mine. But someday, I hope it’ll happen, a fight between us. It’s a business at the end of the day.

“It could have happened on this show but I think that’s a big-money fight — that’s a fight that’ll sell out an arena. Back in Ireland or England, that’s massive. We probably plan on leaving that until I start to come up the ranks and we start bringing in the big bucks.”

John Joe Nevin celebrates after a first round knockout Ryan Byrne / INPHO Nevin faces Andres Figueroa in Philadelphia tonight. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Fresh off the scales, there is a spring to Nevin’s step — quite literally — as he wanders around the city’s Liacouras Center, the venue which will play host to his 12th pro contest tonight.

He’s saluted by plenty of local well-wishers but remains sufficiently anonymous that he can afford to just be there, whereas fighters on the top end of the card — Katie Taylor, Tevin Farmer, Jono Carroll, Gabriel Rosado — all darted for the privacy of backstage as soon as they made weight.

Notable is how much Nevin seems to be enjoying himself. He appreciates his being chosen to feature on such a high-profile card, but says that tonight “isn’t an audition” for Eddie Hearn, even if he did shift something like $30,000 worth of tickets — apparently more than any other fighter.

Instead, it’s all about performing to the best of his ability in a bid to capitalise on this opportunity. And for the first time in a long time, Nevin feels he can do exactly that.

“It was a tough few years.

Everything went against me all at once: my legs, I had to get surgery to get those rods removed, you know? And then I was headlining a big show over here at the Fillmore and I had another injury — I pulled a muscle in my chest and that was the end of that. And that was another few months out.

“So everything wasn’t going well, you know? But now I’m fit, I’m buzzing, my footwork is back, I’m moving as good as ever, I’m training hard.

“I think, as well, all of this time that I’ve had off gave my body time to recover from all the impact that boxing had on it through the years, and all the hard work and hard fights that I had as an amateur.

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“It gave me time to recuperate. I’m like a youngfella again,” he beams.

John Joe Nevin Emily Harney / INPHO Nevin in action in March of 2014. Emily Harney / INPHO / INPHO

He can finally afford to be optimistic about his future. But there is a layer of caution to that optimism, too.

Yes, he’s arguably Ireland’s most ‘naturally gifted’-ever pugilist, and that type of talent doesn’t just leave you. But he still has a mountain to climb if he is to come good on that world-class potential.

He knows time isn’t exactly on his side. Crucially, though, it hasn’t run out either.

“I’m only 30 years old,” he says.

We’ll see — another year will tell the tale. It’s not impossible that I end up headlining here and fighting for a world title. If Tevin Farmer still has that belt, or maybe Jono [Carroll], who knows? Whoever has it, we’re coming for them anyway.

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.

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