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Dublin: 7°C Wednesday 30 September 2020

Stevie Collins Jr is fighting to step out of his father's shadow

The son of Ireland’s two-weight world champion speaks to The42 ahead of his return to the ring this month.

Boxing - Copper Box III - Copper Box Arena Collins Jr, right, in action against Tommy Gifford in London. Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

IT’S HARD TO avoid the obvious question, even though it has been asked a thousand times before.

But when you share a name, and now a career, with one of the most iconic boxers in a country which has produced its fair share, the conversation will inevitably turn that way.

“You must be sick of people asking, but I just want to chat about your dad for a minute…”

“Yeah,” Stevie Collins Jr says, more in recognition of the former than in agreement to the latter.

At the end of this month, he returns to the ring for what will be the sixth fight of his unbeaten professional career. The hard yards in the gym, round after round of sparring, the punches landed, the punches shipped, and the ones that miss by a hair’s breadth either side. That’s all him and nobody else.

But to the world he’s Steve Collins’s son, the boy who grew up with a two-weight world champion as his father.

Everything is obscured by that shadow. You’d lose count of the amount of times he’s had to answer questions about Chris Eubank Jr who fights for a world title in London’s O2 Arena on 28 February, and whether or not the two of them could add a footnote to the famous rivalry their fathers started 20 years ago.

The fact that Eubank fights at middleweight and Collins is a cruiserweight, a good 40 pounds heavier, is forgotten in the search for a grand narrative.

“I’m always going to be known as Steve Jr until I’m in the elite squad,” the 24-year-old admits.

Until I become a world champion, I’ll always be Steve Collins’s son, and I’m ok with that. It gives me fuel for my fire to become great. I want to become known as Steve Collins, not Steve Collins Jr.

His father’s legacy has been part of life for as long as he can remember. “I didn’t know what normal was,” he recalls. “Normal to me was having a dad who walked down the road and everyone was screaming his name.”

And while he’s fighting to stand on his own two feet, he’s certainly not running away from his most valuable resource. Steve Sr lives in St Alban’s, London, where he has been for the past 15 years while Stevie is based in Dublin, training under the watchful eye of uncle Paschal in his renowned Celtic Warrior gym.

Every fortnight or so, dad flies in to catch up.

“He comes over just to pass on a bit of advice because he’s done it all before,” Collins explains.

“The time we have is short so there’s not much point in me running laps with him or anything like that. It’s more to pass on his knowledge.

Steve Collins tackled by Gerry Hurley Collins in action for Lansdowne during his rugby days. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“We’re very alike, we’re two very strong personalities. We do clash a lot and we will again in the future.

He’ll say things to me that I may not agree with, and I know he is right, but taking orders all the time, it does get on my case. At the end of the day, after things have calmed down, I will go back to what he says because he’s been there and he’s done it, a two-weight world champion, so I will listen to him.

“It’s just a father and son thing that I can’t get away from.”

Though he’s only starting out, Collins is beginning to shape a story that is interesting in its own right. The boxing gene didn’t rub off initially and instead, from the age of seven he threw himself headfirst at his first sporting love: rugby.

A front-row forward, he helped Lansdowne to win the AIL title in 2012/2013, but when he decided to shake up his off-season training by calling into Paschal’s gym, a new door opened.

Within a few weeks, his uncle had seen enough raw material to know that he had a promising young boxer on his hands. Stevie’s pro debut was arranged on a small show in Dundalk’s Fairways Hotel where, without a shred of amateur experience, he went four rounds against the Latvian Stanislavs Makarenko and won comfortably on points.

Since then he has won three and drawn one — and it was that stalemate against Tommy Gifford in February 2014 that taught him the most. Not because of anything that happened in the ring, but because of the naivety which allowed him to step through the ropes in the first place.

His shoulder wasn’t right in the weeks before the fight and now, with the benefit of hindsight, he knows he should have withdrawn. Instead he convinced his dad that he was fine and did even more damage when a right hook missed its mark and caught his opponent on the shoulder.

Steve Collings Jnr attempts to land some punches on Moses Matuvu 12/7/2013 Collins in action on his debut against Makarenko. Source: ©Russell Pritchard/Presseye

“It tore my shoulder off the bone. That was me done, the whole shoulder ripped off the socket.

“It was a bit of immaturity. I came from the mindset of a rugby player where you go out on the pitch unless you can’t walk. Even though I thought I was the much more skilled boxer, I still couldn’t beat him with one hand.”

Surgery was the only option and so began the longest 10 months of Collins’ fledgling career.

It feels like you’re in jail. You can’t train, you can’t work, you’re sitting there, you feel useless.

“I know it was only 10 months but the 10 months felt like a lifetime because they only thing I could do was walk. I couldn’t do any sort of physical work, I couldn’t go back to my regular job. I’m a very overactive person so to go from working and training so much to a standstill, and watching bills add up and having no money to do anything, it was hard.

“I like to take the positive out of it and think that I’m prepared better for the future for a similar situation,” he adds.

“I had to be very proactive to keep myself hungry. In the gym, I was doing a lot of leg weights, I said I’m going to get the strongest legs. I was hitting the bag with my left hand to get a great left hook and a great left jab. I did everything I could bar being in the ring or hitting pads with my right hand, everything I could bar boxing, to develop other aspects and add more things to my arsenal.”

Source: Chi Sharpe/YouTube

He made his return in November with a points win against another Latvian, Mareks Kovalevskis. With a record of 5-54-4 you might not expect much from his next opponent, Moses Matovu, but Collins knows better than to underestimate the veteran journeyman.

“I’ve seen him fight a lot of hot prospects, beat them, and not get the decision. You have to be on your A game, he’s a very tricky individual.”

Nor is there any question of Collins trying to run before he can walk. If his boxing career is to be more than an experiment, if he is to have any chance of following in his father’s footsteps, he knows that he will need to be patient.

So it doesn’t bother him that there are no KOs on his record yet– there’s plenty of time for dropping lads in sparring, and the extra rounds can only stand to benefit him — and he’s in no rush to step up in class before he’s ready.

“For the next three or four years, I just want to be a very busy, very active fighter.

Because I’ve had no amateur experience, I’ve a lot of talent, but the thing I’m lacking is experience, and experience is almost everything in top athletes.

“I just want to stay busy, stay healthy, and learn.”

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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