By Matthew Hurley: There is nothing quite like a gifted young fighter connecting on a visceral level with his hometown. Hero worship is prevalent in every sport but boxing is such a personal and emotionally draining experience for fighter and fan that once a connection is made it just grows tighter and tighter as the fighter’s career moves on. Every boxer desperately wants and needs that crowd approval, particularly in his darkest and most trying moments in the ring.
Danny O’Connor, a young, promising junior welterweight from Framingham, Massachusetts, understands this and has turned his life upside down to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion in front of an adoring crowd.
“I was just a scrappy kid growing up and I found my way to a gym one day and fell in love with the sport,” he said recently from his training camp at the Savannah Boxing Club in Houston, Texas. “As time has gone on and my career has progressed I do believe I was given a great gift in my ability to fight and I’m going to use that to provide for my family.”
O’Connor’s amateur career culminated in 2008 with National Golden Glove honors, the Outstanding Boxer Award at the US Future Stars Championship and a berth as an alternate on the US Olympic Team.
A quick and clever southpaw Danny, in seventeen professional fights, has tasted the sting of defeat – a decision loss to Gabriel Bracero in 2011. He was subsequently diagnosed with bleeding ulcers and anemia. Any setback is devastating for a young boxer trying to get his foot on that first rung of the ladder, but it’s how he deals with it that will ultimately define how far he goes. Future Hall of Famer Bernard Hopkins lost his first professional fight, but it didn’t cripple him because he didn’t let it. He became more determined to learn his craft and refused to allow doubt to creep into his mind.
Again, O’Connor understands this and despite boxing’s peculiar predilection for undefeated records he sees his willingness to make adjustments in both his training and in his personal life prime indicators that not only is he serious about his championship ambitions but that he is willing to make all the sacrifices necessary to get there.
It was at that low point against Bracero where a decision was made and a change in trainer and management pointed the fighter in a new, positive direction. But it also uprooted him from his wife and child and the comforts of home.
“I had a bad night against Bracero,” he says. “The health issues were a big factor and my nose was broken in the fight. I had to have reconstructive surgery.”
O’Connor hesitates a moment upon reflecting back on that night and then his mood brightens.
“It was at that point I found Ronnie Shields. He offered to train me and so I left Boston for Houston with no money, nowhere to live and worst of all I had to leave my wife Diane and son Liam. But it was the best move I made for my career.”
The fit between fighter and trainer has been smooth and Danny appears to have found a mentor in Shields.
“Coach Ronnie gave me my life back,” he says with genuine affection. “He is truly a teacher and being taught by him is an honor for me.”
O’Connor’s career also received a huge boost when Ken Casey, leader of the rock band Dropkick Murphys, took over managerial duties. Danny believes that with the Murphys providing their support that often-elusive hometown connection is within his grasp in the Boston area.
“I met Ken through his Claddagh Fund* and we clicked right off the bat. I look at the way he beat the odds in the music business and I hope to do the same in boxing.”