At the ripe old age of 29, Cork middleweight Gary ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan finally gets his chance to crack the Big Time at Wembley Arena in London this Saturday.
‘The Celtic Rebel’ unbeaten in 16 with 10 knockouts, squares off against Hatfield traveller Billy Joe Saunders for the WBO International middleweight title in a showdown.
O’Sullivan, a father of three girls, enters as an 11-2 underdog but the word around the gyms is that he carries a seriously concussive dig in both barrels.
To uncover more about the man of mystery, boxing writer Glynn Evans spoke to ‘Spike’s’ long term manager-trainer Pascal Collins.
“I boxed professionally as a middleweight and super-middleweight in the USA, firstly out of the Petronelli camp in Brockton, Massachusetts, then over with Freddie Roach at the Wildcard Gym in Hollywood, California,” said Collins.
They were great, great trainers and though I didn’t achieve all I wanted to achieve myself as a fighter, my learning was second to none. I was involved in all my brothers’ world title camps plus a few with (US world champions) Frankie Liles and James Toney.
“Now I try to put my knowledge to good use as a trainer and a manager. The first fighter I was involved with was Kevin McBride who I steered to a stoppage victory over Mike Tyson. I also helped (ex Irish amateur star) Billy Walsh.
“Today, in addition to ‘Spike’, my camp includes Stephen Ormond, a lightweight everyone is avoiding, cruiserweight Ian Timms and my nephew, Steve Collins Jnr, a cruiserweight who made his debut last week.
“I first became aware of ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan when he made his pro debut on a show I ran in Cork in January 2008. I wasn’t directly involved with coaching him then. He was trained by his family. He fought Peter Dunn, a journeyman who often gets beat but very rarely gets stopped. I knew from that he must be very heavy handed.
“Back then, ‘Spike’ wasn’t the most skilful but I could tell he had serious power. He also had a great following and was a very nice genuine kid so, through Gary Hyde, I agreed to get involved and started training him.
“Initially, he used to waste far too much energy. He’d jump around like Naz (Hamed) when he wasn’t Naz, and he could leave his chin exposed. We’ve worked on his defence and it’s really tight now. I know this’ll sound stupid to outsiders but there’s a lot of Hagler about him. He comes forward, gets in your face but boxes you. It’s all very controlled.
“Today, ‘Spike’ has every quality required to be a world champion. Out of the ring, he’s a real gentleman but inside he’s one horrible bastard! Whenever I used to spar my brother, though we’re very close, he’d always try to knock me out! Spike’s exactly the same, if I’m stupid enough to stick the gloves on with him.
“He’s blessed with real concussive power in both hands. In addition to our Steve, I’ve sparred (ex WBA super-middle king) Frankie Liles and neither hit close to as hard as ‘Spike O’Sullivan does. I need to wear special mitts when we’re doing our pad work.
“‘Spike’ also takes a great shot and he’s mentally very strong. Again, he reminds me a lot of my brother Steve, in that regard. What might be less apparent is that he can read an opponent after only one or two rounds. He can also read people very quickly after first meeting them.
“We’re reasonably happy with how his pro career is progressing. A lot of the inactivity has been out of our hands. Politics. During the periods he was out of the ring, he was still in the gym, learning.
“People have to understand that we repeatedly pushed Dean Powell for the Billy Joe Saunders fight. Don’t be fooled into thinking it was something they requested. We knew that, at 29, ‘Spike’ now needed to be taking quality fights not quantity fights.
“We were first introduced to Billy at the James DeGale- George Groves show at the O2 in May 2011. He’s a very nice kid – we’ve certainly no hatred for him - but I told Gary straight away that one day he’d be fighting Saunders. We’ve been preparing mentally for this fight for over two years.
“Look, Billy Joe’s real class, one of the very best out there. He’s a handsome kid who could eventually be as big as Joe Calzaghe. However, when I speak to knowledgeable boxing guys like my brother and Freddie Roach about Billy Joe, we’ve all identified the same mistake, one common flaw. In camp, we’ve been working on forcing Billy into make that mistake and then nailing him.
“Billy Joe is a good kid and we’d rather it wasn’t him we have to fight but we need this scalp to move ‘Spike’ forward. We might not be able to beat him in a year’s time. Jimmy Tibbs is a very good trainer who I respect hugely and know that he could eventually iron out the faults that exist. But we’re very confident that we can beat Billy Joe now.
“People are making a huge mistake if they judge ‘Spike’ on his 12 round points win against Matthew Hall. We were only given two and a half weeks notice which was less than ideal but it was far too good an opportunity to turn down. With just 20 rounds sparring we beat Hall pretty easy. This time we’ve had 300 rounds.
“Preparation has been grand. Initially we were going to be fighting Joey Selkirk so we’ve been in camp for 12 weeks. ‘Spike’ has been having hard 12 round spars twice a week with Eamonn O’Kane, the recent Prizefighter winner, plus JJ McDonagh and Paddy McDonagh, two big southpaws. We’re ready.
Look, fighting over in England, we know we’ve got to knock Billy Joe out. Technically, they’re probably about as good as each other but we’re travelling to Billy Joe’s backyard so we know this fight will be won on a knockout. It’d be different if the fight was over in Ireland. I’ve approached the WBO about ensuring we have some Irish representation among the referee or judges but won’t count on it.
“We anticipate a clever, technical war but they’ll potentially be in the ring for 36 minutes and that’s a long time. We’ll take the fight to Billy Joe and force him to make mistakes. Whenever ‘Spike’ clips Billy Joe, he’ll know about it. When he tags him clean, he’ll knock him out.
“This fight is effectively a world title eliminator and when we have our victory we’ll be looking to get straight into a world title fight with (WBO boss) Peter Quillan. ‘Spike’s’ already rated fourth with the WBO and we know Quillan’s people are receptive to the fight. We’ve no interest in pursuing fights with your Andy Lees, Matt Macklins, Darren Barkers or Martin Murrays until after we’ve won the world title. We already believe we’re the best middleweight in Europe.
“Now we’re involved in bigger fights, we’ll be able to afford to have better training camps and, only then, will Gary O’Sullivan reach his full potential. More than anything, boxing fans like to see people getting knocked out. And that’s what ‘Spike’ does. Ultimately, he’s going to be a very exciting world champion.”
July 16, 2013